Most Sunshine Coast residents will, over the years, have come across the largest of all the Australian skinks, the blue-tongued skink (Tiliqua scincoides), which, from tip of snout to the tip of tail, can be a whopping 40cm. Normally, however, skinks are measured on snout to vent length (SVL), meaning the length of the tail is discounted, not least because, if they deem it necessary for survival purposes, skinks can discard their tail, which continues to wriggle and thereby distract a predator while the skink escapes. Regrowth of a new tail takes much energy, so it is a tactic used only when absolutely essential. 

Perhaps perceived to be a near relative of the blue-tongue, due to the common name, is the pink-tongued skink, which, although relatively common, is seen much less frequently. It is, however, of an entirely different genus, Cyclodomorphus, of which three species occur in Queensland, with the largest (Cyclodomorphus gerrardii) being the only one found in our area. With an SVL of about 20cm fully grown, its body is much shorter and slimmer than that of the blue-tongue (SVL 30cm), although the tail, also more slender, is proportionately longer. The pink-tongued lizard, as it is also commonly known, is endemic to Australia and found along a band, mainly east from the Great Dividing Range, down the eastern coast of Australia from Cairns to as far south as Sydney, with the town of Springwood in the Blue Mountains being a southerly hot spot.

In my almost 20 years in Australia, I have seen the pink-tongue on only half-a-dozen or so occasions, and one of those was when one was being eaten by a white-necked heron. Locally, there are two adult forms of these interesting reptiles, which are active by night but also by day during cooler months, as they seek out the slugs and snails that form their main diet. One adult form is distinctly banded from the nape to the tip of its tail, while the other adult form is plain fawn, but with a dark tip to the snout and a few thin dark lines on the back of its neck. Remarkably, the juveniles of these smooth-scaled skinks have blue, not pink, tongues and it is only with adulthood that the tongues turn pink. All juveniles also have extremely distinctive black cross-bands on a pale grey background and while the bands are retained to a lesser degree in the banded adults, they disappear entirely from the plain-form adults as can be seen from the image.

The juvenile pictured here will have been one of between 20 and 30 live young, born as the female moved through suitable moist grassland, giving single births at about 30-minute intervals. The young are born in a foetal membrane that is eaten as it breaks free, following which the youngster is left to feed and develop without any assistance from its mother. It will become sexually mature in less than two years and could expect to live for up to 13 years – as long as it keeps an eye out for white-necked herons!

Look carefully for these attractive skinks, which particularly favour rainforests and damp areas of woodland where they may be found sheltering in leaf litter or hiding in tree crevices.

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