The Lyon’s grassland skink, missing for more than 40 years (Picture: Conrad Hoskin/Queensland Museum)
The elusive Lyon’s grassland striped skink, a small brown and gold lizard with a long snake-like tail, is highly vulnerable to damaging events such as bushfires, drought, invasive weeds and disease.
The species was recently listed as Critically Endangered by the Queensland and Australian governments in recognition of this.
Earlier this year, scientists from Queensland Museum and James Cook University (JCU) were tasked with the challenge of finding the elusive creature, officially known as Austroablepharus barrylyoni and named after renowned naturalist Barry Lyon.
Dr Andrew Amey from Queensland Museum Network, who led the expedition, said the goal was to find three species of skink – with the Lyon’s a particular prize.
‘These lizards are all hard to find and seldom seen,’ he said. ‘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.
‘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 limbless fine-lined slider (Picture: Angus Emmott/Queensland Museum)
‘The skink was last seen in 1981 and was feared to be extinct,’ said Dr Hoskin. ‘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.’
The other two skinks tracked down 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 team at work tracking down the elusive lizards (Picture: Conrad Hoskin/Queensland Museum)
The purpose of the survey was to find if the species still existed, and if scientists could find new populations elsewhere. 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.’
It’s named after a Barry.