Named for the mountainous regions it inhabits (3), the mountain skink (Chalcides montanus) is a small, poorly-known lizard from the Atlas Mountains of Morocco (1) (3).
Very little information is available on the typical colouration and markings of the mountain skink, but like other skink species it has a fairly elongated, roughly cylindrical body covered in smooth, overlapping scales (4). Its limbs are short (4) (5), but not as reduced as in some other Chalcides species (6). In general, skinks in the genus Chalcides have a fairly pointed snout with an enlarged scale at the tip (6). The eyelids of these species are moveable, and the lower eyelid has a transparent scale which can cover the eye and enable the skink to bask with the eyes shut while retaining vision (5) (6).
The mountain skink has previously been classified together with the closely related Lanza’s skink (Chalcides lanzai), which was considered to be a subspecies of the mountain skink. The two species are similar in appearance and occupy adjacent mountain habitats in Morocco (6).
- Chalcides ocellatus montanus.
- Snout-vent length: 7.3 - 9.9 cm (2)
Mountain skink biology
Very little is known about this small skink species. It is reported to hibernate in winter and is viviparous, giving birth to live young rather than laying eggs (1).
In general, male skinks become aggressive during the breeding season, and may warn away rivals through aggressive displays. Fights are also common. During mating, the male skink typically holds the female in a ‘mating grip’ and may bite the female on the neck, limbs or body (4). Skinks usually use a range of chemical and visual cues to communicate (4).
Although the diet of the mountain skink is not known, like most other skinks it is likely to be an active predator and to feed on a range of insects and other small invertebrates (4).
Mountain skink range
The mountain skink occurs only in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco (1) (3).
Mountain skink habitat
A high altitude species, the mountain skink is found in juniper forest, cedar plantations, bushland, fields, meadows and damp areas near streams, at elevations of around 2,300 to 2,830 metres (1).
Mountain skink status
The mountain skink is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).
Mountain skink threats
Although the mountain skink occupies a fairly restricted range, its habitat is not believed to be under any significant threat and this species’ population is not known to be declining (1).
However, the mountain skink appears to be naturally rare, and in parts of its range it may face local threats from the removal of firewood, which can degrade its habitat (1).
Mountain skink conservation
There are not known to be any specific conservation measures currently in place for the mountain skink. This little-known species has been recorded in at least one protected area, in Toubkal National Park (1), although a major expansion of protected areas has been recommended to help protect this and other reptile species in Morocco (7).
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Find out more about the mountain skink:
More information on conservation in the Mediterranean region:
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- 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.
- Hibernation is a winter survival strategy in which an animal’s metabolic rate slows down and a state of deep sleep is attained. Whilst hibernating, animals survive on stored reserves of fat that they have accumulated in summer.
- Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones) and echinoderms.
- 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.
- Giving birth to live offspring that develop inside the mother’s body.
IUCN Red List (December, 2011)
Caputo, V. and Mellado, J. (1992) A new species of Chalcides (Reptilia: Scincidae) from northeastern Morocco. Bolletino di Zoologia, 59(3): 335-342.
The Reptile Database (December, 2011)
Halliday, T. and Adler, K. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Ananjeva, N.B., Orlov, N.L., Khalikov, R.G., Darevsky, I.S., Ryabov, S.A. and Barabanov, A.V. (2006) The Reptiles of Northern Eurasia. Pensoft Publishers, Sofia, Bulgaria.
Carranza, S., Arnold, E.N., Geniez, P., Roca, J. and Mateo, J.A. (2008) Radiation, multiple dispersal and parallelism in the skinks, Chalcides and Sphenops (Squamata: Scincidae), with comments on Scincus and Scincopus and the age of the Sahara Desert. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 46: 1071-1094.
de Pous, P., Beukema, W., Weterings, M., Dümmer, I. and Geniez, P. (2011) Area prioritization and performance evaluation of the conservation area network for the Moroccan herpetofauna: a preliminary assessment. Biodiversity and Conservation, 20: 89-118.