Named in honour of Tony (Anthony) Whitaker, a New Zealand herpetologist.
Dorsal (upper) surface colours range from yellow/brown to dark brown; back covered with light to dark flecks which may be indistinct or very prominent. Flanks cream to yellow or brown, usually heavily mottled with black, particularly on the sides of the neck. This typical flank pattern can also be reversed with a black background colour with pale mottling. Ventral (lower) surfaces: yellow to orange belly, usually unmarked or faintly marked; throat pale grey. Sides and top of tail sometimes have an orange hue. The head is deep set with a short, blunt snout. A pale, black edged tear drop is present beneath each eye. Whitaker’s skink reach SVL (snout-vent-lengths) of 80-101mm. Males weigh up to 20g, and breeding females 25-26g (D. Keall, personal communication, October 18, 2016).
Whitaker’s skink is similar in appearance to the marbled skink, however, marbled skink usually have a heavily marked belly. Juvenile Whitaker’s skink can appear similar to the ornate skink but have more ventral scale rows.
Estimations for captive animals range from 10 to 40+ years (D. Keall, personal communication, October 18, 2016).
Whitaker’s skink were originally found in three areas in the North Island: Middle Island (Mercury group) and Castle Island off the Coromandel peninsula; Motutapu Island in the Hauraki Gulf; an almost extinct population at Pukerua Bay on the mainland (north of Wellington). The species was introduced to Korapuki Island in 1988, and Red Mercury Island in 1994. Subfossil remains have been found in the Waikato, indicating that the species was once more widely distributed.
Ecology and habitat
Whitaker’s skink inhabit leaf litter and seabird burrows in coastal forests and scrub. A crepuscular and nocturnal species which are active at dawn and for several hours after dusk. The species are active over a very narrow climatic range, with capture rates at Pukerua Bay indicating that the temperature preference for activity is 15-20°C. Gravid females will sun bask.
Largely unknown; observations of captive animals indicate that the species prefer to live solitarily (D. Keall, personal communication, October 18, 2016).
Whitaker’s skink are ovoviviparous, giving birth to litters of up to 5 young in April.
Whitaker’s skink are carnivourous, feeding on prey such as: moths, beetles, spiders, grubs, hoppers, and worms. The species forage within seabird burrow complexes and boulder banks.
DOC classify Whitaker’s skink as ‘nationally endangered’. DOC have a recovery programme in place for the Oligosoma skink group, and a specific recover plan for Whitaker’s skink.
A project is being undertaken by DOC and Friends of Mana Island to capture, breed and relocate a population of vulnerable Whitaker’s skink from Pukerua Bay to predator free Mana Island. There is some uncertainty and concern about how Whitaker’s skink might interact with the larger and more aggressive McGregor’s skink which are already present on the Island (subfossils indicate the two species have been sympatric in the past but no longer coexist at the same sites due to relictual distributions.
- 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 Publishers Ltd.
- Towns, D. (1992). Recovery plan for Whitaker’s skink and robust skink: Threatened species recovery plan series no. 3. Wellington: Department of Conservation.