Varanus priscus (Owen, 1859)

Megalania, Giant goanna, Giant ripper



Taxonomy & Nomenclature

Synonym/s: Megalania prisca Owen, 1859 (original combination)


Ninjemys oweni (Woodward, 1888) was confused by Owen with Varanus priscus, which caused him to describe N. oweni material as that of V. priscus (see Gaffney, 1992).


Conservation Status


Last record: 50kya (Price et al., 2015)





Biology & Ecology




BMNH 39965

QMF44615-17 ("osteoderms")

QMF1418; QML1420 (Hocknull, 2005:71)







Through the research of Australian cryptozoologist Rex Gilroy, many reports of giant goannas/lizards/monitors up to or exceeding 30ft in length have come to light (Gilroy, 1976, 1979, 1982 and 2000)*. And the most likely candidate, given the known sizes of recent varanid species, is Megalania (Varanus priscus). However, it is rather odd that most of these reports have emanated from Gilroy himself, and that there does not seem to be much of an historical precedent to the spate of reports from the 1970's and 80's claimed by Gilroy**, either in newspapers or other media sources, especially those of the 19th century when the species' numbers were likely much higher if they did/do exist. A case in point is (Eberhart, 2002), who's only source for reports of the "Australian Giant Monitor" is three of the Gilroy citations above (i.e. Gilroy, 1979, 1982, 2000).

Claims by Gilroy (source) that giant reptiles much larger than perenties (Varanus giganteus), Australia's largest accepted living varanid, feature in aboriginal traditions are unsubstantiated as far as I am aware, but not at all surprising. The latest survival dates of V. priscus suggest that there was at least some temporal overlap with aboriginals, and indeed the latter are generally thought to have driven the former extinct, presumably because of the threat they posed to the aboriginals. So the fact that Megalania would be incorporated into aboriginal oral tradition is not surprising, given the lasting impression they must have left upon the aboriginals who saw them. But that does not in any way give any credence to a more recent survival date of V. priscus, or any other megafaunal species for that matter, than is currently accepted by mainstream science.

* This is in addition to reports of bipedal reptiles, roughly dinosaur-like in conformation, and said without hesitation to be surviving theropod dinosaurs by Todd Jurasek (source), which cannot be attributed to Megalania because of extreme osteological differences.

** I can only find two alleged sightings of giant lizards in Greater Australia which predate the 1970's: Euroa, Victoria in 1890 when many people from that town were scared of a 30 ft long giant lizard (source). And Papua New Guinea in 1961, when Robert Grant and David George met with a giant goanna 30ft long (source). Both of these reports can be traced back to Gilroy, however, as can almost all of the others of which I am aware.



Original scientific description:

Owen, Richard. (1859). Description of some remains of a gigantic land-lizard (Megalania prisca, Owen) from Australia. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 149: 43-48.


Other references:

Anderson, C. (1927). A gigantic extinct lizard. The Australian Museum Magazine 3(4): 132-133.

Anderson, C. (1930). Palaeontological notes II. Meiolania playceps Owen and Varanus (Megalania) priscus Owen. Records of the Australian Museum 17: 309-316.

Anderson, C. (1931). Restored head of a large extinct Australian lizard. The Australian Museum Magazine 4(5): 147-148.

Anderson, C. and Fletcher, H. O. (1934). The Cuddie Springs bone bed. The Australian Museum Magazine 5(5): 152-158.

Anonymous. (2004). Giant ripper lizard moves to outback South Australia. Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, 9 November.

Bakker, R. T. (1986). The dinosaur heresies. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc. 481 pp.

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Conrad JL, Balcarcel AM, Mehling CM. (2012). Earliest Example of a Giant Monitor Lizard (Varanus, Varanidae, Squamata). PLoS ONE 7(8): e41767.

Czechura, Gregory V. (198X?). Megalania Resurrected? The Skeptic 2(4): ?-?.

Czechura, Gregory V. (1990-1993). Megalania Resurrected?, pp. 30-32. In: Williams, Barry (ed.). In The Beginning: The First Five Years of The Skeptic. St. James, N.S.W.: Australian Skeptics. 156 pp.

De Vis, Charles W. (1885). On the bones and teeth of a large extinct lizard. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Queensland 2: 25-32.

De Vis, Charles W. (1889). On Megalania and its allies. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Queensland 6: 93-99.

Dodson, John et al. (1993). Humans and megafauna in a late Pleistocene environment from Cuddie Springs, north western New South Wales. Archaeology in Oceania 28(2): 94-99.

Eberhart, George M. (2002). Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO Inc.

Erickson, G. M., De Ricqlès, A, De Buffrénil, V., Molnar, R. E. and Bayless, M. A. (2003). Vermiform bones and the evolution of gigantism in [i]Megalania[/i]-how a reptilian fox became a lion. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 23: 966-970. [Abstract]

Estes, R. (1983). Handbuch der Palaoherpetologie. Stuttgart: Gustav Fischer Verlag.

Etheridge, R. Jr. (1894). Official contributions to the palaeontology of South Australia. No. 6-Vertebrate remains from the Warburton or Diamantina River. Annual Report of the Government Geologist, South Australia 1894: 19-22.

Etheridge, R. Jr. (1917). Megalania prisca, Owen and Notiosaurus dentatus, Owen: lacertilian dermal armour; opalised remains from Lightning Ridge. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria 29: 127–133

Feférváry, G. J. (1918). Contributions to a monography on fossil Varanidae and on Megalanidae. Annales
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Gaffney, E. S. (1992). Ninjemys, a new name for ‘Meiolaniaoweni (Woodward), a horned turtle from the Pleistocene of Queensland. American Museum Novitates 3049: 1-10.

Gilroy, Rex. (1976). Australian monsters. Psychic Australian [1976]: pagination?.

Gilroy, Rex. (1979). Cessnock's Fantastic 30 ft. Lizard Monsters. Strange Phenomena and Psychic Australian 1979(March): [pagination?].

Gilroy, Rex. (1982). Australia's Lizard Monsters. Fortean Times 37: 32-33.

Gilroy, Rex. (2000). Giant Lizards of the Australian Bush. Australasian Ufologist 4(4): 17-20.

Head, J. J., Barrett, P. L. S. and Rayfield, E. J. (2009). Neurocranial osteology and systematic relationships of Varanus (Megalania) prisca Owen, 1859 (Squamata: Varanidae). Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 155: 445–457.

Hecht, M. K. (1975). The morphology and relationships of the largest known terrestrial lizard, Megalania prisca Owen, from the Pleistocene of Australia. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria 87: 239-50.

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McNamara, G. C. (1990). The Wyandotte Local Fauna: A new, dated, Pleistocene vertebrate fauna from Queensland. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum (Proceedings of the De Vis symposium) 28(1): 285-297.

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Molnar, R. E. (2004a). Dragons in the Dust: The palaeobiology of the Giant Monitor Lizard [i]Megalania[/i]. Indiana: Indiana University Press.. 210 pp.

Molnar, R. E. (2004). The long and honorable history of monitors and their kin, pp. 10-67. In: Pianka, E. R., King, D. R. and King, R. A. (eds.). Varanoid Lizards of the World. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Molnar, R. E. and Kurz, C. (1997). The distribution of Pleistocene vertebrates on the eastern Darling Downs, based on the Queensland Museum collections. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales 117: 107-133.

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Owen, Richard. (1882). Description of some remains of the gigantic land-lizard (Megalania prisca, Owen), from Australia. Part III. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. 172: 547-555.

Owen, R. (1886). Description of fossil remains, including foot bones, of Megalania prisca. Part IV. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 177: 327-330.

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Rich, Thomas H. (1983). The ancient butcher Megalania prisca, pp. 38-39. In: Quirk, S. & Archer, M. (eds.), Prehistoric Animals of Australia, Australian Museum, Sydney.

Rich, Thomas H. (1985). Megalania prisca Owen, 1859: The Giant Goanna, pp. 152-155. In: Vickers-Rich, Patricia and van Tets, Gerard Frederick. (eds.). Kadimakara: Extinct Vertebrates of Australia. Lilydale, Victoria: Pioneer Design Studio. 284 pp.

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Rich, T. H. and Hall, B. (1984). Rebuilding a giant lizard, pp. 291-294. In: Archer, Michael and Clayton, G. Vertebrate Zoogeography and Evolution in Australasia. Sydney: Hesperian Press.

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Willis, P. M. A. and Molnar, Ralph E. (1997). Identification of large reptilian teeth from Plio–Pleistocene deposits of Australia. Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales 130(3-4): 79-92.

Woodward, A. S. (1888). Note on the extinct reptilian genera Megalania, Owen, and Meiolania, Owen. Ann. Mag. Nat. Hist. 1(6): 85-89.

Wroe, Stephen. (2002). A review of terrestrial mammalian and reptilian carnivore ecology in Australian fossil faunas and factors influencing their diversity: the myth of reptilian domination and its broader ramifications. Australian Journal of Zoology 50: 1-24.

Strange Phenomena June 1979 [mentions an A Current Affair story about a female motorist sighting a 20-ft lizard]


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