A “dragon” that fits in your hand is awesome by default.
It’s only been found in two areas so far, both of which – shockingly – are in Yinnietharra in Western Australia, giving it one of the smallest ranges of any rock dragon. And at 8 cm (3 inches), it’s about as long as the information written about it!
It spends its days basking on granite outcrops, but even these are small, at no higher than 0.5 m (1.6 feet) and less than 1 square metre (10 square feet). While the larger and more elaborate outcrops are surrendered to its closest physical and genetic neighbour, the ornate rock dragon (hopefully not out of feelings of inadequacy), there is something undeniably cool about Yinnie’s choice of home rock.
Bizarrely, it’s incredibly picky and old school: it seems to prefer granite or granodiorite from the Archaeon eon. At their youngest, these rocks are 2.5 billion years old, and at their oldest, date back to when life began on Earth! And since this dragon tends to live fast and die young, only breeding for a couple of seasons, clearly opposites attract. During the night, or if it’s too dangerous or cold to bask, it likes to hide in its crevices or in burrows.
Speaking of the cold, this might affect whether it has bouncing baby boys or girls. Other species in the genus Ctenophorus, meaning “comb-bearer”, lay clutches of eggs throughout spring and summer, and in Peter S. Harlow’s study of ornate and tawny dragons, almost all the eggs incubated at lower temperatures were female, while at higher temperatures, the number of males shot up. The Yinnietharra rock dragon certainly seems to be a sun worshipper, as it’s thought to be most active at ground temperatures of 29°C (84°F), and like other dragons, regulates its temperature by “stilting”, or lifting a leg or two off the ground.
Its other main activity, for the males at least, is lashing its dark-banded tail at the sight of a female or another male. Otherwise, it’s mostly seen zipping away at the first sign of danger.
Since our knowledge is still pretty miniscule, and some of its already small range is being picked clean by goats and other feral hoofed animals, the Yinnietharra rock dragon is considered Vulnerable locally. But we’re not exactly rushing to develop its desert home, and as we neither want to annihilate it, wear it, take it home as a pet or eat it, this little lizard should be in the clear for now and is listed as Least Concern. We just need to find out more about it, or it might not hang around as long as its rocky home. (Well, even humans might not last billions of years (!) but we should at least give it a chance.)
Latin: Ctenophorus yinnietharra
What? Teeny multicoloured Australian lizard with a banded tail.
Where? Basking on granite outcrops in the Yinnietharra region of Western Australia.
How big? Up to 8 cm / 3 inches from snout to vent, up to 25 cm (10 inches) including tail*
Endangered? No, currently Least Concern, due to a presumably stable population, and an arid habitat that isn’t declining.
Probable motto: This rock hasn’t moved for 3 billion years, so why should I?
Aww they look dinky. Do they need my help at all?
Being both harmless and useless to humans, as well as living in a desert, can do wonders for your survival! Although its range is limited and it’s therefore vulnerable, the Yinnietharra rock dragon doesn’t have any specific campaigns at the moment.
Just to prove I’m not fibbing:
“Approved Conservation Advice for Ctenophorus yinnietharra (Yinnietharra Rock-dragon)“. 1999. Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
“Biotite granite“. No date. Geology Superstore.
“Ctenophorus yinnietharra“. No date. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
“Ctenophorus yinnietharra – Yinnietharra rock dragon“. No date. Species Profile and Threats Database. Australian Government: Department of the Environment and Energy.
Doughty, Paul et al. 2007. “A new species of Ctenophorus (Lacertilia:Agamidae) from Lake Disappointment, Western Australia“. Herpetologica 63(1):72-86.
Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. No date. “Granodiorite“. Britannica.com.
Harlow, Peter S. 2000. “Incubation Temperature Determines Hatchling Sex in Australian Rock Dragons (Agamidae: Genus Ctenophorus)“. Copeia 2000(4):958-964.
Macdonald, Stewart. No date. “Yinnietharra rock dragon“. Arod.com.au.
Michael, Damian, and Lindenmayer, David. 2018. Rocky outcrops in Australia: Ecology, conservation and management. CSIRO Publishing.
“Southwest Australia – Species“. No date. Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund.
“Survey guidelines for Australia’s threatened reptiles“. 1999. Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
Thompson, Graham G., and Withers, Philip C. 2005. “The relationship between size-free body shape and choice of retreat for Western Australian Ctenophorus (Agamidae) dragon lizards“. Amphibia-Reptilia 26(2005): 65-72.
Windley, Brian Frederick. No date. “Archaeon eon“. Britannica.com.
Featured image credit: “Yinnietharra rock dragon” by Brian Bush.