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03-12-2024

Endangered lizard faces an unexpected threat

In remote Western Australia, a routine discovery has revealed a significant threat to the region’s ecosystem. Researchers from Curtin University stumbled upon a deceased snake, unveiling a previously unknown hazard to endangered lizard species.

Dr. Holly Bradley, the lead researcher from Curtin’s School of Molecular and Life Sciences, led the investigation into the stomach contents of the spotted mulga snake.

Endangered lizard species

What the team uncovered marks the first documented instance of a spotted mulga snake preying on a pygmy spiny-tailed skink. This has raised alarming concerns for the conservation of a similar-looking, endangered lizard species.

“Found approximately 300 kilometers east of Geraldton and likely a victim of vehicular collision, the snake’s consumption of the pygmy spiny-tailed skink underscores the vulnerability of similar-sized juvenile western spiny-tailed skinks,” Dr. Bradley explained.

Western spiny-tailed skinks, classified as endangered, inhabit the Mid-West region. They also share habitat similarities with their pygmy counterparts.

Potential threats to the western spiny-tailed skink

The similarity between pygmy and juvenile western spiny-tailed skinks complicates matters. “Pygmy spiny-tailed skinks bear a striking resemblance to the juveniles of the endangered western spiny-tailed skink,” said Dr. Bradley. “Therefore, if these snakes are preying on one species, it’s plausible they are also targeting the other.”

Identifying a potential predator presents a critical challenge to conserving the western spiny-tailed skink. “This discovery emphasizes the importance of expanding our knowledge and implementing effective management strategies for this rare and threatened species,” said Dr. Bradley. She highlighted the urgency for further research to assess and mitigate potential threats to these reptiles.

Understanding reptile ecology

Australia hosts diverse reptile species, but gaps persist in understanding their ecology. “Species like the spotted mulga snake, along with the pygmy and western spiny-tailed skinks, exemplify the understudied and enigmatic nature of many reptiles,” noted Dr. Bradley.


Understanding predator-prey dynamics is crucial for effective conservation, especially for vulnerable species like the western spiny-tailed skink. “Australia’s arid and remote landscapes harbor a wealth of reptilian diversity, yet much of it remains shrouded in mystery due to accessibility challenges.”

The discovery of a new predator for the western spiny-tailed skink is a significant milestone in understanding Australian reptile ecology.

“This discovery not only enhances our understanding of the complexities within our ecosystem but also provides invaluable insights to guide conservation efforts and safeguard the survival of our native reptilian species,” concluded Dr. Bradley.


Essentially, the incidental discovery of reptile roadkill has sparked a chain reaction, exposing a previously unnoticed threat and prompting action to preserve an endangered lizard species.

More about the western spiny-tailed skink

The western spiny-tailed skink (Egernia stokesii badia) is part of the Egernia genus, which includes some of the most social lizards in the world, often displaying complex social behaviors such as family group living and long-term monogamous pair bonds.

Appearance 

This particular subspecies is characterized by its robust body, short limbs, and, most notably, its spiny tail, which it uses as a defense mechanism against predators. 

The tail can be quite rigid and is used to block the entrance to its burrow or crevice when threatened. The spiny-tailed skink’s coloration is typically a mix of brown, grey, and black, helping it to blend into its natural environment.

Habitat

Egernia stokesii badia is adapted to a variety of habitats, including rocky outcrops, scrublands, and woodlands. It is a diurnal lizard, meaning it is active during the day, basking in the sun to regulate its body temperature, and feeding on a diet that mainly consists of plants, insects, and sometimes small vertebrates.

Conservation 

Habitat loss and degradation are general threats to many reptile species in Australia. Conservation efforts for the western spiny-tailed skink might include habitat protection and restoration, as well as research into their ecology and social structure to better understand how to protect them.

Social structure 

Their social structure is particularly interesting to scientists, as these skinks have been observed living in family groups, a rare behavior for reptiles. This social system involves complex interactions and may provide benefits such as increased protection from predators and enhanced opportunities for thermoregulation.

Research 

Research on Egernia stokesii badia and related species continues to provide insights into their social systems, ecology, and physiology, contributing to our understanding of reptile biology and the development of conservation strategies to protect them.

The study is published in the journal Australian Zoologist.

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