NZ living up to ‘land of lizards’ title

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The newly discovered Mataura Range skink was found during a Department of Conservation lizard survey last summer. Photo: Carey Knox, Southern Scales

LIZARD experts are reportedly fizzing about the discovery of two new species the Mataura Range in Southland.

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

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 formally described.

She said the finds had lizard experts (herpetologists) fizzing, and add to what was already known about New Zealand’s diverse range of lizard species.

Dr Monks said the intensive lizard surveys were unearthing lizards in the country’s least explored places.

A new species of gecko was discovered last summer in the Nelson Lakes National Park. Photo: Ben Barr

“We’re still in the ‘age of discovery’ for our lizards, and we’re likely to find more as we continue our survey work this summer.”

During the past 30 years, the number of known lizard species has increased nearly four-fold through 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’.”

After the latest two species are formally described, further surveys will help herpetologists learn more about them, determine their conservation status and how to manage them.

Genetic tests have also confirmed a gecko, found for the first time in the mountains near Haast last summer, is the same as one previously known only on tiny offshore islands in South Westland, completely changing what is known about this gecko.

Several new populations of cryptic skinks, Eyres skinks and cascade geckos were also confirmed.

New Zealand has 126 gecko and skink species (counting the two new species) found nowhere 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 Conservation Status of New Zealand reptiles 2021, about 90% of skink and gecko species are listed as “threatened” or “at risk” of extinction and more lizard populations are in decline.

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

Doc welcomed information about lizard sightings, especially in the alpine zone, which can lead to new findings.

People are asked to take photos of the lizards and send reports with exact location information to: lizardresearch@doc.govt.nz

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