Central Otago, New Zealand
Rocky schist outcrops, bluffs, and rocky gorges in shrublands and tussock grassland
Insects and other invertebrates, fleshy fruits and berries, and sometimes other lizards
Up to 14 months
Around 16-20 years in the wild; Up to 40 years in captivity
Feral cats, weasels, stoats, ferrets, potentially hedgehogs
This large and very rare species of lizard is endemic to New Zealand. Some can grow up to 30cms long!
Its distinctive black, yellow, and green markings allow it to hide amongst the mossy and lichen-covered rocks of its habitat. It is these unique markings that give the skink its Māori name ‘mokomoko’.
Otago skinks are omnivores, eating both plant and animal matter. Like many native reptiles in New Zealand, Otago skinks are viviparous. This means they don’t lay eggs, instead giving birth to fully-formed young. As soon as they are born, babies run off to find a sunny spot to warm up before looking for prey. They are diurnal, which means they are active during the day. As an ectothermic animal, Otago skinks rely on the sun for body heat. Unlike most reptiles in the world, these skinks are well suited to the cold climates of the South Island – Even happily sunbathing on snowy rocks!
Once widespread in the South Island, Otago skinks now only inhabit 8% of their former range. Their numbers are believed to have dropped by almost 90% in the last 100 years, likely due to habitat loss from farming and predation by introduced mammal predators. They are one of New Zealand’s rarest reptiles. Luckily, however, recent research and conservation efforts have reduced their chances of extinction.
At Hamilton Zoo:
We have two Otago Skink in our reptile area at the zoo. They can often be seen sunning themselves under their heat lamps in their enclosures.