Dragons by Habitat

Ctenophorus is far and away Australia's largest genus of dragons; the current count being 28 species. It keeps getting bigger, with the addition just last month of a new species, Ctenophorus mirrityana. These dragons were long thought to be Ctenophorus decresii, and admittedly they do look pretty similar. However, there are differences if you look close enough, as McLean et al. did. Also, as McLean et al. found once they did the genetics, it turns out that Ctenophorus mirrityana isn't even particularly closely related to Ctenophorus decresii. C. decresii is much more closely related to a very different looking lizard, Ctenophorus fionni.

A tawny dragon,  Ctenophorus decresii, which looks like but is not particularly closely related to Ctenophorus mirrityana. near Burra, South Australia, 2011. Photo by Tobias Hayashi.

The genus just keeps expanding. Before Ctenophorus mirrityana, the last time species got added to Ctenophorus  was in 2008, when Melville et al. found four species of small, heath-dwelling lizards to be phylogenetically inside the Ctenophorus radiation. These four look nothing like what a Ctenophorus should look like, and don't really behave like a self-respecting Ctenophorus either. They are small, inconspicuous, pebble-mimicking lizards that aren't very fast and would rather crouch down and hope you don't see them than take off running. Any self-respecting Ctenophorus sits up proudly and doesn't care if you see it, because it knows it is faster than you. Well, it thinks it's faster than you.

The Ctenophorus is not faster than me. I'm also pretty sneaky. Cameron's Corner, South Australia, 2011. Photo by Angus Kennedy.

Just one year before that, in 2007, a lizard species completely unknown to science was described from remote central Western Australia. It was found living on the surface of a salt lake, something Ctenophorus are famous for. This lizard turned out also to be a Ctenophorus  and was named Ctenophorus nguyarna. So in the past seven years, six species have been added to the Ctenophorus genus in three different instances. Not only that, but each instance was a different method of discovering a new species: species splitting, polyphyly, and discovery of completely new animals previously unknown to science.

Before all this, a long time ago (the 80's) Dr. Allen Greer noticed and wrote about the fact that Ctenophorus  dragons fall broadly into three categories: those that shelter in burrows, those that shelter under rocks, and those that shelter in vegetation. Thirty years later, Dr. Greer's designations still stand as a very useful way to divide up Australia's largest dragon genus. According to the most recent Ctenophorus phylogeny, there are two groups of everything. Two groups of burrowers, two groups of rock-dwellers, and two groups of vegetation-dwellers. 

The first group of vegetation-dwellers are the small, heath-dwelling lizards formerly of the genus Rankinia that were transferred into Ctenophorus in 2008 based on phylogenetics and some subtle morphological features. Phylogenetics be damned, I consider them interlopers and will have nothing more to do with them! Also, I've never seen one and I don't have any pictures of them. The other groups, however, I have plenty of pictures of, so I think I'll go through each group and put up some pictures of them and their very different habitats.