New species of skink found in remote North Queensland

12 June 2019

Lerista anyara, Olkola country, Qld. Photo courtesy of Steve WilsonQueensland Museum scientists have described a new species of skink found in a small pocket of land in North Queensland.

Skinks are the largest and most diverse family of lizards and range in size from as small as 22 millimetres right up to the common Blue-tongue up to around 320 millimetres.

Found in the remote Olkola National Park in north Queensland, the skink (Lerista) was discovered by consultants working with Traditional Owners on the Kimba Plateau, in Cape York, following Bush Blitz, a species discovery program.

The Olkola people who helped find the skink, contacted Queensland Museum herpetologist Dr Andrew Amey who confirmed it was a new species.

Dr Amey worked with senior curator reptiles, Patrick Couper and Research Fellow and Molecular Identities Lab Manager, Dr Jessica Worthington-Wilmer, to describe the new species, Lerista anyara, which is known to only inhabit the Kimba Plateau.

Dr Amey said given the plateau is only 100 square kilometres and the species has not been detected anywhere else, if there was evidence of decline, it would qualify as endangered.

“It was quite surprising to find the presence of skinks on Kimba Plateau as the nearest relative is 500 kilometres south, so it’s very interesting they exist on this small pocket of land,” Dr Amey said.

Minister for Science and Minister for the Arts Leeanne Enoch said Australia was home to one of the oldest continuous cultures in the world, and that First Nations peoples are Australia’s first scientists.

“The Olkola Aboriginal Corporation holds and manages 869,822 hectares of Traditional Lands, which makes it one of the largest landholders in the Cape York Peninsula,” Minister Enoch said.

“The Kimba Plateau is a naturally and culturally significant area and is home to vulnerable plant and animal species, so it’s heartening to see scientists partnering with Traditional Owners to help preserve and document this amazing flora and fauna.”

Dr Amey, Mr Couper and Dr Worthington-Wilmer have also recently described two more skinks from North Queensland, Lerista alia and Lerista parameles, which are considered endangered.

“Compared to Western Australia, Queensland has a small distribution of Lerista, but recent studies are showing Queensland has many more skinks than previously thought, but their distribution is very narrow, with them only being found in small pockets of land around the state,” Dr Amey said.

Dr Amey said he enjoyed working with skinks because of their diversity.

 “Because of the diversity between different species, they can be difficult to define, most have smooth, shiny overlapping body scales and have four legs, with five fingers and toes, but some have small reduced limbs with few digits or even no limbs at all,” he said.

Queensland Museum CEO Dr Jim Thompson said recording new species and understanding their distribution is critical to ensuring their long term conservation.

“It’s a credit to our Queensland Museum scientists that they continue to describe new species and enrich our knowledge of the state’s biodiversity,” he said.

“As a scientist you never stop learning and researching and taxonomy is just one of the many roles the scientists undertake here at the museum, for the benefit of all Queenslanders.”

The three new species are Lerista anyara, Lerista alia and Lerista parameles.

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