Animal Species:Shingleback Lizard

The bulkiest of the blue-tongues, the Shingleback Lizard are common on the plains west of the Great Dividing Range where rainfall is low and throughout the semi-arid habitats of inland Australia as well as coastal parts of Western Australia and South Australia.

Shingleback, Tiliqua rugosa

Mark Semeniuk © Mark Semeniuk

Standard Common Name

Shingleback Lizard

Alternative Name/s

Stumpy-tailed Lizard; Boggi; Sleepy Lizard, Bobtail Lizard, Two-headed Lizard and Pinecone Lizard

Identification

Shinglebacks in New South Wales are usually dark brown all over, with or without yellow spots. The belly of blue-tongues is usually pale with darker variegations. The eye is small and reddish-brown to grey. The tongue is dark blue and the lining of the mouth is bright pink.

The Shingleback has a very large head, a very short blunt tail and large rough scales. Males have a proportionally larger head and stockier body than females but females grow slightly bigger than males.

Size range

total length up to 410 mm, of which 340 mm are head + body

Distribution

Shinglebacks are common and widespread in New South Wales from the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range and do not occur naturally in Sydney.

Habitat

Shinglebacks usually live in open country with lots of ground cover such as tussocky grasses or leaf litter. They shelter at night among leaf litter or under large objects on the ground such as rocks and logs. Early in the morning the lizards emerge to bask in sunny areas before foraging for food during the warmer parts of the day. Like all lizards, Shinglebacks do not produce their own body heat, and rely on the warmth of their surroundings to raise their body temperature. Shingleback Lizards maintain a body temperature of about 30°C - 35°C when active. During cold weather they remain inactive, buried deep in their shelter sites, but on sunny days they may emerge to bask.

Feeding and Diet

Shinglebacks eat a wide variety of both plants and animals; Shinglebacks eat more plant food than do the other blue-tongues. Shinglebacks are not very agile and the animals they eat are mostly slow-moving. Their teeth are large and they have strong jaw muscles so they can crush snail shells and beetles.

The captive diet for this species at the Australian Museum is provided in three feeds within a period of a week. These consist of a small feed of chopped vegetables on one day, a small serving of kangaroo mince on another day as well two cockroaches, crickets snails for the third feeding. The timing and order of the diet is changed around to simulate natural conditions and prevent stereotypical behaviour (where an animal will have predictable activity patterns and essentially be waiting to be fed). This food is supplemented with calcium and vitamin powder to ensure that a nutritionally balanced diet is provided.

Other behaviours and adaptations

When threatened, Shinglebacks turn towards the threat, open their mouth wide and stick out their broad blue tongue that contrasts vividly with the pink mouth. This display, together with the large size of the head, may frighten off predators. If the threat does not go away, Shinglebacks may hiss and flatten out the body, making themselves look bigger. A frightened Shingleback may bite if it is picked up.

Life cycle

Female Shinglebacks give birth three to five months after mating, between December and April.

The embryos develop in the female's oviduct with the help of a placenta, which is as well-developed as that of many mammals. At birth, the young eat the placental membranes, and within a few days shed their skin for the first time. The young are ready to look after themselves straight after birth, and disperse within a few days.

The Shingleback has usually only two or three young that measure up to 220 mm in total length and weigh as much as 200 g.

Mating and reproduction

Shingleback Lizards live alone for most of the year, but between September and November reunite as monogmous pairs. Shinglebacks in western New South Wales are often seen crossing roads in pairs, the male following the female. The same pairs may re-form in the mating season over several years.

Predators, Parasites and Diseases

Reptile ticks are commonly found on Shinglebacks; they attach under the scales and in the ear canal. They do not normally attach to mammals, and are not known to cause paralysis. A number of nematode worms parasitise large skinks such as Shinglebacks, and may sometimes be seen in faecal pellets. Again, these worms normally only parasitise reptiles.

In the bush the major predators of Shinglebacks are large predatory birds (such as Brown Falcons and Laughing Kookaburras) and large snakes (including the Eastern Brown Snake, Red-bellied Black Snake and Mulga Snake). Feral cats and dogs also eat Shinglebacks.

Young Shingleback Lizards are easy prey for suburban dogs and cats, as well as predatory birds like kookaburras. Most young blue-tongues in suburban gardens probably do not reach adulthood. A few adult Shinglebacks are also killed by large dogs, although the thick bony scales of the adults protect them from many animal bites.

Danger to humans and first aid

A bite from an adult Shingleback Lizard can cause pain, break the skin and leave a bruise but there is no venom and hence no long-term ill effect. However the bite site should be cleaned with a mild disinfectant, as with any animal bite.

Classification

Species:
rugosa
Genus:
Tiliqua
Family:
Scincidae
Suborder:
Lacertilia
Order:
Squamata
Subclass:
Lepidosauria
Class:
Reptilia
Phylum:
Chordata
Kingdom:
Animalia

What does this mean?

References

  • Cogger, H.G. 1994. Reptiles & Amphibians of Australia. Reed Books, Sydney.
  • Ehmann, H. 1992. Encyclopedia of Australian Animals. Reptiles. Australian Museum and Angus & Robertson, Sydney.
  • Greer, A.E. 1989. The Biology and Evolution of Australian Lizards. Surrey Beatty & Sons, Sydney.
  • Weigel, J. 1988. Care of Australian Reptiles in Captivity. Reptile Keepers' Association, Gosford.
  • Wilson, S.K. & Knowles, D.G. 1988. Australia's Reptiles: A Photographic Reference to the Terrestrial Reptiles of Australia. William Collins, Sydney.


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Tags shingleback, shingle-back, blue-tongue, blue tongued, lizard, skink, Scincidae, vertebrates, identification, bites,

10 comments

Cecilie Beatson - 5.12 PM, 08 December 2011

Hi Janine,

That’s an amazing story – obviously life was much sweeter at your place than out in the wild! A number of studies have been done on shinglebacks regarding their homing abilities, and as it turns out they are very successful in navigating around their environment and being able to return to their home range if displaced. Not only do they imprint on their surroundings using olfactory (smell) and visual cues, it seems they also have an in-built “compass” that uses polarized light to give a sense of direction. Here are some links to a couple of papers on the topic:
“Homing behaviour in the sleepy lizard (Tiliqua rugosa): the role of visual cues and the parietal eye”, by Michael J. Freake, 2001
“Home-range fidelity in the Australian sleepy lizard, Tiliqua rugosa”, C. Michael Bull and Michael J. Freake, 1999
 
Perhaps because ‘your’ female was in your care for so long she cued into her surrounds which then became her new home range? (the male probably just tagged along hoping for some romance, being that time of year!). If you live in an area with suitable habitat and not too much traffic then I would suggest leaving the couple to roam around your yard and eventually decide where they want to be.
Good luck,
CB
janine hanks - 12.12 AM, 07 December 2011
I am interested to hear if anyone has heard of homing instincts in shinglebacks. I am a vet and took home an injured bobtail about 6 months ago, I kept it over winter, it healed, and come summer I released it where it was found 6 months earlier. On the drive there, we happenned to come across another bobtail nearly getting killed on a main suburban road, so we picked that up also and release it with our female. At that time we noted the male had a scar on its tail. The release point was some 8 km as the crow flies through bushland (and one quiet road crossing) from our house. Unbelievably, there I was doing my thing around the house 12 days later when in walked the two bobtails. I am 100% sure that they are the same two. The female is obviously very tame as I fed her for 6 months. The male has a scar on his tail. Anyone who knows them knows that they are very distinguishable. My 7 year old son was upset as as I was releasing 'our' female, we noted that she had a tick in her right ear and he wanted to remove it. I had said never mind she'll probably get more out in the bush (not having any tweezers & not wanting to stress her on release) - sure enough se returned with the tick still in her ear!. I have googled and can find no mention of a homing instinct. Any comments!
Cecilie Beatson - 11.11 AM, 18 November 2011

Hi Barry,

Thanks for your question and sorry for the very late reply. Shinglebacks normally give birth in early to mid autumn (Mar-Apr) with the newborn young measuring around 20cm total length. The offspring you saw were most likely born earlier in the year and wouldn’t have grown much in the intervening few months. Although reptiles reduce their activity in the cooler months they do not enter true hibernation and may emerge for short periods if conditions are mild and sunny. Shinglebacks (in NSW at least) are generally very dark in colour and are able to absorb the sun’s heat quickly, so it is still possible to catch them out and about in winter on a good day.
CB
barry1 - 10.06 PM, 16 June 2011
Two weeks ago we saw 3 baby shinglebacks and 1 adult sunning themselves in the long grass at the top of the garden. The babies were about 20cms long. The adult was around for 2 days before disapearing. The little ones were still there last weekend enjoying the winter sun even though the temperature was only around 14c-16c. Would they have just been born? It seems very late in the year.
Cecilie Beatson - 5.04 PM, 12 April 2011

Hi Nick,

These lovely lizards go by many names, most of which reflect the animal’s unique appearance and somewhat mellow disposition. In the west of the country they are commonly called Bobtails, and in Perth you would encounter the subspecies known as the Western Bobtail (Tiliqua rugosa rugosa). Other colloquial names for the Shingleback include Stumpy-tailed Lizard, Sleepy Lizard, Two-headed Lizard, Pine-cone Lizard, Boggi (or Bog-eye) and, least flattering of all, Poo Lizard!

CB

nicka4 - 12.04 PM, 10 April 2011
I live in Perth. Aren't these also known as 'bobtails'?
Cecilie Beatson - 11.01 AM, 11 January 2011

Hi Enivea,

Judging by your photo I’d say the two shingleback were probably in the act of making love instead of war, although it doesn’t look a very tender affair! During springtime it is quite common to see pairs of shinglebacks motoring along, with the female in front and the male following behind. When the male approaches the female for mating he grabs hold of her in his jaws, usually behind the head near the forearms, to stop her from escaping and help move into position for copulation. If two mature males cross paths they will come at each other hissing with mouths open wide, and if neither backs down this display will escalate to fierce biting around the head and tail until one withdraws and is chased away by the victor.
CB
Enivea - 9.11 AM, 09 November 2010
This spring I observed one adult chasing another and grabbing it with its jaws. The victim was doing its best to escape. I was unsure if it was a territory battle or a mating prelude.

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