The Black Headed Goanna (Varanus tristis) is widespread over much of northern Australia. It is named for the dark brown to black coloured head that is characteristic of most adults from the western and central parts of its range.

There are two distinct subspecies. The V. t. tristis is the larger of the two species, with those found in Western Australia (Perth region) completely black, whilst those further north are lighter in colour.

The V. t. orientalis are lighter in colour and lack the black head. They are commonly known as the Freckled Goanna or Freckled Monitor.

The goannas are found in the arid regions of Australia, including the Great Victoria Desert and Central Australia.

Whilst goanna do feature in Aboriginal bush food diet, the Black-headed Goanna is not usually eaten by the Aṉangu people of Central Australia as they are believed to cause bad dreams.

This species of monitor is widespread across mainland northern Australia and also found on some of the islands, such as Magnetic Island (not far from Townsville, northern Queensland).

Black Headed Goanna (Varanus tristis), Alice Springs Reptile Centre
Black Headed Goanna (Varanus tristis), Alice Springs Reptile Centre

An arboreal reptile, the black-headed goanna is often found near rivers in forests, scrublands, woodlands, and also arid deserts regions. It quite often is found sheltering in tight spaces including tree the loose bark and tree hollows, as well as rocky crevices that it utilises for shelter.

A shy and fast moving goanna it may cover up to one kilometre per day while searching for its diet of large insects, lizards, nestling birds as well as mouse sized mammals and marsupials.

Common name
Black-headed Goanna, Mournful Monitor (the Latin word tristis, means “sad”), Black-tailed monitor, sometimes called the Freckled Monitor (Varanus tristis orientalis), Freckled Tree Monitor, or the racehorse monitor (due to its speed).

  • Scientific classification
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Reptilia
  • Order: Squamata
  • Family: Varanidae
  • Genus: Varanus
  • Subgenus: Odatria
  • Species: V. tristis
  • Binomial name: Varanus tristis