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Snail Extermination and Slug Annihilation: The Blue-Tongue Lizards (Tiliqua sp.)

These surly animals are common residents in many Melbournian backyards, but due to misinformation, many people dislike and are even afraid of Blue-Tongue Lizards. Contrary to popular belief, there is a lot to like about these grumpy-looking reptiles.

Growing up to 30 cm long, Blue-Tongue Lizards are the largest members of the Skink family. They are found in a wide range of habitats, including coastal and montane regions, sclerophyll forests and urban areas. Eastern Blue-Tongue Lizards (Tiliqua scincoides) are common throughout Melbourne, especially in the western and northern suburbs, whilst Southern Blue-Tongue Lizards (Tiliqua nigrolutea) are more common in the eastern suburbs.

Also known as Common Blue-Tongue Lizards, Eastern Blue-Tongue Lizards are recognizable due to the broad, dark brown or blackish bands across their back and tail. In contrast, Southern Blue-Tongue Lizards (also known as Blotched Blue-Tongue Lizards) have large pink, cream or yellow blotches on their back. Furthermore, Eastern Blue-Tongue Lizards have a silvery-grey background colour, whilst Southern Blue Tongue Lizards have a darker, browner background colour.

An Eastern Blue-Tongue Lizard rests amongst leaf litter. 

An Eastern Blue-Tongue Lizard rests amongst leaf litter. 

These lizards are often seen basking in the morning sunshine, warming themselves up so that they can forage and hunt in the heat of the afternoon. During the winter months, these lizards enter a dormant phase, but it is not true hibernation. On warmer days during this period, Blue-Tongue Lizards will emerge from their shelters to bask, but will not feed until the weather warms up for good.

Blue-Tongue Lizards use their brightly coloured tongues for defence. When threatened, these lizards will approach the threat with their mouths wide open, and may even hiss. In the event that a Blue-Tongue Lizard is caught by a predator, it can drop its tail to increase its chances of escape and survival. The stump that remains rapidly heals, and a shorter, regenerated tail grows to replace the lost tail. Predators of Blue-Tongue Lizards include large predatory birds, snakes, and feral cats and dogs.

Contrary to popular belief, these lizards are not venomous or particularly aggressive, but can deliver a painful bite if they are harassed. In fact, Blue-Tongue Lizards are a good animal to have in your backyard, especially if you are concerned about the number of slugs and snails in your vegie patch or garden bed. Blue-Tongue Lizards feed mainly on these creepy crawlies, as well as beetles, other insects, fruits and flowers.

To encourage Blue-Tongue Lizards into your backyard, add a few rocks or logs to any sunny spots, and make sure that there is some shelter near by, such as low shrubs or a clay pipe. This way, the lizards will be able to bask, but also escape to safety if they feel threatened. In addition, keep the use of snail bait to a minimum – this is toxic to Blue-Tongue Lizards, and, with any luck, the lizards will eat those pesky snails and you won’t need the snail bait anyway! 

Friendly Neighbourhood Possums

Possums are the backyard bandits that we love to hate. These stealthy marsupials are notorious for snacking on our garden plants, nesting in our rooves, and causing a ruckus while we’re trying to sleep. However, our furry neighbours are not to be blamed - they are simply trying to survive in the environment that they too call home. It seems that residents of suburbia have forgotten that possums are native animals to be appreciated and treasured, and that they’re not just another invasive pest that needs to be eradicated.

There are two species of possum that are common in the city of Melbourne. These are the Common Brushtail Possum (Trichosurus vulpecular) and the Common Ringtail Possum (Psuedocheirus peregrinus). Brushtail possums are solidly built, and are around the size of a domestic cat. As their name suggests, the most identifiable characteristic of this species is their bushy tail, but also their loud, guttural calls. They can inhabit a range of environments, such as suburban parks and gardens, but prefer dry eucalypt forests and woodlands. Brushtail Possums have a varied diet, feeding mostly on leaves, fruits and flowers, and also occasionally on insects and meat. In contrast, Ringtail Possums have a slighter build, and are smaller than Brushtrails. They have a slender, white-tipped tail that is prehensile (meaning that it functions as a fifth limb), as it is used to grasp onto branches or carry nesting material. Ringtail Possums inhabit forested environments, as well as coastal scrub and suburban gardens. These shy marsupials feed primarily on leaves, but also on flowers and fruits. Not as loud as their bushy relatives, these possums instead make a soft, high-pitched, twittering call. Like many Australian marsupials and birds, both species nest in tree hollows. However, if tree hollows are unavailable, these possums will nest in any dark and dry nook, such as those found in the rooves of suburban houses.

The main dispute that people have with possums is sharing their house with these furry bandits. However, there are a few things that you can do to discourage possums from nesting in your roof. Firstly, the best thing to do is to block up all the holes and entrances to your roof. Make sure to do this after dark while the possums are out foraging. It is best to close up all entrances, but if you are unsure if an entrance is being used, stuff it with newspaper, and check in a few days time to see if the newspaper has been pushed aside by a possum. It is also a good idea to trim any tree branches near your house so that there are none within 1.5 meters of the roof. This way, possums can’t jump from one to the other. Secondly, to encourage possums to nest in places other than your roof, you should install a nest box. You can obtain instructions on how to construct a nest box or where to find a nest box supplier on the DEPI (Department of Environment and Primary Industries) website. Another thing to think about is preserving the mature trees on your property. Tree hollows take over 150 years to develop, and due to land clearing and urbanisation there are few mature trees remaining in the suburbs. As many marsupials and birds require tree hollows for nesting, keeping an old tree in your backyard will encourage possums to nest in the tree and not in your roof. Also, try putting mothballs in your roof – apparently they hate the smell!

These species have a varied diet, and are infamous for feeding on the nonnative plants in our gardens, such as Silver Birch trees. Here a Ringtail Possum snacks on a Crepe Myrtle tree. 

These species have a varied diet, and are infamous for feeding on the nonnative plants in our gardens, such as Silver Birch trees. Here a Ringtail Possum snacks on a Crepe Myrtle tree. 

Another annoying habit of our furry neighbours is snacking on our garden plants. To prevent possums from snacking on your trees, install tree collars on those affected. These should be 60 cm wide, and 60 cm above the ground. For shrubs, try putting large quantities of blood and bone at the base of the plant. Finally, don’t feed possums! It encourages them to return to your home, as they learn to associate you and your house with food.

Furthermore, we should try to reduce our impact on possums. They are only a nuisance to us because we have invaded their environment and cleared their habitat, causing shortages of both food and shelter. Under the Wildlife Act of 1975, it is illegal to capture, transport or otherwise interfere with any native animal without a permit. If you wish to evict your possum by hiring a possum removalist, do not have the possum relocated. As possums are highly territorial, it is highly probable that other possums will move in after the first possum has departed. It can actually be beneficial to you to have a possum inhabiting a nest box on your property, as they will fiercely defend their territory, subsequently warding off any other possums that wish to nest in your roof.

Brushtail Possums have pointed ears, have an unmistakeable bushy tail, and are larger than Ringtail Possums.  Photo: David Cook

Brushtail Possums have pointed ears, have an unmistakeable bushy tail, and are larger than Ringtail Possums. Photo: David Cook

Conversely, if you enjoy our native wildlife and want to encourage possums into your backyard, there are a few things you can do to entice them. Plant indigenous eucalypt species to lure them into your garden, and keep your pets inside your home after dark. As previously mentioned, maintain and cherish mature trees, as much of our wildlife (including possums) require tree hollows for nesting.

Unfortunately, the adaptability of our possums has caused these native treasures to be viewed as pests. On the contrary, both Common Brushtail Possums and Common Ringtail Possums should be viewed as the champions of suburbia; where so many species have been displaced, these possums have persisted and adapted, which is something to be admired. They are our little Aussie battlers, so share your backyards, and bask in the success of our friendly neighbourhood possums. 

The Pied Currawong (Strepera graculina)

Pied Currawong in Marysville. These birds can be found throughout Melbourne as well.  

Pied Currawong in Marysville. These birds can be found throughout Melbourne as well.  

One of my favourite Australian birds, these yellow-eyed locals are one of three species of currawong, and can be found throughout eastern Australia.

Common around Melbourne and throughout Victoria, they spend most of their time in the trees on the lookout for food. They are omnivorous, eating a variety of insects, fruits and berries, and are always eager to steal a careless picnicker’s lunch.

Because they are tree-dwelling, they can afford to share territory with the ground-foraging Australian Magpie (Cracticus tibicen), with whom they are close relatives. They can be distinguished from magpies by their yellow (instead of red) eyes, dark beaks, black backs, and short legs.

Agile and intelligent birds, the Pied Currawong has a characteristic undulating flight, and a distinctive call that can be heard across the suburbs of our city and from which the bird derives its common-name (Curra-wong).

These charismatic birds usually lay a clutch of three eggs, and tend to be sedentary throughout the year.

Listen out for a pair or group near you!

 

These birds have adapted well to human settlement and are always on the lookout for an easy meal.

These birds have adapted well to human settlement and are always on the lookout for an easy meal.