Added 2001

The Scincidae

Niveoscincus


The genus Niveoscincus is largely centred on the southern island of Tasmania. These lizards somewhat resemble many of the Mabuya species: all have four well-developed limbs and the characteristic, "shiny", scales of the Scincidae. They are sometimes generically referred to as "Cool", "Alpine" or "Snow" skinks, on account of their habitat at high altitudes in one of the cooler regions of Australia, which has led them to develop interesting strategies such as placental live birth (in the same manner as mammals) and the ability to raise their body temperatures by up to 14-15 deg C above the ambient temperature. This makes them objects of particular interest to those studying the adaptation of reptiles to cold climates.

N. coventryi N. greeni Northern Snow Skink N. metallicum Metallic Skink
N. microlepido, Southern Snow Skink N. ocellatus,Ocellated (Cool-) Skink N. orocryptus,Mountain Skink
N. palfreymani, Pedra Branca (Cool-) Skink N. pretiosus, Tasmanian Tree Skink  

Family Scincidae
Scientific Name Common Name Distribution Size Notes
Niveoscincus
N. coventryi Southern Forest Cool-skink/ Montane Litter Skink/Coventry's Skink New South Wales, Victoria ?" No data so far available.
N. greeni Alpine Cool-skink/ Tasmanian Skink/ Green's Skink/ Northern Snow Skink Tasmania 5-6" An attractive skink with a bronze-green dorsal coloration: each dorsal scale has a pale green to bronze spot which together form longitudinal pale stripes. The coloration of the head is overall paler but with darker spots. This skink lives in isolated populations in rocky, "alpine" habitats, often found close to mountain streams. Courtship and mating occur before winter: females then store the males' sperm in their oviducts over winter, giving birth to 2-4 live young in the spring/summer. Reproduction usually occurs only once every two years. Midbody scales: 40-44 rows. Click here for further information and a picture from the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service.
N. metallicum Metallic (Cool-) Skink/O'Saughnessy's Metallic Skink Tasmania and Victoria, possibly some West Pacific islands 5-6" This is a very common species with several colour variations, including a striped form in the south and west of Tasmania: many specimens have a striking ventral coloration of rose or orange. In addition to its natural habitats it is often found in suburban gardens. In fact its preferred habitat is areas with dense cover on the ground, including leaf litter, logs and rocks, even at higher altitudes. N. metallicum can usually be distinguished from the other Niveoscincus species by six wide, moderately to strongly keeled scale rows across the middle of the back. The frontoparietal scales are fused to form a single shield. Midbody scales: up to 28 rows. Click here for further information and a picture from the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service.
N. microlepidotus Boulder Cool-skink/Small-scaled Pretty Skink/ Southern Snow Skink Tasmania 5-6" A coppery-bronze coloured lizard with black-flecked dorsal scales. Males tend to have proportionately larger heads than females. This is another alpine skink, being usually found amongst boulder fields. Although sympatric with N. greeni in some areas, the later prefers alpine heath. N. microlepidotus is also found in the same areas as N. metallicum but may be distinguished from the latter by its longer legs and tail. Mating is interesting inasmuch as a male and female may stay together for up to a month: as is common in Niveoscincus, the females often store sperm in their oviducts, and a female may carry her young through hibernation. 2-4 live young are born. Midbody scales: 32-42 rows. Click here for further information and a picture from the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service.
N. ocellatus Ocellated (Cool-) Skink Tasmania 5-6" A somewhat flattened lizard with an overall coloration that varies between a copper/bronze and dark grey, the darker colours usually being found on specimens at higher altitudes. A darker irregular reticulum covers the back and there are pale centred dark spots running along the sides. Interestingly, besides their darker colour, specimens from higher altitudes may be up to as third large again as those from lower altitudes: larger females usually have more young. Courtship and mating take place in autumn or spring, the females retaining sperm in the oviduct until later in the year. Up to six young are born in January or February, the period of birth being dependent upon the summer and also altitude. N. ocellatus prefers rocky habitats but is otherwise catholic in its distribution: some dwell in sandy areas where they shelter beneath logs, etc. Midbody scales: 45-58 rows. Click here for further information and a picture from the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service.
N. orocryptus Heath Cool-skink/ Mountain Skink Tasmania ?" N. orocryptus can be distinguished from other Niveoscincus species by the prominent black vertebral stripe on a brown dorsum and a white midlateral stripe. There are also dark longitudinal flecks on the back. Across its range this species seems to intergrade with the Southern Snow Skink N. microlepidotus. The preferred habitat is low subalpine vegetation, usually at high altitudes although in some parts this species is found at sealevel. Females give live birth to 3-4 young. Midbody scales: 28-32 rows. Click here for further information and a picture from the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service.
N. palfreymani Pedra Branca (Cool-) Skink, Red-Throated Skink Pedra Branca Rock (Tasmania) 7-9?" One of the rarest lizards in the world and considered endangered within its own habitat, N. palfreymani is found solely on the small and windswept island of Pedra Branca Rock some 26 km off Tasmania. This island is home to a population of six colonies of altogether 250-600 skinks, the only lizards on the island, plus seabirds. The seabirds on the whole have a beneficial relationship with the skinks, since the latter supplement their mainly invertebrate diet with fish scraps left by the birds, plus seabird eggs: however, the Silver Gull is a threat as it preys upon the lizards. Adults are often grey in coloration, the juveniles being lighter. The skinks shelter in deep crevices and cracks amidst the rocks and defend these areas vigorously. Females give live birth. Midbody scales: ? rows. Click here for further information and a picture from the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service.
N. pretiosus Agile Cool-skink Pretty Skink/ Tasmanian Tree Skink Tasmania 5-6" A very attractive skink with distinctive markings. Although the overall coloration may vary, N. pretiosus may be distinguished by a broad black lateral stripe running backwards from the snouth and edged at the bottom by a narrow white one, plus a narrow black dorsal stripe. The belly and underside of the tail are pinkish orange, and there are usually whitish flecks on the back (this distinguishes it from the similar-looking N. orocryptus which lacks these). The extreme smallness of its scales also help to distinguish N. pretiosus from N. metallicum. This is one of the most versatile of the genus, being an excellent climber thanks to its long limbs but also not shunning non-arboreal habitats such as rocky shorelines. This species has also been found to overwinter communally, a trait also found among some North European reptiles. 1-3 young are born each year via live birth: larger females tend to have more young. Midbody scales: ? rows. Click here for further information and a picture from the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service.

Bibliography

Links

The Tasmanian Wildlife and Parks Service has a very useful and informative page on these little-known skinks.


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