Tanya Loos

Meet the Mountain Skink! Unlike the more well-known threatened species of the Wombat Forest, the Greater Glider and the Gang-Gang Cockatoo, the Mountain Skink is a new kid on the block – in fact, this little lizard was only discovered living here in 2020!

In Reptiles of Victoria, published in 2019, the Mountain Skink is described as living in the mountainous areas of the Great Dividing Range, usually at elevations of above 900 metres, and occurring in eastern Victoria, with the most western population in the upper Yarra Valley.

But in 2020, ecologist Jules Farquhar and a couple of colleagues were out doing survey work in the Wombat Forest, and they noticed a group of skinks sunning themselves and moving in and out of low rocks and logs. They counted six adults and seven juveniles – and they definitely weren’t the closely related White’s Skinks. The patterning on the back was quite different – and they were stunned when they realised they had come across a family group of Mountain Skinks!

The discovery extended the range of the species by 150 kilometres westwards. Better reprint all of the distribution maps! What’s more, the shrubby peppermint forest hillside that they were on was not what would be regarded as alpine, or at 900m. These skinks were enjoying life significantly lower at just 620m elevation and rewriting what ecologists thought they knew about the species. Maybe we should call the Wombat Forest Mountain Skinks “Foothill Forest Skinks”!

Mountain Skink. (Photo: Anna Senior)

I was very fortunate to attend a Wombat Forestcare presentation by Dr Anna Senior who studied these fascinating reptiles along with closely related Guthega Skinks in the alpine areas of eastern Victoria for her PhD.

Anna gave us a fascinating introduction to the world of Mountain Skinks and their relatives, especially their complex and unusual family life. When we think of affectionate lifelong partner bonds or parents lovingly raising their young with the young from previous years, we might think of birds such as Gang-gang Cockatoos or Laughing Kookaburras – but this also describes the lives of many skink species.

The Egernia group has 60 skinks from 7 different genera – and includes iconic species such as Blue-tongue skinks, the Shingleback or Stumpytail lizards, and the Black Rock Skinks. The little tiny garden skinks and eastern water skinks are also in this big family. Mountain skinks are in the Liopholis genus – of which there are 12 species. Liopholis skinks live in burrow systems which may be simple crevices or large complex burrows with multiple entrances. They bear live young (rather than eggs) and live in family groups with the young staying on with the parents for a number of years and the parents enjoying long term pair bonds.

Mountain Skinks are omnivorous, eating not only insects and small invertebrates but a lot of plant matter as well, such as the fruits from native raspberry.

Since 2020, several more sites with Mountain Skinks have been discovered by Wombat Forestcare’s intrepid citizen scientists led by Gayle Osborne and Trevor Spiers. The Wombat Forest is now regarded as a significant stronghold for the species!

Reptiles of Victoria describe the Mountain Skink as little known, threatened and vulnerable to extinction – with logging and fire listed as the main threats. And today,  our skinks here in the Wombat also face these threats. These lovely lizards have been living here peacefully and unnoticed by western science for hundreds of years. It’s up to us to care for their habitat.

Please join Wombat Forestcare in their legal action against the salvage logging in the Wombat Forest by VicForests.

Or if you want to find out more about the beautiful Wombat Forest, its flora and fauna and the great folks working to care for it, subscribe to the wombat Forestcare newsletter, or check out their website.


Tanya Loos is a local naturalist, author and environmental consultant who loves to work in the environmental not-for-profit sector. She is the author of “Daylesford Nature Diary” available from her website or from Paradise Books in Vincent Street, Daylesford.

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