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Elusive lizard rediscovered in Queensland after 42 years

A RARE lizard that has eluded scientists for more than 40 years has been found living in north-east Queensland.

Earlier this year, scientists from the Queensland Museum and James Cook University were tasked with the challenge of finding the elusive Lyon’s Grassland Striped Skink as part of research by the Resilient Landscapes Hub of the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program, looking for highly threatened reptiles across Queensland.

Dr Andrew Amey from Queensland Museum Network, who led the expedition, said the goal was to find three species of skink which have very small distributions confined to the Mount Surprise area.

“These lizards are all hard to find and seldom seen. Two are part of a large group of skinks in the genus Lerista, which are only found in Australia and have adapted to sandy soils by reducing their limbs to essentially swim through the soil,” Dr Amey said.

“It shows that parts of Australia such as grasslands and open woodland that are grazed by cattle can still host important biodiversity.

“It was an exciting moment to find all three skinks, but to find the Lyon’s Grassland Striped Skink was an amazing discovery.”

JCU’s Associate Professor Conrad Hoskin, who was part of the survey team, said the rediscovery of the skink is a big step forward in its conservation.

“The skink was last seen in 1981 and was feared to be extinct so to find it again after 42 years and at several different sites is exciting – we now need to assess its full distribution and habitat requirements,” he said.

The other two skinks were the Limbless Fine-lined Slider, which is found in the Undara Volcanic National Park, and the Mount Surprise Slider, which was only known from one paddock.

The purpose of the survey was to find if the species still existed and if scientists could find new populations elsewhere.

The small distribution of the skinks makes them vulnerable to damaging events such as bushfires, drought, invasive weeds and disease. The Lyon’s Grassland Striped Skink was recently listed as Critically Endangered by the Queensland and Australian Governments in recognition of this.

Dr Amey said animals like these skinks have an important role to play in our ecosystems.

“We need to know if these skinks have healthy populations or if they are declining,” he said.

“We can’t take effective action to protect them if we don’t know where they occur and what threats are impacting them.

“The only way to get this information is go and look for them.”

The scientists have been awarded funding from Queensland Department of Environment and Science to undertake more surveys on these species.

Keep up with the latest news in Cairns and the Far North, and check out some of our top stories this week: Cairns students selected for National Youth Science Forum and Joyride comes to an end.

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