Australian Biological Resources Study

Australian Faunal Directory


Regional Maps

CAVS: 2282

Species Varanus tristis (Schlegel, 1839)

Black-headed Monitor



Results of some studies do not support the recognition of subspecies within V. tristis (e.g. Fitch et al. (2006), Pianka (2004)) while the results of Brennan et al. (2021) suggest that V. tristis tristis is more closely related to an undescribed monitor from northern NT than to V. tristis orientalis (Fry, 1913) although few specimens were included in that study. We follow the ASH in treating V. tristis as monotypic until further studies can be conducted




New South Wales, Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia

Extra Distribution Information

Australian Endemic.

Note that conversion of the original AFD map of states, drainage basins and coastal and oceanic zones to IBRA and IMCRA regions may have produced errors. The new maps will be reviewed and corrected as updates occur. The maps may not indicate the entire distribution. See further details below.
IBRA and IMCRA regions (map not available)
drainage basins and coastal and oceanic zones (map not available)


NSW, NT, Qld, SA, WA: Arnhem Coast (ARC), Arnhem Plateau (ARP), Avon Wheatbelt (AW), Brigalow Belt North (BBN), Brigalow Belt South (BBS), Broken Hill Complex (BHC), Burt Plain (BRT), Central Arnhem (CA), Carnarvon (CAR), Channel Country (CHC), Central Kimberley (CK), Central Mackay Coast (CMC), Coolgardie (COO), Central Ranges (CR), Cape York Peninsula (CYP), Daly Basin (DAB), Darwin Coastal (DAC), Desert Uplands (DEU), Dampierland (DL), Davenport Murchison Ranges (DMR), Darling Riverine Plains (DRP), Einasleigh Uplands (EIU), Finke (FIN), Gascoyne (GAS), Gibson Desert (GD), Gulf Fall and Uplands (GFU), Geraldton Sandplains (GS), Great Sandy Desert (GSD), Gulf Coastal (GUC), Gulf Plains (GUP), Great Victoria Desert (GVD), Little Sandy Desert (LSD), MacDonnell Ranges (MAC), Mitchell Grass Downs (MGD), Mount Isa Inlier (MII), Mulga Lands (ML), Murchison (MUR), Northern Kimberley (NK), Nullarbor (NUL), Ord Victoria Plain (OVP), Pine Creek (PCK), Pilbara (PIL), South Eastern Queensland (SEQ), Simpson Strzelecki Dunefields (SSD), Stony Plains (STP), Sturt Plateau (STU), Swan Coastal Plain (SWA), Tanami (TAN), Tiwi Cobourg (TIW), Victoria Bonaparte (VB), Wet Tropics (WT), Yalgoo (YAL)

Original AFD Distribution Data

Australian Region

  • Australia
    • New South Wales: Bulloo River basin, Lake Eyre basin, Murray-Darling basin
    • Northern Territory: Lake Eyre basin, N Gulf, N coastal, W plateau
    • Queensland: Bulloo River basin, Lake Eyre basin, Murray-Darling basin, N Gulf, NE coastal
    • South Australia: Lake Eyre basin, W plateau
    • Western Australia: N coastal, NW coastal, SW coastal, W plateau

Ecological Descriptors

Arboreal, desert, diurnal, hummock grassland, low open shrubland, low open woodland, low shrubland, low woodland, open scrub, oviparous, predator, saxicoline, tall open shrubland, tall shrubland, tussock grassland.


General References

Brennan, I., Lemmon, A.R., Lemmon, E.M., Portik, D.M., Weijola, W., Welton, L., Donnellan, S.C. & Keogh, J.S. 2021. Phylogenomics of Monitor lizards and the role of competition in dictating body size disparity. Systematic Biology 70(1): 120-132

Christian, T. 1981. Varanus tristis a variable monitor. Herpetofauna 12: 7-12 (natural history)

Cogger, H.G., in Cogger, H.G., Cameron, E.E. & Cogger, H.M. 1983. Amphibia and Reptilia. 313 pp. in Walton, D.W. (ed.). Zoological Catalogue of Australia. Canberra : Australian Government Publishing Service Vol. 1 vi + 313 pp. [133] (did not identify subspecies, but synonymised all names currently under the two subspecies)

Fitch, A.J., Goodman, A.E. & Donnellan, S.C. 2006. A molecular phylogeny of the Australian monitor lizards (Squamata: Varanidae) inferred from mitochondrial DNA sequences. Australian Journal of Zoology 54: 253-269

Fyfe, G. 1979. Notes on the black-headed monitor (Varanus tristis). Herpetology Society Newsletter 13: 17-18 (natural history)

Mertens, R. 1942. Die Familie der Warane (Varanidae). Dritter Teil: Taxonomie. Abhandlungen der Senckenbergischen Naturforschenden Gesellschaft 466: 235-391 (taxonomy)

Mertens, R. 1958. Bemerkungen über die Warane Australiens. Senckenbergiana Biologica 39: 229-264 (taxonomy)

Pianka, E. 2004. Varanus tristis. pp. 477-487 in Pianka, E. & King, D. Varanoid lizards of the world. Bloomington : Indiana University Press pp. 608.

Pianka, E.R. 1971. Notes on the biology of Varanus tristis. Western Australian Naturalist 11: 180-182 (natural history)

Pianka, E.R. 1982. Observations on the ecology of Varanus in the Great Victoria Desert. Western Australian Naturalist 15: 1-8

Storr, G.M. 1980. The monitor lizards (genus Varanus Merrem, 1820) of Western Australia. Records of the Western Australian Museum 8: 237-293 (taxonomy)


History of changes

Note that this list may be incomplete for dates prior to September 2013.
Published As part of group Action Date Action Type Compiler(s)
07-Feb-2024 LACERTILIA 25-Nov-2022 MODIFIED
07-Feb-2024 16-Aug-2012 MODIFIED
08-Mar-2011 08-Mar-2011 MODIFIED
12-Feb-2010 (import)