Connie Masters, of Balclutha, asks :-

Around our home we have about 12 brown striped skinks. What do they eat and what are their mating habits?’

Kelly Hare, a zoologist at the University of Otago, responded.

Often the first lizard-encounter people have is when the family moggy brings one home. So, it’s great to hear you have a thriving population of skinks nearby. In fact, New Zealanders are often surprised to hear we have over 80 species of lizards (skinks and geckos). To start with, lizards are generally cryptic and secretive, and through habitat destruction and predation by introduced mammals their numbers can be low. However, lizards live in varied habitats ranging from rocky beaches to mountains, and grasslands to forest.

Most skinks are ‘opportunistic generalists’ and will attempt to eat nearly everything, such as insects, fruit and nectar; some even scavenge upon carrion. Unlike chameleons, skinks generally bite food items with their mouths, but they will use their tongues to lick nectar and water. Most eat when they are normally active, that is, diurnal (day-active) species will eat during the day, and nocturnal (night-active) species will eat during the night.

Many skinks are territorial, which is why they appear not to tolerate each other, but some species may live in small family groups. Skinks generally breed every year with females giving birth to between 1-10 live offspring in mid-late summer (January-March). The newborn skinks look and act like adults from the moment they are born, but are much smaller at only a third to half the length. Newborns can run as soon as they are free from the amniotic sac (an enclosing membrane), and will catch food and bask in the sun within minutes. Skinks from New Zealand grow relatively slowly (compared with those from warmer countries) reaching maturity in 3-4 years. They can live up to 14 years in the wild, and may even live longer. This means that a range of sizes is commonly seen in many skink populations.

You may also be interested in learning more about the conservation of the other New Zealand reptiles (tuatara and geckos), and can find more information at the following website: www.sciencelearn.org.nz/contexts/saving_reptiles_and_amphibians