Herpetofaunal category
Authority
Gerard, 1857
Previous scientific names
Cyclodina aeneum
Common names
Copper skink
Oligosoma aeneum
Image attribution
Chris Wedding

Description

Copper skink are New Zealand’s smallest native skink, reaching SVL (snout-vent-lengths) of up to 67mm. Dorsal (upper) surface brown, may be uniform or have scattered light and/or dark flecks. Copper skink often have a bright copper coloured stripe at the edges (usually above the forelimbs), some individuals have a black highlight at the lower margin of the stripe. The ventral (lower) surface is a uniform cream or yellowish green. The throat is paler than the belly and has heavy black spotting; jawline commonly flecked with black and white markings. The tail and hind limbs may have red colouration, particularly on the ventral side. The red colouration in the tail and limbs is accentuated during breeding season. An alternating black and white denticular pattern surrounds the mouth.

Similar in appearance to the ornate skink (Oligosoma ornata): the dorsal surface and tail of copper skink usually lack the large pale blotches seen in ornate skink; dorsolateral lines at the edge of the back have a more broken appearance in ornate skink; copper skink have a denticular pattern around mouth which is absent in ornate skink; ornate skink have a ‘tear-drop’ below each eye, this is absent in copper skink.

Life expectancy

Largely unknown.

Distribution

Copper skink are the most commonly sighted native skink and are widespread throughout the North Island.

Ecology and habitat

Copper skink inhabit areas with good ground cover in open and shaded areas of forests. In coastal areas copper skink can be found close to the high tide line. Copper skink are also found in urban areas, most commonly found in compost heaps and rock gardens.

A secretive species which rarely emerge from cover. Copper skink are active in the pre dawn period and throughout the day.

Social structure

Adults maintain a small solitary home range.

Breeding biology

Mating takes place in spring; copper skink are ovoviviparous with females giving birth to 3-7 live offspring in January/February.

Diet

Small invertebrates; insects such as beetles, spiders, and mites.

Disease

Copper skink have been found to have Salmonella, however, endoparasites are not always pathogenic and it may be possible that only serious infestations cause disease.

Conservation strategy

DOC classify copper skink as ‘not threatened’, the species appear to have been able to adapt relatively well to habitat change and are able to survive in urban environments.  Copper skink inhabit a similar niche to the introduced rainbow skink, therefore, there is the possibility of significant competition between the two species.

DOC have a recovery programme in place for the Oligosoma skink group.

References

  • Gill, B., & Whitaker, T. (2007). New Zealand frogs and reptiles. Auckland: David Bateman Limited.
  • Habgood, M., & Baling, M. (2007). Survey and disease screening of reptiles on Motuora Island. A report prepared for the Motuora Restoration Society. Retrieved 5/10/2016 from http://motuora.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/MotuoralizardSurvey2006_final.pdf
  • Hitchmough, R.A., Barr, B., Lettink, M., Monks, J., Reardon, J., Tocher, M., van Winkel, D., Rolfe, J. (2016). Conservation status of New Zealand reptiles, 2015; New Zealand threat classification series 17. Wellington: New Zealand Department of Conservation.
  • Jewell, T. (2011). A photographic guide to reptiles and amphibians of New Zealand. Auckland: New Holland Publishers.