Perenties fight to (near) death

Bloody territorial behaviour captured in South Australian outback.
By AG STAFF January 13, 2021 Reading Time: 2 Minutes Print this page

Resembling Jurassic warriors, these two male perentie lizards were recently captured battling over territory in the red dirt of Todmorden homestead, on the Oodnadatta Track, South Australia.

According to photographer Jeroen Dunnink, they went at it for 20 minutes, with plenty of blood drawn.

“The boss has lived here for 60 years and reckons he’s never seen anything like this before,” Jeroen says.

Shy and rarely seen, because of its range – the arid desert areas of Western Australia, South Australia, the Northern Territory, and Queensland – the perentie is the largest monitor lizard or goanna native to Australia, and the fourth-largest living lizard on earth, weighing in at around 20kg and growing to 2.5m long.

A proficient excavator, it can dig a burrow for shelter in only minutes using its long claws, which it also employs for climbing trees.

A perentie will often stand on its hind legs and tail – a behaviour known as “tripoding” – to take in its surroundings. And if it spots danger, it’ll either dart off on all four legs or just their back ones, or freeze, lying flat on the ground until the danger has passed.

If cornered or in battle (as pictured), this powerful carnivore stands its ground and uses its arsenal of claws, teeth, and whip-like tail to defend itself. It’ll inflate its throat and hiss as a defensive or aggressive display, and can strike at opponents with its muscular tail. It may also lunge forward with an open mouth, either as a bluff or as an attack, which is what Jeroen says he saw at the beginning of this battle.

“I heard it before I saw it,” he says. “It was a bloody impressive display.”

And for the record, the winner was the lad on the left. His combatant scarpered to the tyre shed, no doubt to slink away when the coast was clear.

Fighting over territory on the Oodnadatta Track, SA.