Blue Mountains water skink (Eulamprus leuraensis)

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Blue Mountains water skink close up of head
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Blue Mountains water skink fact file

Blue Mountains water skink description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassReptilia
OrderSquamata
FamilyScincidae
GenusEulamprus (1)

The little-known Blue Mountains water skink is one of Australia’s rarest lizards. Elongated and flattened, the mid-body of this attractive lizard is adorned with around 30 rows of tightly arranged, smooth scales that shine with an iridescence in the sunlight (3). Two distinctive yellow-bronze stripes stretch from the head, down the length of the body, to the base of the long, slender tail, and fade into a scattering of spots. Much darker than related species, the body is brown to black in colour, with a brown-bronze head, and a golden underside that contrasts with small flecks of brown. The short, powerful limbs are also dark coloured, with bronze streaks, and possess five, well-developed digits (4).

Size
Average snout-vent length: 8 cm (2)
Average vent-tail length: 16 cm (2)
Weight
up to 10 g (2)
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Blue Mountains water skink biology

A semi-aquatic, diurnal predator, the Blue Mountains water skink seeks out its prey amongst the vegetation of swamp margins. It is largely insectivorous, consuming a variety of arthropods, such as grasshoppers and moths, but will occasionally supplement its diet with plant material and fruits. The Blue Mountains water skink is most active on sunny days, between September and late April, and is thought to enter a state of torpor over the winter months, possibly residing in a burrow or nest of dense vegetation (4). The dark coloration of the Blue Mountains water skink can make it highly conspicuous, and if detected by a predator it may flee into a dense grass tussock or down a burrow. It will occasionally use the burrow of other species such as the giant burrowing frog (Heleioporus australiacus), which may also serve to protect it from natural fires (4).       

The capture of male specimens with swollen testes in September and October suggests that the Blue Mountains water skink breeds during this period (2). Males attract a mate using a courtship display of head bobbing and lateral body movements, and will compete aggressively with other males, often in combat, for the females’ attention (6). The Blue Mountains water skin is ovoviviparous, meaning that the egg develops and hatches inside the female, with live young born in late December. Basking sites are likely to be important to gravid females, as direct sunlight is required to maintain the body temperature of the developing young (2)

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Blue Mountains water skink range

The Blue Mountains water skink is endemic to south-east Australia, where it is restricted to the Blue Mountains and Newnes Plateau, New South Wales. It is known to occur in 30 fragmented locations; however, substantial areas of suitable habitat have not yet been surveyed, and it is possible that new populations may be found at the Boyd Plateau, south of Jenolan Caves, the Lithgow Valley and south of Sydney. Aerial surveys have also discovered that the species’ range may extend a further 10 kilometers south, and one kilometer east, from its most south-eastern point, as large areas of suitable habitat remain (2).

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Blue Mountains water skink habitat

The Blue Mountains water skink inhabits moderate and high elevation shrub and ‘hanging’ sedge swamps, a unique and rare habitat in Australia, on sandy-peaty soils, from 560 metres above sea level, upwards (4). It may also be found in open forest, scrub, tussock grassland and heath, on sandstone or Narrabeen soils, with a constant supply of water (2) (5). The Blue Mountains water skink prefers large, well connected swamps, with a deep litter layer and moist soils, but is most abundant in areas dominated by the two plant species Tetrarrhena turfosa and Baeckea linifolia (2).

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Blue Mountains water skink status

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Endangered

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Blue Mountains water skink threats

Restricted to a very specific habitat, dependant on delicate associations between the fauna and flora and the water hydrology, the Blue Mountains water skink has probably never been abundant. However, as a result of an increasing human population encroaching upon its habitat, it has become threatened, and today, has a very small population (1) (2). Relict populations are extremely isolated and fragmented and, therefore, highly vulnerable to habitat degradation, especially as the majority of Blue Mountains water skink populations are surrounded by urban development (2). Pollution from rubbish disposal, commercial run-off and septic discharge is a particular problem at several locations, and can lead to nitrification, promoting weed infestations. Earthworks for the establishment of sewage pipelines and poor erosion control mechanisms, has also resulted in sedimentation, causing swamps to dry up. Furthermore, the Blue Mountains water skink’s range is intersected by corridors of powerlines, and their servicing has been identified as an additional threat, through the slashing, burning and spraying of pesticides that is required to gain maintenance access (4).     

Predation by feral and domestic cats poses further problems, as these introduced predators, which arrived in Australia in the 18thcentury, are now widespread, and threaten many rare species (7). Similarly, pigs have also been introduced into vast areas of Australia, and threaten Blue Mountain water skink habitat by digging up the soils, and altering the composition of the vegetation (8).    

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Blue Mountains water skink conservation

With high levels of endemism, and large numbers of threatened species, the Blue Mountains, home to the Blue Mountains water skink, is a region of major conservation importance. Recognising this, the Australian government has afforded this region extra protection, beginning in 1959, with the creation of the Blue Mountains National Park, and most recently, the creation of the UNESCO Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area in 2000 (9) (10)

The Blue Mountains water skink is recognised as a threatened species of national environmental significance, and a series of priority actions, required to ensure its survival, are detailed in a thorough recovery plan (4) (11) (12). Ameliorating the impact of invasive weeds, through improved management of urban wastes, and the control of feral cats and pigs, through shooting, trapping and fencing is deemed a high priority (7) (8) (11). Further research is also required to assess the species’ response to various threats, and to investigate the species’ ecological requirements, so that further areas of suitable habitat can be identified (11). The development of a conservation breeding programme has also been planned, which will aim to maintain the species’ genetic diversity, and introduce captive-bred individuals into locations within its known range (5). This will be complemented by a community awareness project that will seek public support for the conservation programme, increase community involvement in recovery operations, and development land management guidelines for landowners and users (2) (5).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

For more information on the conservation of the Blue Mountains, see:

For more information on the conservation of reptiles, see:

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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Glossary

Arthropods
A very diverse phylum (a major grouping of animals) that includes crustaceans, insects and arachnids. All arthropods have paired jointed limbs and a hard external skeleton (exoskeleton).
Diurnal
Active during the day.
Endemic
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Endemism
The degree to which a species or taxonomic group is confined to a single region.
Gravid
Carrying developing young or eggs.
Insectivorous
Insect eating.
Ovoviviparous
Ovovivipary is a method of reproduction whereby the egg shell is weakly formed and young hatch inside the female; they are nourished by their yolk sac and then ‘born’ live.
Testes
Male reproductive glands responsible for the production of male germ cells or sperm.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (February, 2010)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. The Australian Government Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts Species Profile and Threats Database (February, 2010)
    http://www.environment.gov.au/cgi-bin/sprat/public/publicspecies.pl?taxon_id=59199
  3. Wells, R. and Wellington, C.R. (1984). A synopsis of the class Reptilia in Australia. Australian Journal of Herpetology, 1:73-129.
  4. New South Wales National Parksand Wildlife Service. (2001) Blue Mountains Water Skink (Eulamprus leuraensis) Recovery Plan. New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service. Available at:
    http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/recovery/blue-mtns-water-skink/index.html
  5. Cogger, H.G., Cameron, E.E., Sadlier, R.A. and Eggler, P. (1993). The Action Plan for Australian Reptiles. Canberra, ACT: Australian Nature Conservation Agency. Available at:
    http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/action/reptiles/index.html
  6. Halliday, T. and Adler, K. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  7. Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. (2008) Threat Abatement Plan for Predation by Feral Cats. Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. Available at:
    http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/tap/cats08.html
  8. Australian Government Department of the Environment and Heritage. (2005)Threat Abatement Plan for Predation, Habitat Degradation, Competition and Disease Transmission by Feral Pigs. Australian Government Department of the Environment and Heritage. Available at:
    http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/tap/pig.html
  9. Greater Blue Mountains Drive (February, 2010)
    http://www.greaterbluemountainsdrive.com.au/
  10. UNESCO (February, 2010)
    http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/917/
  11. Threatened Species: Species, populations and ecological communities of New South Wales (February, 2010)
    http://www.threatenedspecies.environment.nsw.gov.au/
  12. The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (February, 2010)
    http://www.environment.gov.au/epbc/index.html
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Image credit

Blue Mountains water skink close up of head  
Blue Mountains water skink close up of head

© Sylvain Dubey

Sylvain Dubey
sylvain.dubey@bio.usyd.edu.au

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