THE warm and dry weather over the past few weeks has been not so good for the garden but has certainly stimulated some reptile activity.
I have seen three different blue-tongued lizards in our garden recently and one of them is about 40 centimetres long.
It is always good to see some native fauna in the backyard and these once very common animals seem to be making a comeback.
Blue-tongued lizards are actually members of the skink family and it is the Eastern blue-tongued lizards that most of us are familiar with.
As with most reptiles the blue-tongued lizard can often be seen early in the morning basking in the sunlight to warm up before heading out to search for food during the day.
These lizards are omnivores and I didn't actually realise this until I spotted one in my strawberry patch, and at first I thought that it was searching for snails.
I was totally surprised when it started to devour a nice little strawberry.
I wasn't too concerned as the occasional strawberry is a small price to pay for the work they do keeping other pests under control. A well-earned treat, no doubt.
Blue tongues don't appear menacing at first sight but they have quite big mouths and powerful jaws that are very well adapted for crunching the hard shell of snails and beetles.
Their diet also includes garden slugs, caterpillars and, in my case, berries from the food garden.
Shelter from predators can be provided throughout the garden by placing a few rocks together to create a natural feature.
They do not generally move very fast and will be more likely to "freeze" when first approached and take the "do you think he saw us" course of action.
If they feel threatened they will usually display their trademark blue tongue and will quite often hiss and flatten their body to appear larger.
Although they are relatively harmless, a mature blue tongue can inflict a nasty bite with its sharp teeth when handled, especially by children, so just observe them without interfering.
It is most important not to use chemicals in the garden if you want to encourage beneficial animals and one of the worst things you can do is use snail baits. A poisoned snail or slug can be very harmful not only to lizards but also to birds such as kookaburras, magpies and your backyard chooks.
Mark Garnham is a Hunter Valley horticulturalist.
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