New species of alpine lizard discovered on South Island

Intensive lizard hunting in the South Island has led to the discovery of what may be several new species of skinks and geckos.

The exciting discoveries were made this summer in remote mountainous areas of Fiordland, Mount Aspiring and Nelson Lakes National Parks, as well as the Hooker / Landsborough Wilderness on the West Coast.

Department of Conservation science adviser and lizard survey project leader Dr Jo Monks said the findings are either new populations of known lizard species or completely new ones.

“Our field teams claimed gold this summer with the discovery of two new skinks and two new geckos, all of which may be completely new species.

“They look different from known species, but we won’t know for sure until we have the results of genetic tests.

“If these aren’t new species, it means we’ve found populations of these lizards in places we didn’t know existed, which is great news.”

The DOC-led investigative teams spent about three days searching for lizards at each site, raking the ground, carefully lifting rocks, and spotlighting the geckos, which are nocturnal.

In the Wick Mountains in northern Fiordland, 20 skinks were found in an area that had not been previously studied, confirming the intuition that this was suitable habitat for lizards.

A trip to the depths of Mount Aspiring National Park to investigate a single gecko sighting found nine geckos in an area remote from other known populations.

Lizard tracks in a rodent tracking tunnel in the Hooker / Landsborough wilderness on the west coast sparked a three-day search which led to the discovery of a pregnant female skink.

Another gecko has been found in Nelson Lakes National Park, where the elusive Cupola gecko was also rediscovered this summer after just two previous sightings.

“These findings are very exciting and show that there is still a lot to be discovered about our Alpine lizards,” says Jo Monks.

The DOC is awaiting the results of genetic tests in the coming weeks to identify the specimens found and confirm whether they are new species.

The goal of the summer lizard survey was to gain more information on poorly known or “data-deficient” lizards, some of which have only been seen once or twice before.

The research helps complete taxonomic descriptions and assess the conservation status of lizards to shed light on how best to manage them. This was made possible by funding for biodiversity in Budget 2018.

DOC also wants to hear from members of the public who have spotted a lizard. People are encouraged to take photos of the lizards and send reports with exact location information to [email protected].

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