Solomon Island prehensile-tailed skink
Common Name: Solomon Island prehensile-tailed skink
Scientific Name: Corucia zebrata
Solomon Island skinks are incredibly unusual amongst reptiles because instead of laying eggs they give birth to live young and provide a placenta for the young. This is known as viviparous matrotrophy. Soon after birth the juvenile eats the placental sac, which is sufficiently nutritious to sustain it for 2 to 3 days.
The Solomon Island prehensile-tailed skink, also known as the monkey-tailed skink, is the only skink to have a prehensile tail which it uses to grasp branches and assist movement as it browses on leaves high up in the rainforest canopy. This unique feature extends up to half the length of their body, and together with their powerful claws allows the prehensile-tailed skink to live its whole life, entirely in the trees.
The Solomon Island prehensile-tailed skink is one of the largest species of skink with adults reaching up to 80 cm in length. As a mainly nocturnal or crepuscular animal the skink is active at dawn and dusk. It has good eyesight for identifying both threats and food, although it uses smell to recognise family group members within its aggressively defended territory. The Solomon Island prehensile-tailed skink flicks out its tongue, like a snake, to collect scents from within its environment, touching them against the roof of its mouth, on its Jacobson’s organ for analysis.
65 - 80 cm
up to 1 kg
6 - 8 months
15 to 24 years in captivity, unknown in the wild
In the wild
These large lizards are entirely herbivorous, eating a wide range of leaves and fruits, with the foliage of the epiphytic Scindapsus spp particular favourites. Solomon Island prehensile-tailed skinks are also known to eat a range of plants that are known to be toxic to many animals but have little or no negative effects on the skink.
In the wild, the skink can be found in primary humid, tropical rainforests on the larger Solomon Islands southeast of Buka and Bougainville, Asia. Preferring old established trees with extensive epiphyte cover, the prehensile-tailed skink spends most of its time high in the treetops searching for food. This shy and secretive species never strays far from its burrow, usually made in tree hollows like those created by the strangler fig as it envelops its host.
Solomon Island prehensile-tailed skinks reproduce viviparously, giving birth to live young after a gestation period of six to eight months. At birth this large species is already one-third of its adult length.
These skinks live in communal groups called circulus and will look after the young of non-related skinks for around the first year, during which time, juvenile skinks can be observed eating adult faeces as a way of absorbing the essential microflora needed to digest their food. At around 12 months juveniles are encouraged to leave the group in order to form new circulus with unrelated members.
Prehensile-tailed skink are eaten by indigenous peoples on the islands as well as native birds of prey
Solomon Island prehensile-tailed skink populations are under pressure in the wild due to habitat loss, caused by extensive logging, and the poorly policed illegal pet trade. The high numbers of prehensile-tailed skinks entering the illegal pet trade, mainly to the US, where thousands of animals are exported annually is a particular issue for this species as they are very slow to breed; producing only one offspring each year. These factors combined with a limited geographical distribution suggest that more action is needed to protect both this near-threatened species and its habitat in the wild.
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