Rainbow skink adult.
Rainbow skinks (Lampropholis delicata) are Unwanted Organisms under the Biosecurity Act 1993. As such, it is illegal to sell (or offer for sale), communicate (move), release (or cause to be released), spread, exhibit, or breed rainbow skinks.
These Australian lizards were first recorded in Auckland during the 1960s, probably arriving accidentally in cargo. They are now widespread from Northland to Waikato and the Bay of Plenty, with outlying populations at Wanganui, Palmerston North and Foxton Beach. They are not known to be in the South Island.
Rainbow skinks are able to reach high population densities in a relatively short time, potentially competing with our native lizard species for food, habitat and space.
The rainbow skink is an Unwanted Organism under the Biosecurity Act 1993. It is illegal to knowingly communicate (move); release, or cause to be released; spread; sell, or offer for sale; exhibit; or breed rainbow skinks without the explicit permission of a MAF Biosecurity New Zealand Chief Technical Officer.
Head of rainbow skink, showing
Rainbow skinks (Lampropholis delicata) are native to Australia. They are small lizards, measuring about 3-4 cm long from nose to hind legs excluding the long thin tail. The skink is brown or grey-brown with a dark brown stripe down each side, and an iridescent rainbow or metallic sheen when seen in bright light.
Although the adults are smaller than native skinks, they look very similar but can be easily distinguished with one distinctive feature.
Rainbow skinks have one large scale on the top of their head, whereas New Zealand native skinks have two smaller scales.
Rainbow skinks were first recorded in Auckland during the 1960s, probably arriving accidentally in cargo. Since this time they have become widespread from Northland to Waikato and the Bay of Plenty, with outlying populations at Wanganui, Palmerston North and Foxton Beach. They are not known to be in the South Island.
If you suspect that you have found this pest in the South Island, call MAF Biosecurity New Zealand on 0800 80 99 66.
Rainbow skink scale patterns
Where are they found?
Rainbow skinks prefer moist areas and are commonly found under vegetation, litter, rocks and logs.
They also thrive in urban areas, gardens, commercial areas, industrial sites, garden centres, and waste ground. These skinks will frequently enter freight and shipping containers.
Rainbow skinks are prolific breeders, and you may find communal nests of 20-100 small white eggs, 8-10 mm long, oval in shape, with a tough leathery shell. It is common for them to lay their eggs in the soil of potted plants.
Rainbow skink impacts
Rainbow skinks are invasive pests that pose a threat to our rare native lizards. Rainbow skinks have already invaded other countries, for example Hawaii, where their impact has resulted in the serious decline of native skink species there.
Many of New Zealand’s approximately 35 native skink species are in decline, or, in some cases, have become locally extinct through introduced predators such as rats, cats, mustelids and hedgehogs. Rainbow skinks are yet another threat to our declining native lizard populations, by competing directly for food and habitat.
Why are they a problem?
As the natural range of the rainbow skink includes the temperate climate of Tasmania they are well equipped to survive and spread throughout New Zealand and its offshore islands. Climate modelling suggests they would easily be able to establish in the South Island.
Rainbow skinks are able to reach high population densities in a relatively short time. They can reproduce rapidly, laying up to eight eggs three times per year and live for about two years. By comparison, most New Zealand skinks are long lived and only breed once per year at most. Some don’t even start breeding until they are around five years old.
The Department of Conservation (DOC) has worked closely with Ministry of Primary Industries Biosecurity New Zealand to declare rainbow skinks as Unwanted Organisms.
DOC is monitoring the distribution of rainbow skinks, and raising public awareness of how to limit the spread of this invasive species.
DOC undertakes surveillance of significant reserves and offshore islands to prevent them from entering these sites, many of which provide a safe haven for our rare and threatened native lizards.
You can help
Check for rainbow skinks and eggs when moving nursery trees, which have been known to carry them
If you live in an area that has rainbow skinks, and wish to relocate any equipment, goods, or other freight to an area that is free of this species; please thoroughly check your personal belongings for rainbow skinks before departure.
Potting mix in potted plants is a favoured breeding habitat. Please check these for any of the small white eggs, especially if plants are to be used in restoration projects, such as on off-shore islands or key ecosystems on the mainland.
Also, inform your neighbours and friends of the presence of rainbow skinks on your property and their threats and impacts.
Together we can prevent the rainbow skink from spreading.
If you see one outside of its known range, or suspect people of trading them as pets, please call the Department of Conservation (DOC 24 hour HOTline: 0800 36 2468) or MAF Biosecurity New Zealand on 0800 809 966 immediately.
If possible, take a photo to help with obtaining the correct identification.
How can I find out more?
or check the MAF Biosecurity NZ website for further information.
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