Reptiles and amphibians play an important role in Anangu Tjukurpa. The stories of Kuniya (woma python) and Liru (poisonous snake) are two of the main Tjukurpa stories here at Uluru.
The park is very rich in reptile fauna of high conservation significance and there is no other comparable sized area in the Australian semi arid zone known to have such biodiversity. There are 77 recorded species of reptiles and amphibians in the park; 60 lizards, 13 species of snakes, and four frog species. The lizards range from tiny geckos and skinks, legless lizards, and dragons up to the large goannas, including the second largest in the world, the ngintaka (perentie, Varanus giganteus), which grow in excess of two and a half metres in length.
Most reptiles are opportunistic feeders and hunt and forage in a number of different habitats including open space, sand dunes, and rocky outcrops. Differences in body size mean that large lizards concentrate on larger prey, and small lizards on smaller items. Some species are more active at night while others are more active during the day.
From top: water-holding frog; Tinka (sand monitor); Liru - king brown snake; Smooth knob-tail gecko; Ngyari thorny devil
A unique lizard to Central Australia is the ngyari (thorny devil, Moloch horridus), a small spiny dragon that has a strange rocking motion when it walks to confuse birds of prey. It has an unusual way of absorbing water. Narrow grooves separate the scales of the skin and form a continuous network to the mouth. If the animal is in a puddle or on wet sand, water runs up the legs and spreads over the surface of the body by capillary action, eventually reaching the mouth.
Of the 13 species of snakes, two are non-venomous pythons, the kuniya (woma python, Aspidites ramsayi), and warurungkalpa (Stimson's python, Liasis stimsoni), and three are blind snakes. The remaining eight are venomous, three of which are highly venomous. The walalara (western brown) grows up to 1-1.5 metres and can have a large range of colourings from rusty brown to black with orange bands. Panakura (desert death adder, Acanthopis pyrrhus), is an ambush predator rarely seen as it buries itself under leaf litter or loose sand and uses its worm-like tail to attract prey. The most commonly found species is liru (mulga or king brown, Pseudonaja australis), a highly defensive snake that is found in many populated areas and widely distributed across many parts of Australia. The mulga snake has the largest recorded venom output of any snake in the world. Although looking like and being named a brown snake it is technically a member of the black snake family.
Geckos and other reptiles often co-exist and in some areas records show as many as nine different species living close together. Some geckos are arboreal, or tree climbers, others are found within spinifex clumps, and others forage only in open spaces.
Several species of reptiles are used traditionally as bush food including tinka (sand goanna) and ngintaka (perentie). Tinka are often hunted and dug out of burrows for their meat and eggs, both of which are a common food source. Ngintaka is a highly sought after bush food and a delicacy.
Perhaps surprisingly, there are four species of frogs in the park which are well adapted to desert life. They bury themselves deep in the sand at a depth where the temperature is constant. When the rain is heavy enough to soak down to where they have burrowed, they know that the waterholes and creeks are full. They will then emerge, often in vast numbers, to breed. After breeding they bloat themselves full of water and bury below the sand again. Frogs that inhabit the desert are known as 'water-holding' frogs and generally have a broad head, bulbous body and short limbs, with structures called metatarsal tubercles, which are like little spades, on the under surface of the feet to aid digging. Frogs require water to survive so are often seen wth their bodies flattened out against any moist surface. Spaces between the cells of their ventral skin develop an increasingly negative pressure as water is lost and this pressure then pulls water from the skin into the body.
Frogs are opportunistic feeders and will eat what resources are available at the time. Their diets include mainly ants and termites, but also beetles, flies, spiders, grasshoppers and moths.
Threatened species listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 include tjakura (great desert skink, Egernia kintorei). This species is listed as vulnerable and is mostly restricted to the transitional sand plain system. The park conducts annual monitoring of this species. Both the controlled burning and introduced species control programs aim to create the ideal conditions for this species to increase in number.