Two-fingered skink (Chalcides mauritanicus)

Also known as: cylindrical skink
Synonyms: Heteromeles mauritanicus, Lerista dumerilii
GenusChalcides (1)
SizeLength: 6 - 8 cm (2)

The two-fingered skink is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The two-fingered skink (Chalcides mauritanicus) is an unusual, worm-like lizard which shows a number of adaptations for burrowing in loose sand. Its body is very narrow and it has highly reduced limbs (2) (3) (4), with just three toes on each hind foot and, as its common name suggests, two fingers on each forefoot (2) (4).

Other adaptations for the two-fingered skink’s burrowing lifestyle include small, concealed ear openings (2) (4). A rather tiny species, its slender body is generally silvery-white with dark stripes on the upperparts, and there may be a dark stripe along the spine (2).

Like other Chalcides species, the two-fingered skink has a fairly pointed snout with an enlarged scale at the tip (4). Species in this genus also have a transparent scale on the lower eyelid (4) (5), which enables them to bask with the eyes shut while still retaining vision (4). As in most skinks, the body of the two-fingered skink is covered in smooth, overlapping scales (6).

The two-fingered skink is restricted to a narrow coastal area of northwest Algeria and northeast Morocco (1) (2) (3) (7). It also formerly occurred in Melilla, a Spanish city on the North African coast (1) (3), but is now thought to be extinct there (1).

A lowland species, the two-fingered skink typically occurs in sandy areas or in eucalyptus, acacia or pine plantations, up to elevations of at least 140 metres (1).

Very little is known about the biology of this small skink. However, it is thought to be viviparous, the female giving birth to live young rather than laying eggs (1).

Like other skinks, the two-fingered skink is likely to be an active predator that feeds mainly on small insects and other arthropods, and which uses visual and chemical signals to communicate. During the breeding season, male skinks often become aggressive towards rival males, and displays such as head bobbing or actual fights are common. Male skinks may bite the female on the neck, limbs or body during mating (6).

The two-fingered skink occupies a restricted and fragmented range, and is under threat from a decline in the extent and quality of its habitat (1). The coastal areas it occupies are being affected by development for tourism and military uses, while the collection of driftwood by local people is removing essential ground cover for this species. The two-fingered skink is not known to survive in highly degraded habitats (1).

The two-fingered skink occurs in a few protected areas, including Embouchure de la Moulouya and Sebkha Bou Areg (1). There are not known to be any specific conservation measures currently in place for this rare lizard, but further surveys have been recommended to better establish the extent of its distribution (1).

A major expansion of conservation areas has been recommended to help protect this and other reptiles in Morocco (8).

Find out more about the two-fingered skink:

More information on conservation in the Mediterranean region:

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:

  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2011)
  2. Pasteur, G. (1981) A survey of the species groups of the Old World scincid genus Chalcides. Journal of Herpetology, 15(1): 1-16.
  3. Pleguezuelos, J.M., Márquez, R. and Lizana, M. (2002) Atlas y Libro Rojo de los Anfibios y Reptiles de España. Dirrección General de Conservación de la Naturaleza - Asociación Herpetologica Española, Madrid. Available at:
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Halliday, T. and Adler, K. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  7. The Reptile Database (December, 2011)
  8. 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.