Dance of the dragon

By AG STAFF | June 4, 2014

Lizards that love to bust a move come under the AGS spotlight.

Researchers supported by the Australian Geographic Society have broken new ground in the quest to unravel the strange dancing language of Australia’s native jacky dragons.

Taking body language to a whole new level, these dragons use a form of dance to communicate, with ritualistic tail flicks, head bobs, arm-waving and push-ups constituting the words and sentences of their conversations.

However, researchers do not yet understand just how these words are heard – or, rather, seen. Dr Shaun New of the Australian National University, Canberra, was fascinated by the movements and eyes of the lizards and set out to study them.

“After my undergraduate degree in zoology, I went back home [to the Pilbara] to rediscover the biodiversity there,” he says. “There are an incredible number of endemic species, so many of which are lizards… I just wanted to learn more about them.”

This curiosity led Shaun to research the jacky dragon, a native of south-eastern Australia (found from South Australia to south-east Queensland) and one of our first native reptiles to be scientifically described.

His project used computers to plot the tail flicks in three dimensions and looked at how the dragons used their unusual eyes. Shaun found that the jacky dragons have 323º peripheral vision, compared with a human’s paltry 120º.

Although the dragon’s dancing code has not yet been cracked, Shaun is well on the way to learning more.