Rare species of skink discovered by a cat in Taranaki


The 7-10 cm long coffee-colored skink is considered a kakerakau. Photo/RNZ/Supplied

By Robin Martin for RNZ

In a case of “look what the cat dragged” a rare native skink has been discovered in Taranaki, and may even be a completely new species.

Amanda Harris, a sheep and beef farmer from Whangamōmona, said she didn’t think much of it when her tomcat Rusty brought the reptile.

“This cat has a particular meow when he has something, so when he brought it, I saw it and it slipped on the carpet, and that’s what caught my attention. So, I immediately picked it up, put it in a box and contacted the Taranaki Regional Council to identify it,” Harris said.

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The 7-10 cm long coffee-colored skink is considered a kakerakau.

A kakerakau was filmed in Whirinaki Forest in the central North Island in 2003, but no other has ever been discovered there. A decade later, a population was found in a small area of ​​forest at Bream Head in Northland.

Harris said the Taranaki specimen picked the right feline to tangle with.

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“The cat that brought him in isn’t really a hunter. He’ll gather around, but he won’t really eat anything, so to speak, so he picked the right cat.

The Kakerakau skink was last filmed in 2003. Photo/RNZ/Supplied
The Kakerakau skink was last filmed in 2003. Photo/RNZ/Supplied

Taranaki Regional Council senior conservationist Halema Jamieson said as news broke of the lizard – which was in good condition and was eventually released into the bush – she immediately knew it was a discovery important.

“One of our biodiversity officers went over and said, ‘Oh, that’s interesting’, and sent me some pictures, and I was super excited because it looked like something I hadn’t. never seen before so i sent the pics to some people who might know more and he came back as most likely a kakerakau skink.

“It’s super exciting, because the only other place this lizard is known from is near Bream Head near Whangārei, and before that, only one other specimen had been found, in the middle of the North Island at Whirinaki , and it was back in 2003.

“So it’s potentially one of those species, or it could be something completely new,” she said.

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Jamieson said the skink had always been thought to go as far south as Taranaki due to its preferred habitat elsewhere, and this finding could mean there were more populations there.

“It is highly likely that there are other undiscovered populations of them, and given that they still live in a large old-growth forest in the center of the North Island, there is a huge amount of territory undiscovered in there, and who knows what might happen.”

Kakerakau skink.  Photo/RNZ/Supplied
Kakerakau skink. Photo/RNZ/Supplied

The kakerakau was a lovely coffee color with light beige stripes down the side and a distinctive teardrop mark under the eyes, and it was fiery to boot.

“It was laid back and very cheeky, staring at the camera, and [it] wasn’t afraid of me at all. Very fast, good at climbing and very good at jumping. Very alert and very aware of who I was and what I was doing,” she said.

Jamieson said a sample was taken from the tip of the skink’s tail to be sent for DNA testing to confirm whether it was a kakerakau or a new species.

“Even though it’s not a brand new species and it’s the same one found at Bream Head, it’s still super exciting, because it’s over 500 kilometers between the two known populations, and This is quite exciting considering it wasn’t recognized until 2003. It’s basically a new species that has come to our doorstep.

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Reptile Fact Sheet

  • Native lizards are extremely rare on mainland New Zealand, mainly due to predation by rats, mice, stoats and cats.
  • New Zealand lizards can be difficult to spot and are often very secretive and well camouflaged, so any lizard sightings are important – they could even be a new species.
  • New species of lizards are still being discovered in New Zealand. In 1955 there were 32 recognized native lizards (skinks and geckos), in 2009 there were 99, and in 2022 there were 125.
  • There are currently 11 species of lizards in Taranaki – but now it might be 12!

If you find a lizard, report your sighting to the Department of Conservation (DoC), your regional council, or register it on iNaturalist or online.