Elusive skink found in Queensland after 42 years

8 November 2023

A rare lizard that has eluded scientists for more than 40 years has been found living in north-east Queensland.

Earlier this year, scientists from Queensland Museum and James Cook University (JCU) were tasked with the challenge of finding the elusive Lyon’s Grassland Striped Skink.

The surveys were part of research by the Resilient Landscapes Hub of the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program that is looking for highly threatened reptiles across Queensland.

Dr Andrew Amey from Queensland Museum Network, who led the expedition, said the goal was to find 3 species of skink which have very small distributions confined to the Mount Surprise area, around 300 kilometres south of Cairns.

‘These lizards are all hard to find and seldom seen. Two are part of a large group of skinks in the genus Lerista, which are only found in Australia and have adapted to sandy soils by reducing their limbs to essentially swim through the soil,’ said Dr Amey.

‘It shows that parts of Australia such as grasslands and open woodland that are grazed by cattle can still host important biodiversity.

‘It was an exciting moment to find all 3 skinks, but to find the Lyon’s Grassland Striped Skink was an amazing discovery.’

JCU’s Associate Professor Conrad Hoskin, who was part of the survey team, said the rediscovery of the skink is a big step forward in its conservation.

‘The skink was last seen in 1981 and was feared to be extinct. To find it again after 42 years, and at several different sites, is exciting. We now need to assess its full distribution and habitat requirements,’ said Dr Hoskin.

The other two skinks were the Limbless Fine-lined Slider, which is found in the Undara Volcanic National Park, and the Mount Surprise Slider, which was only known from one paddock.

A closeup photo of a brown-coloured skink with a red tail, photographed on bare earth.

Barry Lyons Grassland Skink photographed on Springfield Station. Photo: Angus Emmott.

Why search for skinks?

The purpose of the survey was to find if the species still existed and if scientists could find new populations elsewhere.

The small distribution of the skinks makes them vulnerable to damaging events such as bushfires, drought, invasive weeds and disease. The Lyon’s Grassland Striped Skink was recently listed as Critically Endangered by the Queensland and Australian Governments in recognition of this.

Dr Amey said animals like these skinks have an important role to play in our ecosystems.

‘We need to know if these skinks have healthy populations or if they are declining. We can’t take effective action to protect them if we don’t know where they occur and what threats are impacting them,’ said Dr Amey.

‘The only way to get this information is go and look for them.’

Dr Amey was joined by Queensland Museum Senior Scientists, Reptiles, Patrick Couper, Queensland Museum honoraries Martin Ambrose and Angus Emmott, and Associate Professor Conrad Hoskin from James Cook University.

The scientists have been awarded funding from Queensland Department of Environment and Science to undertake more surveys on these species.

A scientist crouches down in an open grassy landscape to set up a long short fence - a pit line trap - used to survey reptiles.Scientists set up pit lines to survey the reptiles. Photo: Conrad Hoskin.

Banner photo by Angus Emmott. 

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