The species Corucia zebrata is commonly known as the prehensile-tailed skink. It is also known as the monkey-tailed skink or the Solomon Island skink. This crepuscular animal's natural range is restricted to the Solomon Islands. It is a large, herbivorous arboreal lizard, and unlike many repitles lives in family colonies. It is the largest of all living skinks.

General Biology and Behaviour

The prehensile-tailed skink is a robust lizard, with strong limbs and very sharp claws. They have blunt heads and short noses, and very well developed musculature on the jaw, giving them prominant jowls. They are typically a light shade of green, but considerable regional variation in colouration has been reported. Their scales typically are of variable colours, and no clear pattern is apparent. The have large, inquisitive eyes, and their ear openings are very large.

The most remarkable physical characteristic of the prehensile-tailed skink is its tail. No other skink species has a prehensile tail, and the only other lizard species with this adaptation are the geckos and the chameleons. The prehensile-tailed skink is capable of supporting its body entirely with its large muscular tail, which is as long as the trunk and head combined. They use their tails to stabilize themselves while climbing, alowing them to reach from branch to branch with their forefeet without fear of falling.

These skinks are typically quite docile and relaxed animals, but some specimens are very, very aggressive. Their well developed jaws permit them to deliver powerful bites (in fact, an owner of this species describes the experience of being bitten as similar to placing your fingers in a car door and them slamming it repeatedly). The one exception to their generally docile temperament is their mating behaviour. When a male and female copulate, the males pin the females to the ground by biting their necks and shoulders, often to the point of removing scales and inflicting serious wounds. Most mature females will have some degree of scarring along their backs as testimony to prior reproductive acts.

The prehensile-tailed skink is ovoviviparous, like some other members of the skink family. Females have long gestation periods (up to five months), and give birth to single offspring, rarely twins. Females, in optimal conditions, can reproduce every nine months, but they don't reach sexual maturity until the age of three. Unlike most reptile species, the prehensile-tailed skink cannot rapidly respond to reductions in their population size, leading to some conservation concerns (see below).

Conservation Status

The prehensile-tailed skink became a very popular pet for herptoculturists over the past two decades, and this desirability coupled with their slow reproductive rate led to a considerable pressure being placed on the natural populations. In 1992, the species was classified as threatened by CITES. The Solomon Islands recently closed the animal trade, resulting in a severe decline in the exportation of these wonderful animals. However, deforestation is leading to ever increasing habitat loss for the species, and it is likely to remain threatened for the foreseeable future.

Taxonomy

The prehensile-tailed skink is the sole member of its genus, making it a bit of an evolutionary marvel.

Order: Squamata
Sub-order: Sauria
Infra-order: Scincomorpha
Family: Scincidae
Genus, species: Corucia zebrata



In passing, I forgot to mention that it has been one of my longest-lasting fantasies to finally be sufficiently stable (geographically and financially) to acquire a couple of these animals, and try to breed them. One day, one day....

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