Skink at Wick Mountain, Fiordland National Park
Image: Carey Knox, Wildlife Consultants | Creative Commons

Introduction

An intensive hunt for lizards in the South Island mountains this summer has led to the discovery of what could be several new skink and gecko species.

Date:  07 May 2021

The exciting finds have been made in remote areas in Fiordland, Mount Aspiring and Nelson Lakes national parks, and the Hooker/Landsborough Wilderness Area on the West Coast.

DOC Science Advisor and lizard survey project leader, Dr Jo Monks, says the discoveries are either new populations of known lizard species or completely new species.

“Our field teams have struck gold this summer with finds of two new skinks and two new geckos, which could all be completely new species.

“They look different to known species, but we won’t know for certain until we get the results of genetic testing.

“If they aren’t new species, it means we have discovered populations of these lizards in places we didn’t know they were, which is great news.”

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

In the Wick Mountains in northern Fiordland, 20 skinks were found in an area not surveyed previously, confirming the hunch it was suitable lizard habitat.

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

Lizard prints in a rodent tracking tunnel in the Hooker/Landsborough Wilderness Area on the West Coast sparked a three-day search that led to the discovery of one pregnant female skink.

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

“These finds are very exciting and show there is much about our alpine lizards still be discovered,” says Jo Monks.

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

The aim of the summer lizard survey was to gain more information about poorly known or ‘data deficient’ lizards, some of which have only been seen once or twice previously.

The research allows taxonomic descriptions to be completed and the lizards’ conservation status assessed to inform the best way to manage them. It was made possible by biodiversity funding in Budget 2018.

DOC welcomes information from the public about lizard sightings, 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

Background information

New Zealand has more than 110 lizard species (geckos and skinks), many of which are found only here. Some lizards are only known from a few sightings.

There have been five lizard species newly discovered in the past few years including in north Otago and north-west Nelson (Kahurangi National Park).

Lizards were a key part of Aotearoa’s alpine ecosystems, but their ecology is poorly understood. About 33 species of alpine lizards are currently known. All are threatened by introduced predators like mice, rats, stoats, and feral cats. Targeted surveys help build knowledge of lizard populations, their habitats, and threats.

Contact

For media enquiries contact:

Email: media@doc.govt.nz

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