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Australia’s Striped Legless Lizard Threatened By Overgrazing Kangaroos

The striped legless lizard (Delma impar) of Australia, an endangered species, can be further harmed if kangaroos are allowed to overgraze the Canberra

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The striped legless lizard (Delma impar) of Australia, an endangered species, can be further harmed if kangaroos are allowed to overgraze the Canberra grasslands that the lizards rely on for survival, according to new research by Australian National University. University researcher Brett Howland said that the kangaroos are destroying the grassland habitat by overgrazing, reducing the usually long grasses to the blade length of a lawn. He said that the lizards need a least 20 centimeters of coverage in order to stay hidden as well as to forage on the insects that live in the grasslands. 

"When there are too many kangaroos, they overgraze grasslands until they are like a lawn, which leaves lizards with no shelter," Howland told ABC News Australia. "Just because kangaroos are native, doesn't mean they don't do damage. Howland said that the eastern kangaroo population has exploded due in part to a lack of predators, such as the dingo dog and indigenous hunters that used to keep the marsupials in check. Without these controls, the population of the animals has exploded into the millions. 


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The Australian Capital Territory has been culling the kangaroos but animal rights group Animal Liberation has challenged that practice for the past two years. Howland said that the current number of kangaroos in Canberra’s parklands numbers 300 per square kilometer and said that number should be reduced to about 100 per square kilometer in order to reduce the overgrazing. In an effort to find an alternative to killing the kangaroos, the government has been experimenting with sterilization, but the government says the cost is prohibitive, at around $500 to $2,000 per animal versus $300 per animal via culling. 

The striped legless lizard has very small hind limbs and looks like a snake. They can live more than 10 years, but their reproduction is limited to just two eggs each summer. They start breeding at around 3-4 years of age. They eat insects found in grasslands, including spiders, crickets, grasshoppers, caterpillars, and cockroaches. In addition to the ACT, the lizard can be found in New South Wales and Victoria. They have been extirpated from Melbourne. 

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John B. Virata keeps a ball python, two corn snakes, a king snake, and two leopard geckos. His first snake, a California kingsnake, was purchased at the Pet Place in Westminster, CA for $5. His first pet reptile was a green anole that arrived in a small box via mail order. Follow him on Twitter @johnvirata