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Examining the evidence for rare fauna.

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Backyard LizardsPrintable Version
Originally I was going to name this article "Bluetongues in backyards" because it began with my sighting of an Eastern bluetongue lizard (Tiliqua scincoides scincoides) scouting out my garden. Last year we had several bluetongues visit and even found a litter of babies in our garage late in the summer.

I'm sure they'll be back again looking for hiding holes amongst the sandstone blocks - stay tuned!

However, today we have "backyard lizards" and in particular, a couple of species of garden skinks.

Common Garden Skink (Lampropholis guichenoti) - click to enlarge

This would have to be the most commonly sighted lizard in suburban Sydney and beyond. They are easily found along the external walls of buildings or along the edges of concrete paths. Nearly every child will have caught these and been fascinated to watch their behaviour.

These little guys are egg laying skinks. It surprised me to learn from Ken Griffiths' book "Frogs and Reptiles of the Sydney Region" that there are quite a number of similarly sized skinks to be seen in Sydney. Really, I ought not be surprised, but having picked up this excellent guidebook from the local library (to try and identify the frogs of Oatley Park) I became determined to try and spot all of the smaller species of skinks found in Sydney.

Common Garden Skink (Lampropholis guichenoti) - click to enlarge

According to Griffiths, the common garden skink grows to 10 cm and can be distinguished from the smaller delicate garden skink by the "dark, broad, lateral stripe which runs from behind the eye" as opposed to "from the shoulder" (pp 78, 79).

This one is in the palm of my hand. Note that the mottled pattern extends the full length of the tail - this one has never lost its tail.

Fence or Snake-eyed Skink (Cryptoblepharus virgatus) - click to enlarge

You would be forgiven for mistaking this as just another common garden skink if you didn't give it a second look. In my case, when I found him, he was alongside a common garden skink and I could tell straight away that he was different. I knew from Griffiths' book that he could be any of a number of smaller skinks and while I was trying to catch him, the common garden skink ran straight into my hand in its attempt to get away - but I was after this guy because he looked different.

The fence skink, or snake-eyed skink is the smallest skink in the Sydney region at 7 cm. Unlike the common garden skink which remained relatively calm once caught, this guy was more feisty and more determined to get away - although he actually played dead in my hand for a bit, allowing himself to be turned upside down.

Fence or Snake-eyed Skink (Cryptoblepharus virgatus) - click to enlarge

The first obvious difference to the common garden skink is that the fence skink has "a creamish stripe" down each side. Whilst the delicate garden skink (not shown here) also has creamish stripes, they are not as clearly defined around the head and the fence skink has a much more flattened body.

Again, like the common garden skink, the fence skink is an egg layer. (The bluetongue, which is a skink, is a live bearer incidentally.)

Fence or Snake-eyed Skink (Cryptoblepharus virgatus) - click to enlarge

I was thrilled to catch the light just right for this photo. I'd have never thought such spectacular colours could come from such common lizards, but this photo really shows off what the light can do. Given that common names are not universal, I'm tempted to suggest a third common name for this species - the opal fire skink.

Its other common name - the snake-eyed skink - is derived from the fact that it has a fixed eyelid, but that certainly isn't the easiest feature to spot!

I hope you've enjoyed these little guys - and maybe been encouraged to get out there and take a second look at some of the more common and "mundane" fauna that's around your home. Creatures like these can be fascinating for their behaviour as much as their looks - you just need to take the time to watch.

Remember, all reptiles - including backyard lizards - are protected in all states of Australia and may not be collected from the wild. Needless to say these two specimens were returned to where they were found as soon as the photographs were taken.

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