Nov 062009
photo provided courtesy of wwarby on Flickr Creative CommonsHomeNortheast and Southeast Australia
Habitatvaried: coastal woodlands, grasslands
Nichesmall opportunistic predator
Favorite Foodinsects
Lengthup to 20 inches
Weighta few pounds

Imagine you’re a small predator looking for a meal. After some time prowling the dusky landscape of northern Australia, you spy a sluggish lizard basking in the sun. You observe from a distance that it moves slowly and clumsily even in the heat of midday. Deciding that it will be your next meal, you move in. As you move within striking distance, something unexpected happens. All of a sudden, the reptile you took for an easy meals puffs up and opens its mouth wide, hissing as it flicks out a monstrous-looking blue tongue. You run.

At first glance, the blue tongued skink doesn’t seem like anything special. In fact, due to its coloration and sluggish nature, it’s often mistaken for a fallen tree branch in the coastal woodlands and interior grasslands of Australia where it lives. It’s a locally common reptile in Australia and feeds on a variety of insects, slugs, and snails, with the occasional berry or flower. It’s also been known to scavenge at picnic sites for tasty scraps left over from human visitors. Active by day, it will seek refuge under debris or inside logs as shelter from the cold night.

The blue tongued skink has a large triangular head, and a long, heavily-built body. It’s big for a skink, with adults measuring between 14 and 22 inches. But it’s not size that makes the blue tongued skink so special. As its name implies, it has a striking, blade-like blue tongue that the animal uses to frighten away threats. For most would-be predators, the mere sight of bright blue is enough to deter an attack. In the animal kingdom, bright colors often signify that an animal is venomous, or at the very least, dangerous. However, behind all the bluster, the blue tongued skink is mostly harmless. If cornered, it can deliver a powerful bite to a person, but its tiny dull teeth are unlikely to break the skin. Like other skinks, its tail is one of its main defenses against predators. If its blue tongue fails to frighten away a carnivore and it manages to bite the skink’s tail, it will break off, allowing an escape. The tail will grow back in a matter of weeks.

Mating is serious business for the skinks and the males are territorial, defending their turf and prospective mates against other males. Courtship involves a brief chase and a love bite delivered by the male on the back of the female’s head. 150 days after mating, the female will give birth. Blue tongued skinks don’t lay eggs, but rather give birth to a litter of between 5 to 25 live young. If they’re fortunate enough to survive the trials of growing up in the forbidding Australian wilderness, they’ll reach maturity in about 3 years. Blue tongued skinks have relatively long lifespans and in captivity have reached 25 years of age.

Although behind its characteristic feature, the blue tongued skink might just seem like just another chunky lizard, it’s yet another striking example of the wild diversity of reptiles in Australia, and on planet earth.

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