Two new species of lizards discovered on the South Island
A skink found in the Mataura Range in Southland last summer is a newly discovered species.
Genetic tests have confirmed that two new species of lizards live in two regions of the South Island.
A skink and a 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.
The findings were made during the Department of Conservation’s investigations in the alpine areas of the South Island last summer.
The discoveries have herpetologists [lizard experts] bubbly and adding to what is known of New Zealand’s already diverse range of lizard species.
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New Zealand has 126 species of geckos and skinks, including the two new species, which are not found anywhere else in the world. They are unique and give birth to live young, unlike many lizards elsewhere that lay eggs.
The department’s science adviser and lizard survey project leader Dr Jo Monks said intensive lizard surveys are digging up lizards in our less explored places.
“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 with 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,'” said Monks.
Once the last two species have been officially described, further studies will allow us to learn more about them, to determine their conservation status and how to manage them.
Genetic testing 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. This completely changes what we know about this gecko.
Several new populations of cryptic skinks, Eyres skinks and cascading geckos have also been confirmed.
In another turnaround, the so-called ‘cupola gecko’, found in Nelson Lakes 50 years ago and then again last summer, and considered a separate species, has turned out to be a morphologically distinct population. Forest geckos – a widespread species found in the North and South Islands.
The ministry will lead further alpine lizard surveys over the next two summers, with funding from Budget 2018 for work on little-known species.
Makaawhio Rūnanga is also involved in lizard surveys in the southwest of the country through the Jobs for Nature program.
Makaawhio Rūnanga Chairman Paul Madgwick said: “It’s exciting to have our Mahaki Ki Taiao group leading this kaupapa in the southwest of the country with the possibility that they will discover more species of lizards now that their eyes are more tuned. “
About 90 percent of the country’s skink and gecko species are listed as threatened or endangered, and more and more 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.
The department welcomes information from the public on lizard sightings, especially in the Alpine area, which may lead to new discoveries. People are encouraged to take photos of the lizards and send reports with exact location information to: [email protected]