5 NZ skinks found nowhere else in the world

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  7. 5 NZ skinks found nowhere else in the world

New Zealand’s most commonly encountered reptile is the skink. You may have even spotted one in your garden. It is estimated we have around 60 native species of skinks that are widely distributed across the country and some have only been discovered in the last decade.

Comparing the differences in the two native lizard families: geckos and skinks.
A gecko (left) and a skink (right): the two native families of lizards in New Zealand. Image credit: Samuel Purdie

None of our native lizards (both geckos and skinks) are found anywhere else in the world and nearly half of them are either endangered or threatened. You can tell a skink from a gecko by its narrow snake-like head, small eyes that can blink (unlike geckos) and their smooth shiny skin. 

Remember: It is illegal to handle any native gecko or skink without a permit from the Department of Conservation.

Shore Skink 

(​​Oligosoma smithi)

In some trouble (Conservation status: At Risk – Naturally uncommon)

The aptly named shore skink is found strictly by the coastline. Its colouration varies hugely depending on its habitat, from entirely black to shades of grey, brown, green and cream.

Shore skinks are omnivorous, and along with invertebrates they sometimes eat berries. The berries from a kawakawa ripen from the top of the bush and shore skinks will scale the kawakawa’s branches, 1.5m high, to reach their large orange berries. When they come across a fully-ripe berry, shore skinks have been observed breaking off the berry from the stem and falling with it to the ground. 

Where they are found: The mainland and offshore islands along the North-Eastern coast of the North Island.

Shore skinks come in many different colours and patterns that are determined by their habitat. This is an image of a boulder beach morph shore skink.
A boulder beach morph shore skink. Image credit: Sam Purdie

Chevron Skink 

(Oligosoma homalonotum)

Chevron skinks get their name from the chevron pattern, this images shows the chevron skink with it's distinct pattern.
A chevron skink showing off it’s distinct patterning. Image credit: Ben Goodwin

In serious trouble (Conservation status: Threatened – Nationally vulnerable)

Chevron skinks are the longest New Zealand skink, growing up to 35cm from nose to tail. Sadly, you’re unlikely to see this skink basking in your backyard. They are one of New Zealand’s most secretive and rare skinks, with only around 500 sightings reported since they were first found in 1906. 

Chevron skinks are named after their distinctive chevron-like patterns. In Māori, these skinks are referred to as ‘Niho Taniwha’ meaning ‘teeth of the Taniwha’ in reference to their distinctive v-shaped markings. 

Chevron skinks have dark bands below their eyes to just under the lower lip and these patterns are unique to each chevron skink. Researchers use these markings to identify individuals.

Where they are found: Great Barrier Island and Little Barrier Island in the Hauraki Gulf.

Otago Skink 

(Oligosoma otagense)

In serious trouble (Conservation status: Threatened – Nationally endangered)

If you’re in the Dunedin area and want to spot some Otago skinks, visit the Ōrokonui Ecosanctuary where they are thriving. If it’s a good day, you’ll see these beautifully marked skinks basking in the sun on a warm schist rock.  

New Zealand lizards are unique in their long lifespans. Otago skinks have been known to live up to 21 years in the wild and up to 44 years in captivity. They also grow to an impressive 30cm.

Otago skinks at Ōrokonui Ecosanctuary have recently been the subjects of an unusual study that observes their society and social network. Not a lot is known about our native lizards’ social structure so this study helped to shed some light on their social behaviour. For example, they found that social interactions between adults and sub-adults were stable whereas juveniles showed no stability in their interaction patterns. 

An Otago skink on a lichen rock.
An Otago skink basking. Image credit: Carey Knox

Why is studying skink societies important? Ultimately, researchers hope that this work could improve the outcomes of translocations.

Where they are found: The Otago Region and Lakes District.

Egg-laying skink 

(Oligosoma suteri)

An egg-laying skink lying in colourful seaweed..
An egg-laying skink. Image credit: Samuel Purdie

In some trouble (Conservation status: At risk – Relict)

New Zealand skinks developed some unique characteristics as they evolved geographically isolated for millions of years. All but one of New Zealand’s skinks are viviparous (meaning they give birth to live young). Egg-laying skinks are the only New Zealand skink that lay eggs. 

Egg-laying skinks live on rocky beaches with boulders and shingles. They forage below the high tide mark and will even dive underwater in rock pools in search of food. Egg-laying skinks are capable of remaining underwater for more than 20 minutes.

Female Egg-laying skinks make their nest by scraping a hollow in shingle or sand, often beneath a boulder. They mate in spring, and the eggs hatch around five months later – one of the longest recorded development times for skinks.

Where they are found: East Coast of the North Island from the Coromandel Peninsula north to the Three Kings Islands.

Sinbad Skink

(Oligosoma pikitanga)

In serious trouble (Conservation status: Threatened – Nationally endangered)

First discovered in 2004, very little is known about the Sinbad skink. But one thing is undeniable – its beauty. 

This skink is named after its home, Sinbad Gully in Fiordland, an incredibly harsh area with an annual rainfall of up to 12m and dangerous steep cliff sides. It’s also the same valley where New Zealand’s last surviving mainland kākāpō population was found in the 1970s.

This remote and inaccessible habitat means that the Sinbad skink hasn’t been studied much and its behaviours still remain a mystery.

Where it is found: The Sinbad Gully in Fiordland.

A female Sinbad skink amongst some plants
A female skink. Image credit: Rod Morris