Perentie (Varanus giganteus)
|Also known as:||parenthie, perente, perenty|
|Size||Length: up to 2.5 m (2)|
|Weight||up to 6 kg (3)|
- The perentie is the world’s second largest lizard.
- Reaching speeds of up to 40 kilometres per hour, the perentie runs at about the same speed as an Olympic sprinter.
- As well as running fast on all fours, the perentie is also able to run on just its two hind legs.
- The skin pattern of the perentie is said to be the inspiration for a particular style of Aboriginal woodcarving.
The perentie has not yet been assessed by the IUCN, but is listed on Appendix II of CITES (4).
Also known as a monitor or a goanna (5), the perentie (Varanus giganteus) is Australia’s largest lizard (3). It has creamy colouration, becoming browner on the upperparts with age, occasionally with a reddish tinge (6). The body and tail are darkly speckled and have transverse bands of pale, dark-edged spots (7), occurring from the neck to two-thirds of the way down the tail (6). The perentie has black lines on the throat (7), and its long neck has unique spot patterns that can be used to identify individuals (3).
The perentie’s snout is long and is flattened at the end (8), and this species has a forked tongue and sharp, slightly curved teeth. Its powerful legs are dark brown (6) and end in five clawed toes (5), while the tail is laterally compressed (7) and extremely strong (5).
The perentie occurs in the arid landscapes of central, southern, and western Australia, as well as in the Northern Territory (7). It is also common on Barrow Island, off the coast of Western Australia, where it is an ecologically significant top predator (3).
Preferring arid habitats (7), the perentie digs its burrows in sandy ground (9). It also inhabits rocky ranges, flat-topped elevated land, semi-arid savanna, caves and rock crevices (7).
The perentie is a carnivorous lizard, eating a wide variety of animals such as small mammals, birds, other lizards, turtle eggs and insects (5). Like all monitors of the Varanus genus, it is able to effectively track its prey using its long tongue, which picks up chemical signals in the air. Mates may also be located in this way (10). Like other varanids, the perentie learns to recognise good locations for food and other resources, returning regularly to these sites when foraging (11). When prey is caught, it is shaken violently until dead, and then swallowed whole (5).
Monitor species are unique in their ability to run extremely fast over great distances (12). The perentie holds its legs underneath its body, walking erect like a mammal (13), and it is also able to run solely on its hind legs (6). It can reach speeds of up to 40 kilometres per hour, enabling it to catch fast-moving mammals such as rabbits. The perentie is able to do this due to its ability to expand and contract the sides of its neck, effectively making the throat behave like bellows, pumping air from the nostrils down to the lungs while it is running (12). In addition to this athletic ability, monitor lizards also have extremely good eyesight (2).
Perentie courtship resembles that of other monitors. The male perentie licks and nuzzles the female, and several copulations will take place over a few days (10). Breeding in spring to early summer, the female perentie lays one clutch of 8 to 11 eggs per year (3). Reptile eggs are vulnerable to damage due to their thin casing, and are not fully impervious to water, allowing them to be laid in the absence of open water. To protect its eggs and keep them at constant optimum temperature and humidity, the perentie lays its eggs inside a termite nest. Termites maintain the temperature and humidity of their nests with the utmost vigilance, and the conditions are ideal for perentie eggs (12).
In general, male monitor lizards are territorial and will fight other males for access to a female. During combat, males grasp each other with their forelegs while standing on their hind legs, trying to push their rival to the ground. Defensive behaviour includes lashing the tail, clawing, and hissing (10). When threatened, the perentie will often rise on its hind legs, swell its throat and hiss (5).
There are no known threats to the perentie at present.
No specific conservation measures are currently known to be in place for the perentie. However, in some parts of its range, such as Barrow Island, all reptiles are under protection (3). This species is also listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meaning that any international trade in the perentie should be carefully controlled and monitored (4).
More on the perentie:
Perth Zoo - Perentie:
Find out more about reptiles:
The Reptile Database:
Find out more about conservation in Australia:
Australian Wildlife Conservancy:
Australian Conservation Foundation:
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:
- Carnivorous: feeding on flesh.
- Genus: a category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
- Territorial: describes an animal, a pair of animals or a group that occupies and defends an area.
The Reptile Database (November, 2012)
- Watharow, S. (2011) Living with Snakes and Other Reptiles. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
Moro, D. and MacAulay, I. (2010) A Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Barrow Island. Chevron Australia, Perth. Available at:
CITES (November, 2012)
Perth Zoo - Perentie Species Profile (November, 2012)
- Pianka, E., King, D. and King, R. (2004) Varanoid Lizards of the World. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indiana.
- Wilson, S. (2005) A Field Guide to Reptiles of Queensland. Reed New Holland, Sydney.
- Boulenger, G. (1885) Catalogue of the Lizards in the British Museum (Natural History). Volume 2: Iguanidae, Xenosauridae, Zonuridae, Anguidae, Anniellidae, Helodermatidae, Varanidae, Xantusiidae, Teiidae, Amphisbaenidae. British Museum, London.
- Joyce, E. and McCann, D. (2011) Burk and Wills: The Scientific Legacy of the Victorian Exploring Expedition. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
- Halliday, T. and Adler, K. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
- King, D. and Green, B. (1999) Goannas: The Biology of Varanid Lizards. NewSouth Publishing, Sydney, Australia.
- Attenborough, D. (2008) Life in Cold Blood. Random House, London.
- Pianka, E. (1994) The Lizard Man Speaks. University of Texas Press, Texas.