Nangur Spiny Skink: A Unique Marvel in the Gympie Region’s Biodiversity
Nestled in the picturesque landscapes of the Gympie region in Australia lies a hidden gem of biodiversity—the Nangur spiny skink (Nangura spinosa). This fascinating lizard, adorned with tiny spines and endemic to the mountainous vine thickets in the Gympie region has become a symbol of the region’s rich and distinctive natural heritage. Only two populations are known to exist at the present day and the exact locations of these populations have been removed from openly accessed records to protect the Nangur spiny skink against poaching. Furthermore, access to these areas has been restricted to the public to protect this species even further.
The Nangur spiny skink boasts a remarkable array of physical features that contribute to its distinctive appearance. Its name is derived from the strongly keeled dorsal scales which are becoming more and more spiny towards the tail end. The skink exhibits a colour palette ranging from earthy browns to greys with subtle, irregular, dark dorsal bands and pale vertical bars on its flanks. This colouration not only aids in camouflage but also adds to the skink’s allure as a captivating species in the region. Its body is rather short (95 mm snout to vent) and its shape in combination with the comparatively large head and eyes gives the skink a rather ‘cute’ appearance.
Discovering the Nangur Spiny Skink
The species was only discovered fairly recently with the first population being discovered in 1992 and a second population being found in 1997, approximately 40 kms west of the first population. The first population presently consists of less than 40 individuals (across 7.4 ha) and the second population consist of approximately 2000 individuals (across 360 ha) hence their status of ‘Critically endangered’. Despite their close proximity, genetic sampling revealed that there is considerable genetic divergence between the two populations suggesting an extended period of separation of over a million years. This separation event precedes human occurrence in the area by a wide margin. The separation of these two populations is therefore not the result of recent land clearing or other human processes but of long-term isolation by unsuitable habitat. These results also suggest that the Nangur spiny skink does not move far from its home range and is not likely to traverse areas or undesirable habitat.
Habitat and Distribution
This captivating species is only found in the Gympie region in dense vine forests on heavy soils at higher elevations. Here, the skinks dwell in burrows underneath rocks and amongst roots. They appear to seldom leave their burrows entirely but rather hang around the burrows or ambush insects and other invertebrates from the depths of their burrows. The Gympie region’s rocky landscapes provide the ideal backdrop for the Nangur spiny skink to carry out its daily activities and despite extensive surveys across suitable habitat in the region, no additional populations have been discovered so far.
Conservation Status and Challenges
The Nangur spiny skink is currently listed as Critically endangered in Queensland and faces many challenges which have seen both populations seeing further declines in recent years. The Gympie region, like many areas worldwide, faces many challenges which are detrimental to the skinks’ survival. The main threatening processes include climate change which has changed the Nangur spiny skinks habitat leading to drier conditions and resulting in an increase of extreme weather conditions with floods and bushfires occurring more frequently. Due to the small distribution area home ranges and population sizes the skink is particularly susceptible to these changes. Weed incursions such as cat’s claw creeper (Macfadyena unguis-cati), coral berry (Rivinia humilis) and lantana (Lantana camara) threaten to overgrow the skinks’ delicate habitat and introduced animals such as foxes, cats and pigs pose a constant threat to the populations either by direct predation or by habitat destruction. Conservation initiatives are essential to strike a balance between human activities and the protection of the skink’s unique rocky habitat.
Our team visited the secret location where the Department of Environment and Science houses the captive breeding program. Here, the departments’ dedicated staff have established a successful program with Nangur spiny skinks taken from the wild. Each female gives birth to 1 – 4 live young every season. The young will then accompany the mother for a while before being relocated to a top-secret third population area.
Our team was fortunate enough to get to accompany Daniel Ferguson, Senior Ecologist at the Department of Environment and Science, to visit the release site. Chosen due to its perfect habitat conditions for the Nangur spiny skink, the release site provides hope for the survival of the species as the conditions of the original two population areas decline due to climate change making it less and less suitable for the species. As the Nangur spiny skink is seemingly unable to adapt or relocate in the face of these challenges, the release of captive-bred individuals could very well be the last hope for the species. The release site boasts an array of cameras to monitor the skinks and predators alike and does have cages that protect the burrows from predation.
The Nangur spiny skink stands as a testament to the Gympie region’s diverse and extraordinary natural heritage. As we continue to unravel the mysteries of this charming lizard, our responsibility to protect its habitat becomes increasingly evident. By fostering a connection between the community and the Nangur spiny skink, we contribute to the conservation of this unique species, ensuring that it remains a symbol of the Gympie region’s biological richness for generations to come.