New alpine lizard species uncovered in South Island

A gecko found in Mount Aspiring National Park. Photo: Samuel Purdie
A gecko found in Mount Aspiring National Park. Photo: Samuel Purdie
An intensive hunt for lizards in the South Island has led to the discovery of what could be several new skink and gecko species.

The exciting finds were made this summer in remote mountain areas in Fiordland, Mount Aspiring and Nelson Lakes national parks, and the Hooker/Landsborough Wilderness Area on the West Coast.

Department of Conservation science adviser and lizard survey project leader Dr Jo Monks said the discoveries are either new populations of known lizard species or completely new species.

"Our field teams have struck gold this summer with finds of two new skinks and two new geckos, which could all be completely new species.

"They look different to known species, but we won’t know for certain until we get the results of genetic testing.

"If they aren’t new species, it means we have discovered populations of these lizards in places we didn’t know they were, which is great news.”

A gecko found at Nelson Lakes National Park. Photo: Ben Barr
A gecko found at Nelson Lakes National Park. Photo: Ben Barr
The DOC-led survey teams spent about three days searching for lizards at each site, combing the ground, carefully lifting rocks and spotlighting at night for geckos, which are nocturnal.

In the Wick Mountains in northern Fiordland, 20 skinks were found in an area not surveyed previously, confirming the hunch it was suitable lizard habitat.

A trip into the depths of Mount Aspiring National Park to investigate a single gecko sighting resulted in nine geckos being found in an area far from other known populations.  

Lizard prints in a rodent tracking tunnel in the Hooker/Landsborough Wilderness Area on the West Coast sparked a three-day search that led to the discovery of one pregnant female skink.

Another gecko was found in Nelson Lakes National Park, where the elusive Cupola gecko was also rediscovered this summer after only two previous sightings.

“These finds are very exciting and show there is much about our alpine lizards still be discovered,” says Jo Monks.

A skink found in Hooker Landsborough Wilderness Area. Photo: Samuel Purdie
A skink found in Hooker Landsborough Wilderness Area. Photo: Samuel Purdie
DOC is awaiting results of genetic testing in coming weeks to identify the specimens found and confirm whether they are new species.

The aim of the summer lizard survey was to gain more information about poorly known or ‘data deficient’ lizards, some of which have only been seen once or twice previously.

The research allows taxonomic descriptions to be completed and the lizards’ conservation status assessed to inform the best way to manage them. It was made possible by biodiversity funding in Budget 2018.

DOC also wants to hear from member of the public who have spotted lizard. People are asked to take photos of the lizards and send reports with exact location information to lizardresearch@doc.govt.nz.

A skink found in Fiordland National Park. Photo: Carey Knox, Wildland Consultants
A skink found in Fiordland National Park. Photo: Carey Knox, Wildland Consultants

 

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