Lined firetail skink (Morethia ruficauda)

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Lined firetail skink

Top facts

  • The lined firetail skink is easily recognised by its bright red tail, hind legs and hips.
  • The lined firetail skink’s head and body are glossy black, boldly marked with white stripes.
  • The bright red tail of the lined firetail skink probably serves to distract predators.
  • The lined firetail skink is found only in parts of Australia.
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Lined firetail skink fact file

Lined firetail skink description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassReptilia
OrderSauria
FamilyScincidae
GenusMorethia (1)

A small Australian lizard, the lined firetail skink (Morethia ruficauda) is named after its bright tail colouration, with its scientific name, ruficauda, meaning ‘red tail’ (1). Its hips and hind limbs are also deep red, while the rest of its head and body is boldly marked with clear white to gold stripes on an otherwise glossy black background (2) (3). These stripes extend in front of the eyes and converge on the snout (2) (4).

In many other Morethia species, males develop a red wash on the chin and throat during the breeding season (2) (4) (5). However, the lined firetail skink has not been recorded with this colouration (4). Juveniles of this genus usually have a bright red tail as hatchlings and lose the red colouration as they grow (4) (5), but a few species, including the lined firetail skink, are exceptions in that they retain this colour into adulthood (5).

Like other skinks, the lined firetail skink has a fairly elongate, roughly cylindrical body and smooth, glossy scales (5) (6). Its tail is quite long and tapering, and can be shed and regenerated if the skink is caught by a predator (5). The limbs of this species are quite well developed, and like other Morethia species the lined firetail skink has a fused lower eyelid which forms a clear ‘spectacle’ that covers the eye (2) (4).

Two subspecies of lined firetail skink are recognised (1) (2) (4). Morethia ruficauda exquisita, also known as the exquisite fire-tail skink, is distinguished from Morethia ruficauda ruficauda by the light stripe running along the top of its back (4).

Also known as
exquisite fire-tail skink, fire-tailed skink.
Synonyms
Ablepharus lineoocellatus ruficaudus, Morethia taeniopleura exquisita.
Size
Snout-vent length: 4.6 cm (2)
Total length: up to 9 cm (3)
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Lined firetail skink biology

Relatively little is currently known about the biology and behaviour of the lined firetail skink. However, like other Morethia skinks it is active during the day and is an alert, swift-moving species which lives on the ground (2) (4) (5) (7). Most small skinks feed on insects and other small arthropods (5) (6), and the lined firetail skink is known to eat ants (3).

The function of the lined firetail skink’s bright red tail is not fully understood, but it has been suggested that the skink uses it as a lure, wiggling it backwards and forwards to attract insect prey (3) (4). However, it is thought more likely that it is used to distract predators, drawing their attention to the bright tail, which is expendable, and away from the skink’s vulnerable head and body (4) (5) (7). It is also possible that the bright tail is waved as a form of communication (7).

The lined firetail skink lays around one to three eggs in each clutch (4), and like other Morethia species it probably breeds in the dry season (8).

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Lined firetail skink range

The lined firetail skink is found only in Australia, where it occurs mainly in the northwest and centre of the continent (2) (4) (5). This species has been recorded in the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia (1) (2), and the subspecies M. r. exquisita has also been recorded on the offshore island of Barrow Island (3).

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Lined firetail skink habitat

The range of the lined firetail skink includes some of the most arid parts of Australia (4). This small reptile is found in a variety of wooded, grassy and shrubby habitats, generally in well-drained rocky areas or on sandy soils (2) (3) (4).

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Lined firetail skink status

The lined firetail skink has not yet been classified on the IUCN Red List.

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Lined firetail skink threats

There are not known to be any major threats to the lined firetail skink at present.

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Lined firetail skink conservation

No specific conservation measures are currently known to be in place for the lined firetail skink. However, in some parts of its range, such as on Barrow Island, all reptiles are protected (3).

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Find out more

Find out more about the lined firetail skink and about reptiles on Barrow Island:

More information on conservation in Australia:

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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 major grouping of animals that includes crustaceans, insects and arachnids. All arthropods have paired jointed limbs and a hard external skeleton (exoskeleton).
Genus
A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
Subspecies
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
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References

  1. The Reptile Database (March, 2013)
    http://reptile-database.reptarium.cz/search.php
  2. Wilson, S. (2005) A Field Guide to Reptiles of Queensland. Reed New Holland, Sydney.
  3. Moro, D. and MacAulay, I. (2010) A Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Barrow Island. Chevron Australia, Perth. Available at:
    http://www.chevronaustralia.com/environment/protectingenvironment/nature-books.aspx
  4. Greer, A.E. (1981) A new species of Morethia (Lacertilia: Scincidae) from northern Australia, with comments on the biology and relationships of the genus. Records of the Australian Museum, 33(2): 89-122.
  5. Hutchinson, M.N. (1993) Family Scincidae. In: Glasby, C.J., Ross, G.J.B. and Beesley, P.L. (Eds.) Fauna of Australia. Volume 2A: Amphibia and Reptilia. AGPS Press, Canberra, Available at:
    http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/abrs/publications/fauna-of-australia/pubs/volume2a/31-fauna-2a-squamata-scincidae.pdf
  6. Halliday, T. and Adler, K. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  7. Wilson, S.K. (2012) Australian Lizards: A Natural History. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
  8. James, C. and Shine, R. (1985) The seasonal timing of reproduction: A tropical-temperate comparison in Australian lizards. Oecologia, 67: 464-474.
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Image credit

Lined firetail skink  
Lined firetail skink

© Stephen Zozaya

Stephen Zozaya
Townsville,
Australia
Tel: 0449826535
euprepiosaurus@gmail.com
http://www.flickr.com/photos/euprepiosaur/

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