'Varanus (Megalania) priscus' — an extinct giant lizard
‘Varanus (Megalania) priscus’ belonged to the group Megafauna which were big land animals that evolved millions of years after the dinosaurs and included mammals, birds and reptiles. Its name (meg-ar-lane-ee-ar) means ‘great roamer’. The fossils of ‘Megalania’ were discovered on the Darling Downs, Queensland.
‘Megalania’ was a carnivore with a length of 5.5 metres. ‘Megalania’ lived 1.8 million to 40 000 years ago in the Pleistocene.
Educational Value Statement
'Megalania' was the largest land lizard ever to live in Australia and possibly the world. It is closely related to modern goannas, but much larger. Its maximum length was approximately 5.5 metres, its weight about 600 kilograms, so it was twice the length of the Komodo Dragon. 'Megalania' was so similar to goannas that palaeontologists have changed its scientific name to Varanus, the scientific name for the modern goannas. Recent research shows that 'Megalania' was also venomous.
'Megalania' was the largest carnivore to have lived in Australia during the last two million years, but was probably less common than the predatory marsupial lion, Thylacoleo carnifex. It would have ambushed its prey, which possibly included the rhinoceros-sized Diprotodon optatum, and then torn it to pieces using its very large claws and serrated curved teeth. Megalania probably also scavenged for food, feasting on dead animals it located with its keen sense of smell.
'Megalania' most likely lived in grassland and open woodland, although some scientists think it may have been partially aquatic. Incomplete fossil skeletons have been found in New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland, particularly in the Darling Downs. It became extinct before the peak of the last Ice Age (18,000 years ago), when Australia was becoming drier and Megalania’s prey less numerous.
Varanus (Megalania) priscus