A new population of Eared Worm-lizard for the final spring survey round!

A new population of Eared Worm-lizard for the final spring survey round!

Our final survey round of the year uncovered another new population for South Australia! We were lucky enough to be joined by Mark Hutchinson, Senior Researcher, Herpetology at the South Australian Museum.  We were hoping that, although late in the season, we would be able to find some animals and have plenty of time to discuss options for future research with Mark.  The day turned out to be very hot, so the reptile activity under the tiles was somewhat reduced and we didn’t find any Worm-lizards at their normal sites.  However, at the final site where the worm-lizards have not been recorded before we were elated to find the slough (shed skin) of two worm-lizard individuals!

The question was then what type of worm-lizard did it belong to and how do you tell?  Was it the more common Lined Worm-lizard or the elusive Eared Worm-lizard?  Worm-lizards are like snakes in that shed whole intact skins.  These skins provide us with a ‘finger-print’ of their scale patterns, which are key to identifying the species.  In this case, the skin had 14 scales around the circumference of the mid-body, confirming that it was an Eared Worm-lizard.  In comparison, the Lined Worm-lizard has the unusually low scale count of only 12 scales.

An Eared Worm-lizard slough (shed skin) identifying a new population.

Sloughs provide the perfect ‘trace’ of who lives where, giving researchers another clue when trying to find new populations.  We are also lucky that the tiles provide great habitat for them to ‘rub’ off their sloughs, meaning we can know that they are there even if we never lay eyes on the animal.

Over this year, through the support of the Nature Foundation SA, ForestrySA, SA Museum, private landholders and the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources we have made many new discoveries, including:

  • Two new population locations, bringing the number of confirmed sites for the Eared Worm-lizard in SA to six.
  • The start of population data recording at new key sites.  Head scale shots have identified five male and three female individuals. Noticeable trends included: males being caught at the start of the season, before changing to females later in the season; and the three recaptures were under the same tile.
  • A number of incidental records of other skinks and snakes through the Reedy Creek Range.

A really big thank you goes to Alix Baltais, who over the past four months has been the driving force behind the Eared Worm Lizard Project.  Her dedication and enthusiasm have been invaluable!  Alix is in the process of writing-up the findings of the spring survey, which will make a valuable contribution to knowledge of this species in South Australia.

Eared Worm-lizard from the Reedy Creek Range (c) A. Baltais

Where to from here?  This spring has given us plenty to think about.  We have found the Eared Worm-lizard in varying habitat types across the Reedy Creek Range, with no distinct patterns emerging.   Over the next two years we will look for an Honours student to help us determine why the Eared Worm-lizard occurs in the very area it occupies in South Australia.  

If you think you might like to be that student, get in touch with us (Cath Dickson) and maybe you’ll be the next person to discover a new population and help conserve this elusive species!

Eared Worm-lizard (c) A Baltais


Cath Dickson