Brigalow scaly-foot (Paradelma orientalis)

Also known as: Queensland snake-lizard
French: Lézard Apode Du Queensland
GenusParadelma (1)
SizeLength: up to 16 cm (2)

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Although snake-like in appearance, the Brigalow scaly-foot is actually a legless lizard, with no external evidence of any forelimbs and hindlimbs that are so greatly reduced that only small flaps remain (3). The fairly short but heavy-set body of the Brigalow scaly-foot is glossy dark brown to dark grey, with an opaque, milky sheen (2) (4). The scales covering the body often have dark centres, giving a faint impression of a striped pattern running along the body (5) (6). The Brigalow scaly-foot has a rounded snout and visible ear openings (2), and the base of the head is a paler cream colour with a dark band crossing the neck (4). The tail, which can be distinguished from the body only on close inspection, can be up to twice as long as the body (7).

The Brigalow scaly-foot is found only in Queensland, Australia. Within this state, it is restricted mainly to the ‘Brigalow Belt’, a region of acacia wooded grassland that runs between the tropical rainforest of Queensland’s coast and the semi-desert of the interior (8) (9) (10) (11).

This small legless lizard lives in open forest and woodland, especially on vegetation such as brigalow (Acacia harpophylla) (7), narrow-leaved ironbark (Eucalyptus crebrai) (11), northern silky oak (Cardwellia sublimisi) (7) and numerous other species of Acacia (12) (13). It is also found on sandstone ridges, sheltering below rock slabs and grass tussocks (5) (8).

Information on the Brigalow scaly-foot’s ecology and life history is limited. It is certainly a nocturnal, slow-moving creature, probably choosing to hide under stone slabs, logs, loose bark or dense leaf litter during the day (7) (14). It is most active in warm months and inactive when the maximum nightly temperature drops below 19 degrees Celsius. In spite of its small size it has been known to climb trees to heights in excess of two metres (13), and if alarmed, the scaly-foot has been observed to rear its head and flicker its tongue (13).

Sap from the hickory wattle (Acacia fulciformis) forms the main part of its diet, although one study also found spider and insect remains in samples of droppings (13). The same study captured a pregnant female that subsequently laid two eggs. The incubation time was around two months and the hatching process slow (13).

The Brigalow scaly-foot is under threat from a number of different factors. The scaly-foot’s natural habitat (the Brigalow Belt) has been drastically changed by vegetation clearance, much of it for agricultural or urban development (9) (10) (15); as a result, the Brigalow Belt has declined in size by 90 percent from its original area (16).

The removal of rocks, leaf litter and logs, through activities such as burning, slashing and highway widening, destroys vital shelter and protection for the Brigalow scaly-foot (6), and an increasing human population and the introduction of roadside lighting has threatened the population of this nocturnal reptile at an important site known as Boyne Island (13). Additional threats include misidentification as snakes, resulting in persecution, as well as accidental deaths on roads (4), and predation from animals such as foxes (Vulpes vulpes), feral cats (Felis catus) and pigs (Sus scrofa) (6).

Numerous conservation measures for the threatened Brigalow scaly-foot have been recommended, including managing areas of vegetation known to contain populations of this lizard, ensuring highway widening does not impact known populations, and raising awareness of the Brigalow scaly-foot within local communities (17). This species will also benefit from conservation measures outlined in the Threat Abatement Plan for Predation by Feral Cats (18) and the Threat Abatement Plan for Predation by the European Red Fox (19).

To learn more about conservation of the Brigalow Belt see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2010)
  2. Cogger, H.G. (2000)Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia: Sixth Edition. Reed New Holland, Sydney.
  3. Vitt, L.J. and Caldwell, J.P. (2009) Herpetology. Third Edition. Academic Press, Burlington, Massachusetts.  
  4. Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management (May, 2010)
  5. Wilson, S. and Swan, G. (2008) A Complete Guide to Reptiles of Australia. Second Edition. Reed New Holland, Sydney.
  6. WWF-Australia (2008) Brigalow Belt Bioregion: A Biodiversity Jewel. WWF-Australia, Brisbane.
  7. Richardson, R. (2008) Draft National Recovery Plan for Queensland Brigalow Belt Reptiles. Report to the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, Canberra. WWF-Australia, Brisbane.  
  8. Wilson, S.K. and Knowles, D.G. (1988) Australia’s Reptiles. Collins, Sydney.
  9. Cogger, H.G., Cameron, E., Sadlier, R. and Eggler, P. (1993) The Action Plan for Australian Reptiles. Australian Nature Conservation Agency, Canberra.
  10. Covacevich, J.A., Couper, P.J. and McDonald, K.R. (1998) Reptile diversity at risk in the Brigalow Belt. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum, 42(2): 475-486.
  11. Schultz, M. and Eyre, T.J. (1997) New distribution and habitat data for the pygopodid, Paradelma orientalis (Gunther, 1876). Memoirs of the Queensland Museum, 42(1): 212.
  12. Kutt, A.S., Hannah, D.S. and Thurgate, N.Y. (2003) Distribution, habitat and conservation status of Paradelma orientalis (Gunther, 1876) (Lacertilia:Pygopodidae). Australian Zoologist, 32: 261-264.
  13. Tremul, P.R. (2000) Breeding, feeding and arboreality in Paradelma orientalis: a poorly known, vulnerable pygopodid from Queensland, Australia. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum, 45(2): 599-609.
  14. Shea, G.M. (1987) Notes on the biology of Paradelma orientalis. Herpetofauna, 17(1): 5-6.
  15. McDonald, K.R., Covacevich, J.A., Ingram, G.J. and Couper, P.J. (1991) The status of frogs and reptiles. In: Ingram, G.J. and Raven, R.J. (Eds.) An Atlas of Queensland's Frogs, Reptiles, Birds and Mammals. Queensland Museum, Brisbane.
  16. Threatened Species Scientific Committee (2001) Commonwealth Listing Advice on Brigalow (Acacia harpophylla dominant and co-dominant). Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, Canberra.
  17. Threatened Species Scientific Committee (2008) Commonwealth Conservation Advice on Paradelma orientalis (Brigalow Scaly-foot). Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, Canberra.
  18. Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (2008) Threat Abatement Plan for Predation by Feral Cats. DEWHA, Canberra.
  19. Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (2008) Threat Abatement Plan for Predation by the European Red Fox. Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, Canberra.