What Is a Shingleback Skink?

Cynde Gregory
Cynde Gregory

The shingleback skink is species that hails from Australia. One of the largest of its kind, the shingleback is found in sandy dunes and grassy desert areas. It consumes snails, desert plants, and insects. Flowers in season or fruit are other dietary staples.

Unlike most other types of skink, the shingleback’s head is extremely large and triangular in shape, covered in exceptionally thick cone-like scales. While most sand-dwelling skinks have either evolved away from limbs altogether or have only residual stubs to enable them to swim through sand, the shingleback has powerful legs. This skink, which is called by a number of other names, moves very slowly and likes to lie in the sun.

Shinglebacks mate in the fall and give birth some time between December and March. The babies are larger than those of other types of skinks. As soon as they are born, the brood eats its afterbirth.

The shingleback’s true name is Tiliqua rugosa, although when it was discovered in 1825, it was originally classified as Trachydosaurus rugosus. They are also known as bobtail or blue-tongued skinks, the pinecone lizard, or stump-tailed skinks. Like most of the species, the shingleback bears its young live. Unlike the other types, shingleback pairs raise their young for several months before they leave the nest.

Among reptiles, monogamy is almost unheard of. The shingleback skink is the exception. Not only do breeding pairs remain in the nest with their brood of up to four babies, but they seek one another out to mate year after year, sometimes for a lifetime.

These large, very slow-moving reptiles are easy catches for birds, foxes, and other predators. They have developed two lines of defense. Shinglebacks have evolved with a stunted tail and enlarged head that strongly resemble one another. This confuses predators and can allow the skink to escape, although unlike many other types of skinks, they do not have a tail that breaks off and regenerates. The second protection is the bony protrusions under their plates called osteoderms. These make it difficult for predators to sink in their teeth.

Many lizards have limited eyesight and identify objects by smell or in other ways. The shingleback skink has good eyesight, which it uses to recognize a mate, offspring, and predators. In the animal world, it is common for a creature with one highly developed sense to have other senses that are poorly developed. Skinks, however, also have very sharp hearing, which helps in recognition.

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