When looking for lizards or other reptiles, most of them will try to get away when you approach them, but, not always. Once in a while you come across a small curious little creature that seems more interested in you than you are in them. Of course this is complete anthropomorphic way of looking at things , but they make up for nice stories. As I’m In the process of finalizing my project on Suter’s skink, I’m starting to get more time for some field stories. This first story about my field period happened almost at the end of my fieldwork, but it left me with a strong interest in that particular species.
I was near the end of my fieldwork on both islands. Almost four months, of sometimes though, fieldwork just to study this one particular creature. Normally you are happy with sun, but after 3 months without any significant rain, working on a volcano a lot less fun. Which meant that my days usually started before sunrise before the volcanic rock could warm up. The other island was a completely different island to work at. Although connected, it’s like walking from New Zealand to Hawaii by crossing the bridge.
When you stay at a certain place for a longer time, you have a bit more time to get familiar with the area and which species can be found where. I’ve quickly noticed that a familiar skink species (Oligosoma moco) also occurred on the island.
I knew this species as during my previous time in New Zealand, I lived near a place where they were quite numerous. Oligosoma moco, or Moko skink is an interesting species. This was also one of my first lizards that I saw in NZ. My first experience with this species was near a tourist trail on the island I was working on at that time. That trail was famous for its hot pools. This one days I was enjoying the hot pools and layed my head down on a rock in what is still surreal surroundings. Trees, ferns and palm trees lead me to believe I was in the tropics. Soon after I closed my eyes I noticed movement. While I opened my eyes this small black lizard was sitting at less than halve a meter from my head, busy foraging for his next meal. Curious as I was, I tried to catch the lizard so I could compare it with my field guides. My knowledge of NZ skinks at the time was rather limited. Unfortunately we weren’t able to catch it and after carefully describing my experience to my neighbor, she came to the conclusion it’s most likely a Moko skink. They sometimes occur in this melanistic variety. Later in the season I noticed more populations and often spend my days siting on the beach observing the Moko skinks foraging for food.
This diurnal species, living in the vegetation edge near beaches and in pasture is frequently seen during the day. Basking on stones and hunting in the vegetation edge. The most notable characteristic of this skink is its incredibly long tail. With dark brown stripes it looks really cool but not as spectacular as some other NZ species, but appearance is misleading is this case.
What I find is most striking is its curious character. Of course you always have this one individual that does not run away immediately, but in this case it was different. While staying on the islands I helped the local rangers out with monitoring of the lizards. Which usually met early mornings to drive around the islands checking pitfall traps. It was always a pleasure to find a Moko skink. This one time we captured a Moko skink in one of the pitfall traps and I grabbed the animal for measurements. The animal is measured (SVL, tail length etc.) and marked for mark-recapture studies. But before release I carefully observed the animal, siting on top of my finger. Although it could leave at any time, it chose to stay and observe its capturer. Wondering who was looking at who I spend several minutes observing this little curious lizard. The animal never let me out of his sight, even when I turned him/her around. At that time the sun was almost above the horizon and an orange/red glow was appearing throughout the landscape. Standing in a small bay, looking at the sunset with a one of NZ most curious lizard species on my finger it was again an experience I will never forget.
I put the lizard down on a log in the sun so it could gain some quick heat and run off before anything could grab it. Five minutes later I checked, and it was gone. A great start of the day and a nice memory added.
Names of places and particular locations are left out as the species involved are vulnerable for smuggling activities.