By Claire Treilibs
Without fur, feathers, or large-adorable eyes, reptiles generally draw the short straw when it comes to popular appeal of our native critters. Some (mammal-centric) commentators might argue that reptiles lack charisma, but these scaly creatures have their own je ne sais quoi.
A lesser-known central Australian resident is the endangered Slater’s skink (Liopholis slateri). With an air of nonchalance, these sly skinks laze outside their burrow entrances, peering through narrowed eyes, basking. Then – wham! At lightning speed, they pounce upon their prey – any ants or termites that might be wandering by.
I got to know a population of Slater’s skink over four years of a PhD study. I could tell who was whom from the spots and scale patterns on their faces. Once I found a way of recognising individuals by photograph, I could track them over time. Take ‘Spotty’ for instance. If I recorded where Spotty was when I snapped the photo, then I could track Spotty’s whereabouts; which burrows she uses, and for how long. I found that these skinks were surprisingly mobile within the population compared with the more sedentary habits of many of their close relatives.
Slater’s skinks are extraordinary in that they are specialist floodplain users. In fact, they only occur in the floodplains of the east and west MacDonnell Ranges. The entire global population occurs within 150 km of Alice Springs in 11 (mostly isolated) populations. Buffel grass, fire, climate change, and in some populations, cattle, are causing dramatic changes to their floodplain habitats and risking the future of this endangered skink.
Last month, indigenous ranger groups and other land managers got together to share information, discuss current monitoring and management of the skink, and how to help look after it in future. You can read more about the two-day Slater’s skink forum on the ABC post and the TNRM post.
~ Claire Treilibs