Amazing photos show lace monitor raiding a brush turkey’s mound

By Ellen Rykers 12 January 2017
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AG wildlife photographer Gerry Pearce captured this dramatic photo series in Garigal National Park near Sydney.

IT WAS A BAD day for one brush turkey, who tried his best to fend off a hungry lace monitor. But his efforts were unsuccessful, as the monitor walked off with a tasty treat: the brush turkey’s precious eggs.

Wildlife photographer Gerry Pearce witnessed the ordeal in Sydney’s Garigal National Park, and captured some fascinating images of the action.

“I’d been photographing the brush turkey for a few weeks, as it was building the mound. Then the lace monitor started hanging around,” he says.

brush turkey

The male brush turkey fends off a lace monitor hunting his eggs. (Image: Gerry Pearce)

Male brush turkeys build a large mound out of vegetation, up to 2m high and 4m across. Females lay up to 24 eggs in the mound and heat from the decomposing vegetation incubates the eggs. The male uses his beak to check the heat and adjusts the mound to keep his eggs toasty warm until they hatch. Unless, of course, they end up as a lace monitor’s lunch.

Lace monitors, also known as goannas, have a voracious appetite. “They’ll eat a huge range of animals,” says reptile expert Dr Peter Harlow from Taronga Zoo. “They’re efficient, opportunistic carnivores. Lace monitors in particular eat a lot of eggs and hatchlings.”

The same lace monitor – identifiable by a distinctive marking – returned to the mound several times over a few weeks to eat its fill of brush turkey eggs. “They have really good memories,” explains Peter. “They’re one of the most intelligent lizards. They’ll learn ‘that’s where the eggs are’ and come back multiple times.”

brush turkey

The lace monitor raided the same mound over a period of several days. (Image: Gerry Pearce)

To get the shots, Gerry staked out the mound and waited for the perfect conditions. “The monitor would attack in the hottest part of the day,” says Gerry. “But when it was sunny, the contrast in the pictures was too high. So I had to wait for a really hot day that was also cloudy.”

When the big moment came, Gerry was ready. “I got caught up in the exhilaration,” he says, “My brain was working overtime to get the photography right. When it was over, I noticed the brush turkey looking a bit forlorn and felt sorry for it.”

Each attack lasted two to three hours, as the monitor seemed to have a bit of trouble finding the eggs in the large mound. “The monitor spent a lot of time digging around,” says Gerry, “And it didn’t eat more than two eggs in one sitting.”

lace monitor goanna egg

Unfortunately for the brush turkey, its efforts to fend off the lace monitor were unsuccessful. However the lace monitor, an “efficient and voracious carnivore”, enjoyed a tasty meal. (Image: Gerry Pearce)

This is apparently not for a lack of appetite, “Goannas have extremely stretchy stomachs,” says Peter, “They can eat so much they can barely walk. They’d eat every egg if they could find them, but they might not find them all.”

After each raid, the brush turkey would repair his mound – only to have it ransacked again during the next visit of the greedy goanna.