The Cunningham’s Skink (Egernia cunninghami) is a sun-loving variety of spiny-tailed skink. The species is named in honor of Alan Cunningham; explorer and botanist, who collected the first specimen in the Blue Mountains.
This large skink has a long tail with keeled scales along its dorsal surface from the back of the neck down to the tip of the pointed tail. The legs are quite short, requiring the lizard to slide on its belly when it moves around. Its colour can vary from dark brown and reddish to a jet black with distinctive with scattered patches of paler scales.
Forests and woodlands with rock outcrops. The species occurs within forests and open woodland which feature rock outcrops. Groups of Cunningham’s Skinks bask on top of rocks and will scurry in between rock ledges to shelter.
The species occurs within temperate climatic zone along both western and eastern sides of the Great Dividing Range from south-east Queensland down through New South Wales the Australian and into central Victoria. The species is also found in South Australia where it is restricted to the cool climate of the Mount Lofty Ranges and Fleurieu Peninsula. Individuals in the north of the range tend to be slightly smaller and are brown or reddish, while southern populations are darker and strongly patterned.
Feeding and diet
These omnivorous lizards feed on a variety of invertebrates such as insects, snails and slugs as well as vegetation such as fruit and leaves.
The captive diet for this species at the Australian Museum is provided in three feeds within a period of a week. These consist of a small feed of chopped vegetables on one day, a small serving of kangaroo mince on another day as well five crickets or a snail for the third feeding. The timing and order of the diet is changed around to simulate natural conditions and prevent stereotypical behaviour (where an animal will have predicable activity patterns and essentially be waiting to be fed). This food is supplemented with calcium and vitamin powder to ensure that a nutritionally balanced diet is provided.
Other behaviours and adaptations
Like other spiny species of the Egernia genus, Cunningham’s Skinks live in large social groups makes it easier to spot danger. When threatened this lizard will take cover in a hollow log, under bark or between rocks. If harassed further it will inhale air, making its body swell up - this increased size, combined with the spiky keeled scales, makes it difficult for a predator to dislodge the lizard from its hiding place.
Life history cycle
This species is viviparous with females producing litters of live young.
This species is highly monogamous with most males fathering only one litter. Dispite remaining within the same range and not often dispersing, genetic studies have shown that Cunningham Skinks can identify close relatives and always choose unrelated partners. Litter size ranges from 1-11 young.
Protected in all states. Listed as endangered in South Australia
This species is protected in Australia and cannot be collected from the wild and a permit is required in most states and territories to keep this species in captivity. Please see the Resources for keeping live animals page and check with your local wildlife licensing agency.
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- Ehmann, H. 1992. Encyclopaedia of Australian Animals: Reptiles. Angus & Robertson. Pymble.
- Fyfe, G. 2008. Skinks, Family Scincidae. From Swan, M. (ed.) 2008. Keeping and Breeding Australian Lizards. Mike Swan Herp Books. Lilydale.
- Griffiths, K 2006. Frogs and Reptiles of the Sydney Region. Reed New Holland. Sydney.
- Jenkins, R. and Bartell, R. 1980. A Field Guide to Reptiles of the Australian High Country. Inkata Press. Melbourne.
Stow, A. J. 2004. Cunningham’s skink. Nature Australia. Australian Museum
- Swan, M. 2008. Keeping and Breeding Australian Lizards. Mike Swan Herp. Books. Lilydale.
- Wilson, S. K. and Knowles, D.G. 1992. Australia’s Reptiles, A Photographic reference to the Terrestrial Reptiles of Australia. Angus & Robertson. Pymble.