Biologists Aim to Protect Rare Caribbean Lizards

Feb 17, 2014 by Sci-News.com

Scientists from a U.S.-based organization called the Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition seeking Endangered Species Act protection for nine recently discovered species of skinks found only in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Lesser Virgin Islands skink, Spondylurus semitaeniatus. Image credit: Alejandro Sanchez.

Lesser Virgin Islands skink, Spondylurus semitaeniatus. Image credit: Alejandro Sanchez.

The petitioned-for Caribbean skinks, which can grow to be about 8 inches long, are unique among reptiles in having reproductive systems most like humans, including a placenta and live birth.

They have cylindrical bodies, and most have ill-defined necks that, together with their sinuous movements and smooth, bronze-colored skin, make them look like stubby snakes.

Four of the species for which we petitioned are found within the territory of Puerto Rico: the Culebra skink (Culebra and the adjacent islet of Culebrita), Mona skink (Mona Island), Monito skink (Monito Island) and Puerto Rican skink (Puerto Rico and several of its satellite islands).

The remaining five are found in the Virgin Islands: the Greater St. Croix skink (St. Croix and its satellite Green Cay), Lesser St. Croix skink (St. Croix), Greater Virgin Islands skink (St. John and St. Thomas), Lesser Virgin Islands skinks (St. Thomas and two adjacent islets, several British Virgin Islands) and Virgin Islands bronze skink (St. Thomas and several of its islets, several British Virgin Islands).

Eight of the nine petitioned-for species fall within the genus Spondylurus, and one falls within the genus Capitellum.

“Time is running out for these lizards. The Caribbean is home to extremely rare animals found nowhere else in the world, but too many have already gone extinct. To save these skinks, we need to get them protected under the Endangered Species Act,” said biologist Collette Adkins Giese.

The animals in the petition will reap life-saving benefits from the Endangered Species Act, which has a 99 percent success rate at staving off extinction for species under its care.

“Skinks have a slow-moving curiosity and are not adapted to fast predators such as the mongoose, introduced by humans,” said Dr Blair Hedges of Pennsylvania State University, the lead author of the 2012 study that recognized the petitioned species.

“The survival of these skinks depends on the special measures of protection that only the Endangered Species Act can provide.”