New Guinea reptiles

Cold-blooded, shelled and scaled

Whether lurking in the still waters of oxbows, ambling in the savanna or skittering across hot rocks, New Guinea’s reptiles exhibit a wide range of adaptations to the island's ecosystems.
Several snake species are found around New Guinea, including the venomous taipan (Oxyuranus scutellatus canni) and the death adder (Acanthophis antarcticus).1 They belong to 7 families, all of which also exist in Australia. At least 32 species (33%) can be considered endemic to the island of New Guinea and northern Australia - these are found nowhere else.

Compared to snakes, lizards show higher levels of endemism. More than 200 species (60% exclusive to New Guinea) have been discovered on the island.

In the rivers of the island lurk 2 species of crocodile - the New Guinea or freshwater crocodile (Crocodylus novaeguineae) and its saltwater relative (Crocodylus porosus). Although both species are used for their meat and hides, they are still found in large numbers.2

Shelled creatures

Some 13 species of turtles and tortoises (Chelonia spp) have been identified, 7 of which are found in freshwater habitats. Three freshwater species are endemic, and one, Parker's snake-necked turtle (Chelodina parkeri), is restricted to the Fly River.

C. parkeri and another snake-necked turtle (Chelodina pritchardi), are endangered along with the pig-nose turtle (Carettochelys insculpta), and 2 soft-shelled turtles (Pelochelys bibroni, P. cantorii).

They came from the west

Like amphibians, the ancestors of most groups of New Guinea reptiles came from the west. A few others arrived from Australia, at a time when it was still connected to New Guinea via a land bridge.3

A closer look at…

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1 Muller K. 2004. The Biodiversity in New Guinea. Unpublished document.
2 Miller S. (Ed). 1994. Status of biodiversity in Papua New Guinea: Papua New Guinea Country Report on Biological Diversity. Waigani: The Department of Environment and Conservation, Conservation Resource Centre and the Africa Centre for Resources and Environment (ACRE); 67-95.
3 Miller S. (Ed). 1994. Status of biodiversity in Papua New Guinea: Papua New Guinea Country Report on Biological Diversity. Waigani: The Department of Environment and Conservation, Conservation Resource Centre and the Africa Centre for Resources and Environment (ACRE); 67-95.
 Saltwater crocodile jumping out of the water for offered food, Australia. / ©: WWF-Canon / Martin HARVEY
Crocodile jumping out of the water to grab offered food.
© WWF-Canon / Martin HARVEY

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