When it comes to creatures that can perfectly move through trees, cling to them, and hang for such a long time, monkeys come to mind for many of us, and certainly not lizards. In fact, not everyone knows that among reptiles there are those capable of such tricks. To be convinced of this, it is enough to look at the Prehensile-Tailed Skink (lat.Corucia zebrata). This amazing lizard is the only reptile in the world that uses its tail to hang upside down from branches. She is the only representative of the monotypic genus of Skinks and, also, a rather rare species, the ban on the export of which from the homeland was introduced by CITES.
The Prehensile-Tailed Skinks are large creatures indeed. Its dimensions reach 60-80 cm, half of which falls on the powerful tail, which serves as the fifth limb. The weight of the lizard reaches half a kilogram and a little more. And the Prehensile-Tailed Skink is a real long-liver among reptiles, it can live up to 20 years. Initially, it was believed that there are only one species in the genus, but in the 90s of the 20th century, two subspecies were discovered and described – the nominative Corucia zebrata zebrata and the northern Corucia zebrata alfredschmidti.
The color of the Prehensile-Tailed Skink is inconsistent in different individuals. In general, it can range from olive to dark green with dark patches on the lower legs. The abdominal part of the body is noticeably lighter – a light green or cream shade with a mesh pattern. The lizard’s small, round eyes can be bright yellow and dark brown. The body is quite powerful and elongated, the head is triangular, the tail is also massive, and the limbs are short, but with long curved claws for greater tenacity, because the Prehensile-Tailed Skink is a woody reptile. The lizard also has small teeth on strong jaws, so the bite of the Skink is quite sensitive. It is compared to a zebra for the fact that there is a pattern of fuzzy transverse stripes on the body. The differences between the two subspecies of Prehensile-Tailed Skinks are minor and appear mainly in eye colors. The typical nominative subspecies has a white sclera of the eyes, while the northern one has black.
The eyes themselves in Corucia zebrata zebrata are a combination of green and yellow, while in Corucia zebrata alfredschmidti their color can range from several different shades of green to orange or almost black. And in general, the northern Skink is more massive and with a shorter body, while the body of a typical Skink is elongated, but it is lighter in weight. Males of Prehensile-Tailed Skinks are distinguished by their larger size and wider head, as well as the presence of V-shaped scales in the tail near the cloaca.
The genus Prehensile-Tailed Skinks is endemic to the Solomon Islands, an archipelago located in the Pacific Ocean off the northeastern coast of Australia. Both subspecies settled on different islands of the archipelago. Corucia zebrata zebrata can be found on the Choiseul Islands, New Georgia, Santa Isabel, Guadalcanal, Malaita, San Cristobal, Santa Ana, and Shortland. And the northern subspecies Corucia zebrata alfredschmidti took root on the islands of Bougainvillea and Buka. Both subspecies prefer to live on mountain slopes overgrown with tropical rainforests, characterized by a huge variety of plants. And one of the favorite trees of the Skink, where he often makes a house for himself, is the Watkins ficus, the leaves of which the lizard, among other things, feeds on.
The homeland of the Prehensile-Tailed Skink is limited exclusively to the Solomon Islands. The reptile is not found anywhere else, however, its number in nature has significantly decreased due to the once flourishing excessive export and hunting of local residents. But the Prehensile-Tailed Skink is a fairly ancient surviving species of tree lizards.
It is the largest of the entire Skink family. Due to its significant size and characteristic color, many different nicknames have been assigned to the lizard – Giant Skink, Zebra Skink, Monkey Skink, etc. But the Latin generic name of the Skink in its composition has the definition “shimmering”, which indicates the iridescent effect produced by the reptile scales.
Maintenance and Care
Requires a vertical terrarium (120x60x120 cm) with a mesh cover and a lot of plants. It is better to use artificial plants because live ones will be quickly eaten or trampled. For decoration, large stones are used (they must be well fixed), various boxes or pots (as hidden places), strong thick branches located horizontally. The substrate used is wrapping paper, newsprint, fallen leaves, and commercial reptile substrates. Once a week, the substrate is cleaned of feces, replaced with a new one every 3 months. Place a cuvette for water inside the terrarium. The depth of the cuvette should be such that the Skink can completely submerge its body in the water. The water is changed daily.
Water is sprayed over the substrate and plants in the terrarium every day. Daytime temperature – 25.5-29.4ºС, in the area of the heating zone – 32.2-35ºС, nighttime 20.5-23ºС. For lighting, a conventional 60-watt light bulb is used. UV lamps UVA / UVB are used for irradiation. The humidity is maintained within the range of 50-65%; during the molt, the humidity is increased to 80%. The duration of daylight hours is 12 hours.
Prehensile-Tailed Skink is a typical vegetarian. Its main food is leaves, flowers, fruits, and shoots of various plants. He is insensitive to plant poison that is dangerous to other creatures. And only at a young age, lizards can diversify their diet with animal feed or eat the feces of adult lizards, which are useful for the digestive microflora in order to digest fiber normally. In the Prehensile-Tailed Skinks Terrarium, it is recommended to feed vegetables with dark green leaves such as green mustard, turnip greens, collard greens, dandelion leaves, carrot leaves, zucchini squash, broccoli, etc. These vegetables can form the food of a lizard’s diet. And for a change, various fruits are suitable (in that strength, and exotic – kiwi, apples, bananas, pears, peaches, papaya, grapes, mangoes, oranges, figs), berries (strawberries, blueberries), some other vegetables (beans, cabbage, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, spinach, celery) and plant parts (chicory, rice shoots, cherry and hibiscus flowers).
The fruit diet can be successfully replaced by baby fruit mixes. Anyway, any vegetable or fruit food offered to the Skink should be cleanly washed, without seeds and seeds, and crushed. Sometimes, but not more than once a month, Skinks can be given boiled eggs – a source of protein, and from time to time vitamin-calcium supplements are needed. Feeding Prehensile-Tailed Skinks are best coordinated with their daily rhythms and carried out in the evening or at night. Newborn Skinks receive food from the placental sac in the first 2 days of life.
Reproduction of Prehensile-Tailed Skinks is unique. They, unlike other reptiles, have a tendency to create permanent families, consisting of one male and 1-2 females. Of course, the male dominates them. Zoologists observing the behavior of lizards during mating have noticed that these Skinks descend from the trees. The male rather aggressively courting his chosen one, biting her on the sides, and then wrapping his tail around her tail. Mating of lizards can last long enough – 10-40 minutes.
The Prehensile-Tailed Skink is distinguished by a rather rare type of reproduction among lizards – viviparity. This means that the exchange of nutrients between the female and the embryo occurs through the placenta. That is, caring for offspring in Skinks begins already inside the womb, but does not end when it is born. The female gives birth to a single rather large child, and only in rare cases, there can be 2-3 individuals in the litter. A small Skink appears in 7-9 months, weighs more than 100 grams, and reaches about 30 cm in length, that is, almost a third of the size of the female itself. From six months to a year, the offspring remains close to their parents, and all this time a Skink mother can carry her baby on her back, and the father carefully guards the family. It is interesting that all this time the female has shown amazing dedication towards the child.
Employees of the nurseries where Prehensile-Tailed Skinks bred noted that it was difficult for the giving birth female to even put food – she pounces so aggressively on all living. She protects her shelter, in fact, with her body, blocking the path to it. And if the baby accidentally moves away from the shelter, then the female pushes him back with her nose. Thus, only when the Skink itself begins to show sufficient independence does it leave its parents. But before this time, the mother will continue to actively take care of him. Skinks have a very peculiar attitude towards young animals. There are cases when a family of Prehensile-Tailed Skinks adopted someone else’s cub. But with adults, the situation is different – strangers are always expelled. In general, manifestations of aggression are possible within the family group, which is why, when breeding Skinks in artificial conditions, it is recommended to first teach the male to the female so that they do not injure each other.
In general, the behavior of Prehensile-Tailed Skinks during the breeding season has many surprising features. And the main one is caring for the offspring and its protection, which is characteristic only of mammals.