Australian National University biologists have found a new species of skink hidden among the sand dunes of Western Australia’s coastline.
“The discovery of a new species is a momentous occasion in science,” said Geoffrey Kay of the Australian National University’s Fenner School of Environment & Society, lead author of a paper describing the new species in the journal Zootaxa.
“To find something as yet undetected, so close to one of the country’s largest cities, demonstrates how much we’ve still got to discover.”
The 2.4-inch-long creature, called Ctenotus ora, or the Coastal Plains Skink, only lives in the dunes along the Swan Coastal Plain between Dunsborough and Mandurah, south of Perth.
“Although it’s a fantastic discovery, it’s poor cause for celebration. Our new lizard is under serious risk of being erased just as suddenly as it appeared to us. Only a few of these lizards have ever been found in the wild, so while we know numbers are low, we are not sure of the exact size of the remaining population,” Kay said.
The small stretch of sand the Coastal Plains Skink calls home is steadily being converted into residential developments to accommodate growth in Perth and the surrounding regions.
“Developments along the coastline near Perth need to consider this new lizard and potentially a large number of other species yet to be discovered in this diverse part of the world,” Kay said.
“We’ve known for a long time that the southwest has an outstanding diversity of plants, as exhibited by its stunning wildflowers. But only now with this research are we seeing that the level of diversity in animals, in particular reptiles, is far deeper and more extreme than we previously imagined,” Kay said. “In some cases, by using new genetic techniques and technology, we’re finding what we thought was only one species is in fact 9 or 10 very different ones.”
Bibliographic information: Geoffrey Kay & Scott Keogh. 2012. Molecular phylogeny and morphological revision of the Ctenotus labillardieri (Reptilia: Squamata: Scincidae) species group and a new species of immediate conservation concern in the southwestern Australian biodiversity hotspot. Zootaxa 3390: 1–18