A memorable encounter of the reptilian kind …

After a positive response to the story late last year about lighting striking twice for Lewin’s Rail captures at Lake St Clair during mammal surveys, I thought I’d go back through the archives to see what other gems might be lurking in the old mammal trapping data.

Today’s story is about the special skink that could have easily gotten away.

In April 2003, I was undertaking annual monitoring of several near coastal wetland habitats on private land that had been fenced off a few years earlier under a grant program run by the Nature Conservation Society of SA. At the time, I was at a site out on the Canunda Flats, north of Lake Bonney (west of Millicent) – a place where some late autumn sunshine was notorious for getting the reptiles out and about.

Side story: In fact, one year I remember a particular afternoon when dozens of baby tiger snakes were sunning themselves in the tops of what seemed like every Cutting Grass tussock. They were well camouflaged so I couldn’t always see them, but as I brushed past a tussock they would quickly scatter… and every time my heart would skip a beat!

Silky Tea-tree (Leptospermum lanigerum) and Cutting Grass (Gahnia trifida) wetland habitat on the Canunda Flat in 2003

As I was not unaccustomed to traps occasionally being knocked by a critter and set off empty, I picked up what seemed like another lightweight Elliott trap needing to be reset, when just before I opened the door I felt a slight movement inside. Realising that there was something in there, I was a little more careful, and couldn’t believe my eyes when I caught a glimpse of a very dark, but also quite large skink. I’m certainly no reptile expert, but this is one of the most distinctive species to encounter and I knew immediately what it was – the  Swamp Skink (formerly Egernia, now Lisslepis coventryi).

The large, dark skink was a Swamp Skink! Photo by Mark Bachmann

The Swamp Skink can grow up to 25 cm in length and has a restricted, mostly coastal distribution, around south-eastern Australia (predominantly Victoria) – where it is usually associated with dense wetland environments. This capture of the species was near the western limit of its range, where its distribution extends into the lower South East of South Australia; presently known from as far west as Lake Frome Conservation Park, near Southend. Later more targeted surveys in 2004 by Garry Peterson (i.e. not using Elliott traps!) ended up filling in a few more gaps in our knowledge of the species distribution in South Australia between Southend and the border.

Swamp Skink up close – Photo by Mark Bachmann

Even though back then I tended to think of myself as a “small mammal person”, and my ecological interests have diversified significantly since, this little critter (click photos to enlarge) is one of the most memorable things I’ve ever caught in an Elliott trap, and it remains a highlight today!

A stunning animal – the black and gold scales of the Swamp Skink. Photo by Mark Bachmann
Mark Bachmann