Oligosoma smithi

Shore skink

Oligosoma smithi
(Gray, 1845)

Shore skinks from dune habitat (above) and pebble beach (below). <a href="https://www.instagram.com/nickharker.nz/">© Nick Harker</a>
Image attribution
Shore skinks from dune habitat (above) and pebble beach (below). © Nick Harker
Herpetofaunal category
NZ Skinks
Species complex
Conservation Status
At Risk - Declining
Common names
Shore skink,
Smith's skink.

Length: SVL up to 82mm, with the tail being equal to or shorter than the body length

Weight: up to 10.3 grams


A strictly coastal species with highly variable colouration dependent on habitat. Dorsal (upper) surfaces may be pale grey, greenish, brown or black with heavy speckling. Some individuals have a dark longitudinal stripe down the spine.  Flanks usually have a broad dark stripe in the upper areas which may be bordered by a narrow pale stripe above, and less often, below. Throat is grey or cream often with black flecks. Belly: cream to yellow, pinkish/red, grey, or black, may be speckled with black. Some individuals are entirely black.

Shore skink reach SVL (snout-vent-lengths) of up to 80mm with a relatively short tapering tail. The snout is slender and pointed. Shore skink may be confused with speckled skink, though there is very little range overlap. Shore skink have a distinctive pointed snout and are much less heavily built.

Life expectancy

~10 years.


Found on the mainland and offshore islands along the north-eastern coast of the North Island.

Ecology and habitat

Shore skinks inhabit shorelines in open habitats often up to 200 m from the shoreline in dune vegetation. Found amongst driftwood at the high tide mark, in piles of seaweed, and amongst mat-forming vegetation in sand dunes. A diurnal species which are avid sun baskers, but will retreat quickly if disturbed. Shore skink have been observed diving into rockpools.

Social structure

Largely unknown.

Breeding biology

Shore skink are ovoviviparous giving birth to litters of 4-6 young from January to March.


On stony beaches, shore skink forage in the intertidal zone at low tide. The species are omnivorous consuming invertebrates as well as berries and fruits, including those of Coprosma species, Piper excelsum (kawakawa), Mehulenbeckia and the weeds Solanum nodiflorum (knightshade) and Phytolacca octandra (pokeweed).


The endoparasite Hedruris minuta have been found in shore skink.

Conservation strategy

DOC classify shore skink as ‘Declining’ .

Interesting notes

Also known as Smith’s skink. Named after Lieutenant Alexander Smith of the British Royal Navy who took part in an expedition where the original species specimens were collected in the 1840s.

A related species the Tatahi skink (Oligosoma "Three Kings, Te Paki, Western Northland") occurs on the west coast of the North Island, from Muriwai beach northwards.

McCann assigned two subspecies (O. s. smithi and O. s. numerale), however, genetic studies (Hare et al. 2008) did not support the notion of separate species. Instead multiple clades (groups of organisms with a common ancestor and all its lineal descendants) within the species were identified:

Clade 1
O. Smithi ‘Three Kings’ (listed as Western shore/Tatahi skink in Jewell, 2008)
Clade 2a
Hauraki Gulf and Coromandel Peninsular
Clade 2b
Tauranga, Bay of Plenty
Clade 2c
Eastern Northland from Poor Knights Islands.


Falla, R.A. (1936). New Zealand lizards. New Zealand Herald, 24 April 1936.

Gill, B.J., & Whitaker, A.H. (2007). New Zealand frogs and reptiles. Auckland: David Bateman Limited.

Hare, K.M., Daugherty, C.H., & Chapple, D.G. (2008). Comparative phylogeography of three skink species (Oligosoma moco, O. Smithi, O. Suteri; Reptilia: Scincidae) in northeastern New Zealand. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 45, 1, 303-315.

Hare, K.M., & Miller, K.A. (2009). What dives beneath: Diving as a measure of performance in lizards. Herpetologica, 65, 3, 227-236.

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 Publishers.

Towns, D.R. (1999). Cyclodina spp. Skink recover plan, 1999-2004. Wellington: Department of Conservation.

van Winkel, D., Baling, M. & Hitchmough, R. (2018). Reptiles and Amphibians of New Zealand: A field guide. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 376 pp.

Whitaker, A.H. (1968). The lizards of the Poor Knights Islands, New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Science, 11, 4, 623-651.

Whitaker, A.H. (1987). The roles of lizards in New Zealand plant reproductive strategies. New Zealand Journal of Botany, 25, 2, 315-328.