Tathra ecologists help discover new dragon species

Source: Bega District News

IT'S not every day a new species of dragon is discovered.

However, thanks in part to a team of ecologists based in Tathra, a rare and likely endangered species of lizard has been identified in western NSW.

Steve Sass, one of the directors of Tathra-based company EnviroKey, said the Barrier Range dragon has been identified as a distinct species only found in two populations in western NSW.

The new lizard species, Ctenophorus mirrityana, was announced recently in the scientific journal Records of the Australian Museum.

“It was originally thought this population of lizards was part of the same species found in South Australia known as the tawny crevice dragon,” Mr Sass said this week.

“We always thought they looked a little bit different though.”

Mr Sass said as a result of EnviroKey’s reputation for similar research projects throughout Australia, a researcher from the University of Melbourne contacted them with the task of studying the two NSW lizard populations.

“We went out to these populations and collected a lot of data, including genetic material for DNA analysis,” he said.

“From that data we could demonstrate this was a separate species than the one in South Australia.

“Their markings and colour are significantly different and we used DNA evidence to back that finding up.

“It’s great news – you don’t often find new species in the modern age.

“It’s exciting to be involved in it.”

Mr Sass said EnviroKey’s work was in collaboration with researchers at the University of Melbourne and Museum of Victoria. 

While the new species is to be commonly known as the Barrier Range dragon, its Latin taxonomy has its origins in the hot and remote land on which it is found.

“Mirrityana comes from the Aboriginal language of the area and means ‘out in the sunlight’,” Mr Sass said.

“These lizards like to sit out in the full sunlight trying to attract a mate so it was a perfect name for it and a great way to recognise the Aboriginal heritage of that area.”

Mr Sass said the Barrier Range dragon exists nowhere else in the world and once further monitoring of the population is carried out in light of it now being known as a distinct species, he said it could very well end up on the critically endangered list.

“It’s quite an arid area of NSW. One of the populations is near a national park and the other is on private land.

“It’s been grazing land for more than 150 years and the dragon has existed for all that time.

“But they could be threatened by bushfires and drought.

“The biggest issue in rural NSW is feral goats and they are a concern, eating all the vegetation so these lizards have nowhere to live and their food source of insects severely compromised.

“The regulatory authorities are now fully aware of this new species though.”

Mr Sass moved to the Bega Valley with his wife seven years ago and started EnviroKey around four-and-a-half years ago.

EnviroKey has been one of the major sponsors of the Tathra Wharf to Waves for several years - Mr Sass said it was a great place to live and work and he was happy to be supporting the local community.

He thought many locals may be surprised at how a small Tathra-based company was making such big waves around the country with research projects such as this latest one.

EnviroKey has now been engaged by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage to provide ongoing monitoring of the Barrier Range dragon.

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