Today’s animal is the Solomon Islands skink. It is, as the name suggests, found in Solomon Islands, a group of tropical islands in the Pacific Ocean. My first question when researching this animal was: what’s a skink? I’d heard of them before and thought they were kind of like salamanders and newts. Turns out I was dead wrong. Skinks are reptiles, not amphibians, and are a family of lizards. Good to know!
The Solomon Islands skink, in fact, is the largest known species of skink. It can grow up to 32 inches (including its tail). The tail of the skink is very important to this species, which spends most of its time in trees. Its long and flexible tail is used while climbing around the tree tops in search for food. The tail is important enough to the skink that when attacked, this lizard cannot shed its tail and regrow it, like many other skinks can. This tail gives the skink its other names, which include: prehensile-tailed skink, monkey-tailed skink and monkey skink. Pretty appropriate, right?
The Solomon Islands skink is a completely herbivorous reptile, feeding on leaves and flowers of the plants they scramble through. Plant materials are difficult to digest, and usually need help is needed from microbes to do it efficiently. To this end, young skinks will eat the faeces of adults in order to ingest the required microbes needed for digestion. Seems like there’s got to be a better way to get them, but apparently the skinks haven’t discovered one (I assume it’s a top priority on their research councils, though).
These skinks also have a fairly unusual mode of reproduction for a reptile: they give birth to live young. The reptiles provide a placenta for their babies, something I thought only happened in mammals. After a six month gestation period the mother gives birth, usually only to a single skink, though twins do occur. Solomon Islands skinks live in a social group, or circulus, which is a rare thing among reptiles. This group aggressively defends their young, and have even been reported to adopt orphaned skinks into their group. The young skinks ride on their mother’s back until they are old enough to swing through the trees on their own. After about a year most young skinks leave the circulus and form their own family groups.
I’m a big fan of unusual animals, and this skink certainly fits the bill. Its reproductive and social behaviour is very unusual for a reptile, which means it makes a good blog post. Or at least I hope it did!
Cover image By Michael Gäbler, CC BY-SA 3.0