Open Access Open Access  Restricted Access Subscription or Fee Access


Molecular and morphological assessment of Varanus pilbarensis (Squamata: Varanidae), with a description of a new species from the southern Pilbara, Western Australia



Varanus pilbarensis Storr, 1980 is a specialised saxicolous varanid endemic to the Pilbara region of Western Australia. We present genetic and morphological evidence confirming the existence of a divergent southern lineage, here described as V. hamersleyensis sp. nov.. The new species differs noticeably in having a darker colouration and a reduced pattern of small whitish ocelli on the dorsal surface of the limbs only with a largely unbanded tail. By contrast, V. pilbarensis which is redescribed and restricted to the northern lineage, is paler and more boldly patterned with large greyish ocelli on the dorsal and lateral surfaces of the body and a strongly banded tail. The two species have discrete distributions centred on the Chichester and Hamersley Ranges to the north and south of the Fortescue River Basin. This pattern of intraregional genetic structuring is similar to that found in a number of other saxicolous lizard lineages from the Pilbara.


goanna, Chichester Range, Hamersley Range, Fortescue River Basin, mtDNA divergence

Full Text:

PDF/A (9.77 MB)


Aplin, K.P., Fitch, A.J. & King, D.J. (2006) A new species of Varanus Merrem (Squamata: Varanidae) from the Pilbara region of Western Australia, with observations on sexual dimorphism in closely related species. Zootaxa, 1313, 1–38.

Ast, J.C. (2001) Mitochondrial DNA evidence and evolution in Varanoidea (Squamata). Cladistics, 17, 211–226.

Bush, B. & Maryan, B. (2011) A Field Guide to the Snakes of the Pilbara, Western Australia. Western Australian Museum, Welshpool, Western Australia, Australia, 112 pp.

Clarke, R.H. (2004) A record of the emerald monitor Varanus prasinus from Boigu Island, Torres Strait, Australia. Herpetofauna, 34, 70–71.

Doughty, P., Pepper, M. & Keogh, J.S. (2010) Morphological and molecular assessment of the Diplodactylus savagei species complex in the Pilbara region, Western Australia, with a description of a new species. Zootaxa, 2393, 33–45.

Doughty, P., Rolfe, J.K., Burbidge, A.H., Pearson, D.J. & Kendrick, P.G. (2011a) Herpetological assemblages of the Pilbara biogeographic region, Western Australia: ecological associations, biogeographic patterns and conservation. Records of the Western Australian Museum, Supplement 78, 315–341.

Doughty, P., Kealley, L. & Donnellan, S.C. (2011b) Revision of the Pygmy Spiny-tailed Skinks (Egernia depressa species-group) from Western Australia, with descriptions of three new species. Records of the Western Australian Museum, 26, 115–137.

Doughty, P., Kealley, L. & Melville, J. (2012) Taxonomic assessment of Diporiphora (Reptilia: Agamidae) dragon lizards from the western arid zone of Australia. Zootaxa, 3518, 1–24.

Ehmann, H. (1992) Encyclopedia of Australian AnimalsReptiles. Angus & Robertson, New South Wales, Australia, 495 pp.

Eidenmüller, B. (2007) Monitor Lizards, Natural History, Captive Care & Breeding. Revised, enlarged and updated edition. Edition Chimaira, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 176 pp.

Fitch, A.J., Goodman, A.E. & Donnellan, S.C. (2006) A molecular phylogeny of the Australian monitor lizards (Squamata: Varanidae) inferred from mitochondrial DNA sequences. Australian Journal of Zoology, 54, 253–269.

Fuller, S., Baverstock, P. & King, D. (1998) Biogeographic origins of goannas (Varanidae): a molecular perspective. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 9, 294–307.

Gray, J.E. (1827) A synopsis of the genera of saurian reptiles, in which some new genera are indicated, and the others reviewed by actual examination. Annals of Philosophy, 3, 54–58.

Greer, A.E. (1989) The Biology and Evolution of Australian Lizards. Surrey Beatty, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 264 pp.

Hardwicke, T. & Gray, J.E. (1827) A synopsis of the species of saurian reptiles, collected in India by Major-General Hardwicke. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 3, 214–229.

Horner, P. (2007) Systematics of the snake-eyed skinks, Cryptoblepharus Wiegmann (Reptilia: Squamata: Scincidae)—an Australian based review. The Beagle, Records of the Museum and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory, Supplement 3, 1–198.

How, R.A. & Cowan, M.A. (2006) Collections in space and time: geographical patterning of native frogs, mammals and reptiles through a continental gradient. Pacific Conservation Biology, 12, 111–133.

King, D. & Green, B. (1993) Goanna: The Biology of Varanid Lizards. New South Wales University Press, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 116 pp.

Koch, A., Gaulke, M. & Böhme, W. (2010a) Unravelling the underestimated diversity of Philippine water monitor lizards (Squamata: Varanus salvator complex), with the description of two new species and a new subspecies. Zootaxa, 2446, 1–54.

Koch, A., Auliya, M. & Ziegler, T. (2010b) Updated checklist of the living monitor lizards of the world (Squamata: Varanidae). Bonn Zoological Bulletin, 57, 127–136.

Koch, A., Ziegler, T., Böhme, W., Arida, E. & Auliya, M. (2013) Pressing Problems: Distribution, threats, and conservation status of the monitor lizards (Varanidae: Varanus ssp.) of Southeast Asia and the Indo-Australian Archipelago. Herpetological Conservation and Biology, 8 (Monograph 3), 1–62.

Maddison, D.R. & Maddison, W.P. (2003) MacClade V. 4.0. Sinauer Associates, Sunderland, Massachusetts, U.S.A.

McKenzie, N.L., van Leeuwen, S. & Pinder, A.M. (2009) Introduction to the Pilbara Biodiversity Survey, 2002–2007. Records of the Western Australian Museum, Supplement 78, 3–89.

Merrem, B. (1820) Versuch eines Systems Amphibien. Tentamen Systematics Amphibiorum. Krieger, Marburg, 199 pp.

Oliver, P., Adams, M. & Doughty, P. (2010) Molecular evidence for ten species and Oligo-Miocene vicariance within a nominal Australian gecko species (Crenadactylus ocellatus, Diplodactylidae). BMC Evolutionary Biology, 10, 386.

Pepper, M., Doughty, P. & Keogh, J.S. (2006) Molecular phylogeny and phylogeography of the Australian Diplodactylus stenodactylus (Gekkota; Reptilia) species-group based on mitochondrial and nuclear genes reveals an ancient split between Pilbara and non-Pilbara D. stenodactylus. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 41, 539–555.

Pepper, M., Fujita, M.K., Moritz, C. & Keogh, J.S. (2010) Palaeoclimate change drove diversification among isolated mountain refugia in the Australian arid zone. Molecular Ecology, 20, 1529–1545.

Pepper, M., Doughty, P. & Keogh, J.S. (2013a) Geodiversity and endemism in the iconic Australian Pilbara region: a review of landscape evolution and biotic response in an ancient refugium. Journal of Biogeography, 40, 1225–1239.

Pepper, M., Doughty, P., Fujita, M.K., Moritz, C. & Keogh, J.S. (2013b) Speciation on the rocks: integrated systematics of the Heteronotia spelea species complex (Gekkota; Reptilia) from Western and central Australia. PLoS ONE, 11, e78110, 1–17.

Pianka, E.R., King, D.R. & King, R.A. (2004) Varanoid Lizards of the World. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indiana, U.S.A., 588 pp.

Powney, G.D., Grenyer, R., Orme, C.D.L., Owens, P.F. & Meiri, S. (2010) Hot, dry and different: Australian lizard richness is unlike that of mammals, amphibians and birds. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 19, 386–396.

Shoo, L.P., Rose, R., Doughty, P., Austin, J.J. & Melville, J. (2008) Diversification patterns of pebble-mimic dragons are consistent with historical disruption of important habitat corridors in arid Australia. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 48, 528–542.

Smith, L.A. & Adams, M. (2007) Revision of the Lerista muelleri species-group (Lacertilia: Scincidae) in Western Australia with a redescription of L. muelleri (Fischer, 1881) and the description of nine new species. Records of the Western Australian Museum, 23, 309–357.

Stamatakis, A. (2006) RaxML-VI-HPC: Maximum Likelihood-based Phylogenetic analyses with thousands of taxa and mixed models. Bioinformatics, 22, 2688–2690.

Storr, G.M. (1980) The monitor lizards (Genus Varanus Merrem, 1820) of Western Australia. Records of the Western Australian Museum, 8, 237–293.

Storr, G.M., Smith, L.A. & Johnstone, R.E. (1983) Lizards of Western Australia. II. Dragons and Monitors. Western Australian Museum, Perth, Western Australia, Australia, 113 pp.

Swofford, D.L. (2000) PAUP*. Phylogenetic analysis using parsimony (*and other methods, Version 4. Sinauer Associates, Sunderland, Massachusetts, U.S.A.

Vincent, M. & Wilson, S. (1999) Australian Goannas. New Holland Publishers, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 152 pp.

Welton, L.J., Siler, C.D., Bennett, D., Diesmos, A., Duya, M.R., Dugay, R., Rico, E.L., Van Weerd, M. & Brown, R.M. (2010) A spectacular new Philippine monitor lizard reveals a hidden biogeographic boundary and a novel flagship species for conservation biology. Biology Letters, 6, 654–658.

White, J. (1790) Journal of a voyage to New South Wales, with sixty-five plates of non descript animals, birds, lizards, serpents, curious cones of trees and other natural productions. Debrett, London, 299 pp.

Wilson, S. (1996) Wildlife that crossed the strait. Geo Australasia, 18, 90–97.

Wilson, S. & Swan, G. (2013) A Complete Guide to Reptiles of Australia. Fourth Edition. New Holland Publishers, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 592 pp.

Ziegler, T., Böhme, W., Eidenmüller, B. & Philipp, K.M. (2001) A note on the coexistence of three species of Pacific monitor lizards in Australia (Sauria, Varanidae, Varanus indicus group). Bonn Zoological Bulletin, 50, 27–30.

Ziegler, T., Schmitz, A., Koch, A. & Böhme, W. (2007) A review of the subgenus Euprepiosaurus of Varanus (Squamata: Varanidae): morphological and molecular phylogeny, distribution and zoogeography, with an identification key for the members of the V. indicus and the V. prasinus species groups. Zootaxa, 1472, 1–28.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

ISSN 1175-5326 (Print Edition) & ISSN 1175-5334 (Online Edition)
Published by Magnolia Press, Auckland, New Zealand
A founding journal of Biotaxa