Under the Sand: What Lies Beneath Australia’s Red Center

Posted on February 4, 2013 by

The desert that sprawls across Australia’s Red Center may look vast and barren – but looks can be deceiving. Underneath the sand lies a whole different world. Australia has one of the largest diversity of lizards in the world, with over 860 species throughout the country. Most of them are endemic to the region – which means that they cannot be found anywhere else on the planet.

At the Alice Springs Reptile Center, we learned about all the various kinds of lizards in Central Australia, from the aptly named thorny devil to the largest reptile in Australia, the perentie. These reptiles are nothing short of bizarre and extraordinary – some featuring sharp spikes on their head, while others dangle flappy beards from their chins. The smallest reptile in at the center measured at just 2 inches long, and the largest at 79 inches. We even got the chance to get up close and personal to several of its inhabitants, including the resident goanna that was roaming freely in the grounds of the reptile centre.

To give you a look at what sort of reptiles hides beneath the sand of the Red Center, here’s a photographic introduction.

Thorny Devil

Featuring real thorns all over its body, the thorny devil (also known as thorny dragon) is definitely the most peculiar reptile species we’ve seen. It has a unique way of defending itself: with a spiny “false head” on the back of its neck, the lizard presents it to potential predators instead of its real head. Its conical spines are usually colored in camouflaging shades of desert browns and tans. 

thorny devil

thorny devil on a branch


Bearded Dragon

The bearded dragon may look rather fierce, but it’s actually very shy. When threatened, it usually displays a spectacular defensive stance by opening its mouth fully, extending its ‘beard’ backwards and expanding its ribs. This type of lizard usually lives in the arid, rocky, semidesert regions and dry open woodlands.

Bearded dragon

yellow bearded dragon



The Perentie is Australia’s largest reptile, with reliable records of this species growing up to two meters in total length. As a member of the monitor (or goanna) family, it is strictly carnivorous, feeding on insects and other reptiles. It is regarded by the indigenous Aboriginal culture as sacred, and many are depicted in Aboriginal art and stories such as ‘How the Perentie and Goanna got their Colours’. We actually spotted one in the wild, roaming freely around Uluru. It had a massive tail and a long tongue to accompany it.

Perentie's head

Perentie in Uluru


Common Green Tree Frog

Australia’s green tree frog is the most common frog species, though it’s largest than most Australian frogs (reaching around 4 inches in length). Despite its name, it changes color from olive green to bright green to brown. Not at all timid, it’s often found living with humans in showers and toilets. The green tree frog screams when it’s in danger to scare off its foe; and it squeaks when it is touched.

green tree frog


Gidgee Skink

Spotting rough, spiny scales, the gidgee skink is unlike other skinks due to its outstanding defence system. First it moves into narrow crevies or tree splits and inflates its body with air. This allows its spiny scales to act like little hooks, preventing it from being pulled from its predator.

gidgee skink

Blue-Tongued Skink

As its name implies, this lizard has a prominent blue tongue that is usually bared as a bluff-warning to potential enemies. A pity the picture doesn’t show its tongue. It’s a diurnal, ground-foraging omnivore, feeding on a wide variety of insects, gastropods, flowers, fruits and berries.

Blue-toned skink


Disclaimer: Thanks to Tourism Northern Territory for making this trip possible! While the trip was sponsored, all opinions expresses above are our own.

About Nellie Huang

Nellie Huang is a professional travel writer and blogger with a special interest in off-grid destinations and adventure travel. Her mission is to visit every country in the world. In her quest, she's climbed an active volcano in Iceland, swam with sealions in the Galapagos, built a school in Tanzania, waddled with penguins in Antarctica, crossed into North Korea and drank beer in Palestine.

6 Responses to “Under the Sand: What Lies Beneath Australia’s Red Center”

  1. Migration Expert February 4, 2013 6:15 pm #

    The green tree frog is very cute! I think he is smiling at the camera.

  2. Sofie February 5, 2013 6:13 am #

    Such a coincidence! We saw the Thorny Devil in a commercial for an Animal HD show but didn't know what it was called. Now we do:) It looks so unreal… Love to see it in real life, in its habitat some day.

  3. Matt February 25, 2013 8:00 pm #

    You rarely see thorny devils! Nice work

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  1. Camping in the Red Center - Part I: Uluru and its Aboriginal Roots - Wild Junket - April 3, 2013

    […] someone in the group pointed out to a giant lizard standing on a rock surface. It was a perentie, Australia’s largest reptile. We watched in awe, amazed to find a creature of this size running wild in the desert. It stood […]

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