Australia’s Giant Venomous Lizard Gets Downsized
by Darren Naish
In case you hadn’t heard, Australia’s extinct, giant monitor lizard, Megalania, wasn’t as monstrous as traditionally thought.
In 1858, when paleontology was still a young science, the anatomist Richard Owen read a paper before London’s Royal Society on some astonishingly large lizard bones that had been collected from Ice Age deposits in Australia. Specifically, Owen described a trio of vertebrae that measured three inches long and two inches high. These were far bigger than any lizard then known – the Komodo dragon wouldn’t be recognized by science for another 54 years – and, through a bit of rough anatomical math, Owen expected that this huge “land lizard” would have reached 20 feet from snout to tail.
But Megalania ain’t what it used to be. For one thing, the lizard’s bones are so similar to those of other monitor species – belonging to the genus Varanus – that paleontologists have taken to calling it Varanus priscus. And while it seems likely that the big lizard was venomous, recent size estimates have shrunk this “dragon in the dust.”…
(read more: Laelaps blog - National Geo)
images: photo by Cas Lieber, illustration by Peter Trusler, via Monash University on Flickr