Rainforest Reptiles

Skyrail Nature Diary: June 2009


Winter is the best time of year to see rainforest reptiles soaking up the sun. Recent sightings at Skyrail include the Amethystine Python and Freshwater Crocodile.

Did you know that Australia is home to several hundred reptile species? This includes two species of crocodile, 165 snake species, 17 species of tortoises and six species of marine turtles.

The Wet Tropics World Heritage Rainforests are home to 100 reptile species and 41 species of snake, including Australia’s largest python, the Amethystine Python (Morelia amethistina).

Averaging three meters in length, but known to grow over seven metres (22 feet), the Amethystine Python is so-named for the amethystine-like iridescence that can be seen on its scales in suitable light. Also called the Scrub Python, this giant snake has a varied diet including fruit bats, possums, rats, small mammals and birds.

The Amethystine Python is non-venomous: it kills its prey through constriction and suffocation and then swallows them whole, usually head first.

Although generally docile in nature, this snake - like all other snakes - should not be approached when seen in the wild. The best thing to do is to remain calm and still and either observe the snake, or just leave it in peace.

The snake pictured was recently photographed relaxing in the undergrowth at Skyrail’s Barron Falls Station, by one of our guests.

Another recent reptile sighting was of a Freshwater Crocodile, cruising just under the surface of the Barron River. This picture, snapped by a Skyrail Ranger, shows the fluid movement of the crocodile as it swims gracefully underneath the cableway.

Freshwater Crocodiles (Crocodylus johnstoni) are native to Australia and prefer rivers, creeks, streams and billabongs in the country’s warmer climates, from the Kimberly across the top end. It is unusual for Freshwater Crocodiles to be found this far upstream in the Barron River, due to the presence of the Falls, and it is believed they have been released here by local residents.

This species is timid in nature and much smaller than its aggressive Estuarine (Saltwater) Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) relative. Its diet includes fish, frogs, lizards and turtles which are usually caught through ambush. The Freshwater Crocodile lies patiently and when the prey comes within range, it strikes with rapid efficiency.

Easily distinguishable with its long, narrow snout and short, sharp teeth, Freshwater Crocodiles can live for up to 50 years. Mature males, generally, are about 2.5 metres long and weigh up to 50kg, while females are smaller at 2 metres long.

Many reptiles are camouflaged, making them difficult to see in the rainforest, but if you look closely, you may see them at Skyrail Rainforest Cableway.