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Wonderful world of prehensile-tailed skinks

Hello, my name is Kyle Grace, and I’m one of the Herpetology Keepers at Zoo Atlanta! My fiancé and I recently moved down to Atlanta from Buffalo, New York. You may remember her from an earlier keeper blog about lemurs.

For my first Zoo Atlanta keeper blog, I’d like to talk about my favorite animal, the Solomon Island prehensile-tailed skink (Corucia zebrata)! Here at Zoo Atlanta, we have a group of five prehensile-tailed skinks in a habitat in the glass dome area of Scaly Slimy Spectacular. There are two adult females, one adult male, and two juveniles living together in this habitat.

Prehensile-tailed skinks are native to the Solomon Islands, a group of islands off the coast of Australia. They are an arboreal species, which means they spend most of their time up in the trees. Their prehensile tail is an important adaptation for life in the trees. They use their tails like an extra hand to hold onto branches. These skinks are vegetarians and eat lots of leafy greens. One of their favorite snacks is golden pothos (Epipremnum aureum), which is also found in the Solomon Islands. This plant is toxic and I wouldn’t recommend YOU eat any of it, but the toxins don’t bother the skinks!

Prehensile-tailed skinks are unique among reptiles in that they live in large family groups. After a long gestation of nine months, the female gives birth to a live baby! That’s right! I said live! No eggs for this reptile! And what a baby! A newborn of this species may weigh as much as one-fourth to one-third the weight of the mother! WOW! The baby skink is well developed and looks like a smaller version of the adults. Both parent prehensile-tailed skinks will defend their offspring from predators, and the offspring will remain the family group indefinitely. Not only do the parents provide protection, but they also help provide the necessary gut flora that the baby needs to digest its leafy diet. How do they do this, you might ask? Well, aside from being herbivores, prehensile-tailed skinks (especially the young) are coprophages (aka poop eaters in the scientific lingo). It is believed that by eating some of the feces from their parents, that the young skinks become inoculated with the necessary gut biota to digest their all plant diet. WEIRD!

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about prehensile-tailed skinks. Be sure to stop by Zoo Atlanta and see our family group of prehensile-tailed skinks in Scaly Slimy Spectacular!
Kyle Grace
Keeper II, Herpetology

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