New Zealand lives up to ‘Land of Lizards’ title as two new species have been discovered

Lizard experts are said to be getting excited over the discovery of two new species, one found in the Mataura Range in Southland.

Department of Conservation (Doc) science adviser and lizard survey project leader Dr Jo Monks said genetic testing confirmed the two new species were discovered during Doc’s investigations in the alpine areas of the South Island last summer.

A skink and gecko – found in the Mataura Range in Southland and Nelson Lakes National Park, respectively – are new to science but have yet to be officially described.

She said the findings made lizard experts (herpetologists) sparkle and added to what is already known about New Zealand’s lizard species diversity.

Dr Monks said intensive lizard investigations are unearthing lizards in less explored places across the country.

“We are still in the age of discovery for our lizards, and we will likely find more as we continue our investigative work this summer.”

Over the past 30 years, the number of known lizard species has almost quadrupled thanks to new discoveries.

“New Zealand has more endemic lizard species than endemic birds, so it really is a ‘land of lizards’ as well as a ‘land of birds’,” she said.

Once the last two species are officially described, further studies will help herpetologists learn more about them, determine their conservation status and how to manage them.

Genetic tests have also confirmed that a gecko, first found in the mountains near Haast last summer, is the same one previously known only on tiny islands off the Southwest, changing completely. what we know about this gecko.

Several new populations of cryptic skinks, Eyres skinks and cascading geckos have also been confirmed.

New Zealand has 126 species of geckos and skinks (including the two new species) that are not found anywhere else in the world. They are unique and give birth to live young, unlike many lizards elsewhere that lay eggs.

According to the recently updated New Zealand Reptile Conservation Status 2021, approximately 90% of skink and gecko species are listed as “threatened” or “at risk” of extinction and a growing number of lizard populations are in decline.

Lizards are vulnerable to a wide variety of introduced predators, including mice, hedgehogs, weasels, and feral cats, in addition to rats, stoats, and opossums, which cause the most damage to native birds.

Doc welcomes information on lizard sightings, especially in the Alpine area, which may lead to new discoveries. People are welcome to take photos of the lizards and send reports with exact location information to: [email protected]

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