Length: SVL up to 115mm, with the tail being equal to or longer than the body length
Weight: up to 48 grams.
McGregor's skinks are a distinctively patterned, large and robust species. They are well-known for their temperament, and will often bite fiercely when handled.
Dorsal (upper) surfaces are light to dark brown, either uniform or with long streaks (either paler or darker than the base colour). Flanks grey brown with irregular black markings and numerous pale streaks or blotches (often with a dark edge), which merge into a dark area above the forelimbs. Belly yellow to pink, either uniform or with dark flecks; throat cream coloured, sometimes with a spattering of dark flecks. A pale, black outlined tear drop is seen under each eye.
Ages of over ten years recorded for wild animals. Captive animals have been reported to live 55+ years (D. Keall, personal communication, May 22, 2021).
Originally found throughout the North Island, McGregor’s skinks are now restricted to a fraction of their former range. They now only occur on a few pest-free islands scattered between Northland and Wellington; four remnant populations exist (Mana Island, Sail Rock, Bream and Cavalli Islands), and two translocated populations (Lady Alice and Whatupuke Islands).
Ecology and habitat
McGregor's skinks are a crepuscular or nocturnal species. They occupy a range of coastal habitats including open rocky platforms among dense vegetation such as flax (Phormium spp.), and New Zealand iceplant (Disphyma australe). They also inhabit coastal forest and scrub where they take refuge among thick leaf litter, under rocks and logs, or in seabird burrows during the day. McGregor's skinks are particularly susceptible to evaporative water loss through their skin, so utilise humid and thermally stable microhabitats.
McGregor's skinks are solitary and aggressively territorial. They have been recorded attacking and killing other lizards (including their own species) when caught in pitfall traps.
McGregor’s skink are ovoviviparous, giving birth to litters of up to seven in late summer to early autumn (D. Keall, personal communication, May 22, 2021).
McGregor’s skink are primarily insectivorous, but also prey on smaller species of lizards such as moko skinks (Oligosoma moco), and possibly consume carrion or regurgitated fish where they occur near seabird colonies. As with other native skinks, they likely forage for fruit and berries from native plants.
Conservation status and strategy
McGregor’s skinks have been heavily impacted by the introduction of mammalian predators and are now one of our rarest species. They currently occupy less that 1% of their former range, and only occur on pest-free islands as they cannot coexist with introduced predatory mammals such as rats and mice.
McGregor’s skink have been translocated from Sail Rock to establish two new populations on pest-free islands: Lady Alice and Whatupuke Island in the Marotere / Hen and Chicken group.
DOC have a recovery programme in place for the Oligosoma skinks, and list McGregor's skinks as ‘recovering’ due to expansion of translocated populations, and their recovery on Mana Island following the eradication of mice.
Gill, B.J., & Whitaker, A.H. (2007). New Zealand frogs and reptiles. Auckland: David Bateman Limited.
Hitchmough, R.A., Barr, B., Lettink, M., Monks, J., Reardon, J., Tocher, M., van Winkel, D., Rolfe, J. (2016). Conservation status of New Zealand reptiles, 2015; New Zealand threat classification series 17. Wellington: New Zealand Department of Conservation
Jewell, T. (2011). A photographic guide to reptiles and amphibians of New Zealand. Auckland: New Holland Publishing Ltd.
Newman, D.G. (1994) Effects of a mouse, Mus musculus, eradication programme and habitat change on lizard populations of Mana Island, New Zealand, with special reference to McGregor’s skink, Cyclodina macgregori. New Zealand Journal of Zoology, 21, 443-456.
Towns, D.R. (1999) Cyclodina Spp. Skink Recovery Plan 1999-2004. Threatened Species Recovery Plan 27. Department of Conservation, Wellington, New Zealand.
van Winkel, D., Baling, M. & Hitchmough, R. (2018). Reptiles and Amphibians of New Zealand: A field guide. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 376 pp.