Most people would assume that the Melbourne area, and indeed most of southern Victoria, would be far too cold for cold-blooded critters, right? Actually, southern Victoria supports a broad array of ectotherms (that’s the technical term for ‘cold-blooded’, because their blood isn’t actually cold; it’s just the same temperature as their surroundings!) and unfortunately, some of the most interesting and unique are also in serious trouble, and with 86 species of Australian flora and fauna being considered ‘Critically Endangered’, and so in this blog series we thought you might like to meet some of the threatened and endangered animals that may be living in your own backyard!
Growling Grass Frog
Originally widespread through Victoria, with the exception of the western desert regions and eastern alpine regions, the Growling Grass Frog is a big and often brightly coloured amphibian with a deep, growling call (hence the name). However, this species faces threats from several fronts and is listed as Endangered in Victoria. It is a highly mobile species; they have actually been recorded travelling up at 1km over a 24-hour period! Unfortunately, this means they can be quite obvious to introduced predators like foxes and cats as they move about, and can even be hit by cars travelling between watercourses. They are also highly prone to the introduced chytrid fungus, which causes an infection in the frog’s skin and is responsible for declines and even extinctions of frog species around the world. It can be spread in the water or by contact with other frogs, and this is the reason Growling Grass Frogs are in trouble; they eat other frogs! This species is also quite unusual in that it is active during the day as well as at night, and often basks in amongst the reeds. Changing levels of UV-B radiation caused by the hole in the ozone layer are also a threat to the frogs.
Luckily, the Growling Grass Frog is quite well-known amongst the people of Melbourne, and there are surveys and research dedicated to making sure this large and beautiful frogs doesn’t ‘croak’ for good!
Striped Legless Lizard
No, it’s not a snake! Here in Australia we have legless lizards too! Also called Pygopods, these long, slender cousins of the geckos look a little like a snake, but take a closer look. It’s got ears, and they even have big fleshy tongues, not the forked tongue of a snake. They’re not a particularly large lizard either; even though they get to around 30cm long, two-thirds of that length is actually their tail!
In the northern and western parts of Melbourne, the Striped Legless Lizard makes its home amongst clumps of grass on the basalt plains. Another species once widespread throughout Victoria, it has vanished from many sites once known to hold large populations of Striped Legless Lizards. Habitat clearing is the major cause of such a decline. Around 99.5% of the temperate grasslands of Victoria have been lost or altered in a big way since Europeans arrived. This species needs lots of rocks and grassy areas to live in, and if this is cleared for development or even by fire, it means trouble for the lizards. In the case of fire, which is of course a natural part of Australian life, they simply move underground until grass and foliage starts to grow back, but obviously they can’t do that if a housing estate is built on top of their once grassy homes.
A captive population is currently being kept at Melbourne zoo, mostly found in areas under threat of being cleared for development. Several reserves have been established and there is even a ‘Friends of the Striped Legless Lizard’ group dedicated to keeping the homes of this unusual species!
Keep your eyes peeled for the next installment of ‘Cold-Blooded and In Trouble’, where we take a closer look at more endangered ectotherms!
All photos courtesy of Nick Gale.