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Three-toed skink (Saiphos equalis)Printable Version

Three-toed skink (Saiphos equalis) - click to enlarge

Well look what fell from the sky?

While I was filming a short documentary on the Aboriginal shell midden I found right in my backyard (stay tuned), a gum tree decided to let a branch come crashing to the ground. I couldn't let that opportunity go to waste - there could be mantids on the leaves which would make fine housemates with our phasimds. Although I didn't find any bugs, I found this beautiful three-toed skink under one of the branches. It seems highly unlikely that he was in the tree - he's more used to slithering through leaf litter - so maybe the thump from the branch brought him out of hiding underground?

Three-toed skink (Saiphos equalis) - click to enlarge

Could this be the original hoop-snake?

Once again Ken Griffiths' "Frogs and Reptiles of the Sydney Region" provided the ID for me and he says that "when unearthed [the three-toed skink] thrashes violently, trying to burrow back in the ground." and he's spot on. I was lucky enough to see the tiny legs before I risked picking it up.

Once the skink realised he wasn't getting away, he decided to play dead - curling up into this striking pose. My theory is that he flashes that belly in the hope that potential predators might confuse him for the red-bellied black snake, which is also a local and highly venomous - kind of like an "orange bellied brown skink" (!). You can see the individual scales each have a border, giving the skink an overall snakelike appearance - not to mention the tiny legs and unusually long body-length compared to girth.

Three-toed skink (Saiphos equalis) - click to enlarge

Eventually he realised he wasn't in any danger. Then my hand became just another branch to climb along. You can see here how his legs are bearing some of the weight, but in actual fact most of his locomotion comes from the trunk of his body; his legs are typically hardly used at all.

As for being a "three" toed skink, I could only count two toes at most on any foot in my photos. Mind you, the lighting left a lot to be desired, and holding a squirming skink whilst trying to manage video and still cameras, kneeling in the bindis was fun. Also, it's not uncommon for skinks to lose digits.

Three-toed skink (Saiphos equalis) - click to enlarge

Check out the pose again. These smaller skinks seem to love curling into loops - see the common garden skink photos for another example.

Although the lighting is poor, you can still see the intricate scale patterns just behind the head, including the dark lateral stripe. There is actually a striped three toed skink - which is a separate species - but it has stripes along its dorsal (top) surface (its back).

Three-toed skink (Saiphos equalis) - click to enlarge

This photo, taken with a flash, really emphasises all the scales on this lizard, and highlights the colour of the skink in a different way. This colouration is probably closer to what the lizard really looks like, certainly more so than the previous photo.

Again, the tiny legs are apparent. I find this lizard has an interesting head shape. The blunt snout no doubt is useful for burrowing and the eyes sit prominently on the head.

Three-toed skink (Saiphos equalis) - click to enlarge

Here he is again crawling along the back of my fingers. The prominent eyes are apparent, as is the snake-like belly pattern.

Three-toed skink (Saiphos equalis) - click to enlarge

I included this photo to show the eyes again, as well as the two toes I could count.

Three-toed skink (Saiphos equalis) - click to enlarge

Once again, here is the very snake-like three toed skink. You can barely see one of the back legs.

Three-toed skink (Saiphos equalis) - click to enlarge

At one point he lept off my hand and onto the grass. You can see how he's gone straight for cover as described by Griffiths. The dark legs, alongside its dark body, are hard to see, lending to the snake-like appearance.

This wasn't the release of the lizard, however - this grass was too far out in the open. He was released at the base of the gum tree which had dropped a limb, where there was plenty of large, thick bark to hide under.

Griffiths lists about 30 skink species for Sydney. This guy's number five. We're almost there! Woo hoo! :)

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