Prehensile-tailed Skink

Corucia zebrata
Order: Squamata

Husbandry Information

Housing Requirements

  • This species is highly arboreal and required plenty of vertical space with a variety of climbing opportunities.
  • From the PTS Studbook: Prehensile-tailed skinks being mostly arboreal do best in enclosures that allow them to climb; one that is well furnished with many branches (diameter greater than 10 cm) and suspended horizontal platforms. The skink should be allowed to climb from the floor all the way to the top of the enclosure.
    • Cage furnishings should also consist of shelters or hiding spots. These can be round cork tubes, hollow logs, or hide boxes. These should be secured at different heights as well as some at floor level because some skinks do spend some time on the ground.
    • There should be enough for one per animal (De Vosjoli, 1993) and be large enough to hold more than one skink. The enclosure should be a minimum of 1m L x 1m W x 1.5 m H for an adult trio breeding group.
  • A water bowl large enough for the lizard to soak and defecate in is required.
  • Heating, humidity, and lighting
    • Lighting: 12 hour light cycle. PT skinks are active at night, therefore a small amount of visible light, which replicates moonlight, should be provided.
    • Temperature: Daytime temperatures should range from 82 to 85 degrees F (26-30 C), night time drops to mid 70s (20-22 C).
    • Humidity: 70% to 90%. With the high humidity it is important to provide adequate ventilation in the enclosure to prevent mold and fungus from developing.  High humidity also helps with shedding issues.

Diet Requirements

  • In the wild, this herbivorous, folivorous,  species eats a variety of plants.
  • Under human care, they are fed salad-.
  • Coprophagy, or the eating of feces, is well documented in all Corucia
  • From the PTS Studbook: They feed on a wide variety of leaves, flowers and fruits, including their preference for the epiphytic Scindapsus spp. The skink is able to tolerate the somewhat toxic levels of calcium oxalate crystals in the sap of the plant without ill-effect (Sprackland, 1992). Another preferred plant is Piper spp., consuming the vine and leaves from the species. This plant contains alkaloid substances that discourages other animals, yet the skinks ingest without any signs of distress. (Parker, 1983). Epipremnum pinnatum is another common food source, and it too is considered unpalatable and potentially toxic to many vertebrate species. In captivity, these lizards also engage in coprophagy and keratophagy (Balsai, 1995).
    • Under human care: diet should consist of primarily dark green leafy vegetables, such as: romaine, kale, spinach, escarole, and greens such as: collard, turnip, mustard, and dandelion. Other food items may include apple, banana, cooked carrots, tomatoes, and yellow or orange squashes. These should not by volume be more than 25% of the diet. Skinks that may be difficult to accept new foods can sometimes be weaned gradually using sweet potato baby food spread on the diet. A supplementation of a multivitamin once a week and calcium and trace minerals sprinkled on the greens should be provided. Inclusion of browse items can be given daily, such as Golden Pothos (Epipremnum spp.), grape leaves, mulberry leaves, and forsythia leaves.

Veterinary Concerns

  • Prone to retained shed on toes, corners of mouth and around eyes. We soak our skink regularly to help remove shed.

Notes on Enrichment & Training

  • Pothos spp. (a common houseplant), is a wild food source of the Prehensile-tailed skink. While toxic to other animals, we offer pothos leaves as food enrichment to our skink (Zoo New England).
  • Our skink (Baton Rouge Zoo) is trained to climb out of his enclosure onto the handler’s gloved hand. We use a pothos leaf as a reward.
  • Shedd: Our skink is territorial inside of her enclosure but we’ve had success training her to take food via tongs and then guiding her out onto a branch to remove her from the enclosure. Her favorite reinforcers include: cucumber, zucchini, kiwi & the occasional superworm.

Other

Colony or Breeding Management

Notes species is housed or managed socially or for breeding purposes.

Individual Identification

Dimorphism: Sexing is best done by manual prolapsed of the hemipenes under inhaled anesthetic.

Programmatic Information

Transportation

Temperature Guidelines

 

Crating:

  • Brandywine Zoo: Our PTS travels in a Coleman stackable cooler, like the one pictured below.cooler
    • Minimum temperature for travel without supplemental heat: 60° F
      • Use a hot water bottle to add supplemental heat for the lizard.
      • When using a hot water bottle, be conscious of the temperature of the hot water in the bottle- the bottle should be comfortably warm, but not burning hot. Place hot water bottle to one side of the carrier and cover/wrap with a sheet of newspaper.
      • Water bottle should be placed on one side of cooler, and turtle carrier on the other. Bottles should not be placed under the carrier.
      • If you feel you need a sweater or jacket and it is above 60F, you can still pack with supplemental heat.
      • Use a travel cozy if traveling in cooler temperatures. Cooler can go inside of appropriate fleece cozy.

    hot water bottle

Tips on Presentation

  • This species likes to climb so using a branch or perch helps to demonstrate its abilities.
  • Shedd: For encounters we transport ours using a mesh bird carrier (PetPocket brand), with branches inside. Once at the encounter space we take her out and display her on a branch. Though she is territorial inside of her enclosure, she is normally not territorial or aggressive when removing her from her transport

Touching Techniques

Tips on Handling

  • Prehensile-tailed skinks have very sharp claws, and surprisingly strong grips. Full/elbow-length gloves are recommended for handling.
  • The skink has a tendency to want to be up high so positioning your hands so that it can continually climb up will keep the handler safe and the lizard occupied.

 

Potential Messaging

  • Endemic island species are often under threat from introduced species.
  • Rainforest destruction/habitat loss. One of the best ways for people to help the rainforest is to reduce their use of tropical woods. Many rainforest trees are felled each year for lumber, furniture, and other products that end up in countries all over the world. Much of tropical wood imported into the United States comes from South America, particularly the Amazon Rainforest. Flooring, musical instruments, picture frames and other products made of rosewood should be particularly avoided to slow deforestation on Madagascar and to avoid the extinction of endangered or vulnerable rosewood tree species from forests all around the equator. Ask guests to consider used or vintage furniture or new furniture made
    of wood that has been reclaimed from old structures. There are many alternatives to conventional lumber including flooring and other products made from fast-growing bamboo, and decking made of recycled plastic formed to look like wooden boards. http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/habitats/rainforest-threats/http://www.globaltrees.org/tp_d_nigra.htm
  • The capture of wild animals for the pet trade, and what we can do to prevent/discourage it. In general, animals seen at the zoo do not make good pets. Most have specialized dietary, veterinary, housing, and social needs that are difficult or impossible for even dedicated pet owners to meet. Always ensure that your future pet has not been taken from the wild. Capture of wild animals for the pet trade has significantly damaged the survival prospects of species such as sloths, tamanduas, and many parrots. Captured animals are typically mistreated by profit-motivated traffickers and dealers, resulting in many animal deaths; well-meaning animal lovers may feel like they are rescuing animals by purchasing them but are really perpetuating the cruelty. In addition, many exotic pets are released by their owners when they become too dangerous or demanding, often with devastating effects on local ecosystems. Animals that should never be kept as pets include all bats, primates, and exotic carnivores. Birds, fish, and reptiles have specialized needs, are frequently wild-caught, and damage the local environment if released; guests should be advised to educate themselves and proceed with caution. Domestic dogs and cats are almost always the best option! Many deserving animals are available for adoption at animal shelters. http://www.philadelphiazoo.org/Save-Wildlife/Images/PetWalletBro2012.aspx http://pin.primate.wisc.edu/aboutp/pets/index.html

Acquisition Information

Prehensile-tailed skinks are an SSP Yellow program. Please contact Program Leader Sam Curtis, Sacramento Zoo (swcurtis@saczoo.org)

Comments from the Rating System

  • Maryland Zoo in Baltimore: Handled on a stick; can become aggressive.
  • Zoo New England, Stone Zoo: Prehensile-tailed skinks do have more sensitive temperature and humidity requirements than some other reptiles, and “new” individuals to handling require some work to train. Additionally, their claws are very sharp.

Natural History Information

Range and Habitat

Native to the Solomon Islands (located northeast of Australia). Corucia zebrata zebrata is found on the larger islands of the Solomon archipelago southeast of Buka and Bougainville. This includes Choiseul, Guadalcanal, Isabel, Malaita, Nggla, New Georgia, Santa Ana, San Cristobal, Shortlands, and Ugi (Balsai, 1995). The Corucia zebrata alfredschmidti is known from the North Solomons which are comprised of Bougainville and Buka (Kohler, 1997).

It lives in tropical rainforests. Preferred daytime temperature ranges between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, and 70-75 degrees at night.

Physical Description

Prehensile-tailed skinks have large, flat heads, wedge-shaped and short snouts, and small eyes. Males have wider heads than females. The slender tail is prehensile, and is used as an extra appendage. It will not break off. Skin color ranges from dark green to near black, and there are lighter and darker flecks found dorsally. The skin is smoother and shinier than any other lizard because the scales are smooth, flat, and overlapping. Their short tongue enables them to sustain a rich arboreal life. Their long claws have razor sharp hooks, enabling the skink to cling to the trees.
Prehensile-tailed skinks grow to up to 32 inches in length. Half of the body length is the long tail. Adults weigh 14 to 28 ounces.

Life Cycle

A female prehensile-tailed skink will give birth (viviparous) to a single large young after a relatively long gestation period of 6 to 7 months. These lizards have a very low reproductive rate – one or occasionally two live-born neonates at a time. Babies are relatively huge and resemble miniature adults. They reproduce every nine to eighteen months and the gestation period is long at 24 to 30 weeks.

The newborn skink will stay within its “family group” for six to twelve months and females, as well as other skinks in the group, may be exceptionally aggressive when caring for a newborn. They show a degree of maternal care and may protect their babies from other lizards, both, which is unusual in reptiles. Around a year of age the juvenile will move off to form a new family group.

Prehensile-tailed skinks can live over 20 years and are very hardy if kept under correct conditions.

Behavior

This species is an arboreal, herbivorous, and crepuscular to nocturnal lizard that inhabits primary humid tropical forests and is not found in secondary growth forests. It prefers the oldest trees, which are the ones which dense foliage and extensive epiphyte cover.

Prehensile-tailed skinks are nocturnal or crepscular, shy and secretive. They seldom stray far from their shelter, which is usually a tree hollow. As an arboreal species, will hang suspended from branches, and infrequently come to the ground and during the day sleep in hollow limbs and tree hollows preferring the strangler fig tree, Ficus spp. They adapt well to captivity, although it may be difficult to breed them.

Social Structure (from the PTS Studbook): There have also been observations in captivity of aggregations with groups of skinks in a retreat (hollow tree). This communal torpidity has not been confirmed in the wild. In the wild they can be found singly, in pairs, or somewhat gregarious living in a small family group of 3 to 5 individuals of different sizes and sexes (Coburn, 1996). Groups are territorial of non-members and have a form of primitive scent marking by leaving a waxy coating on surfaces they frequent. Male Corucia are territorial and may be especially so during breeding times.

Threats and Conservation Status

This species is listed as CITES II, but is not currently listed by IUCN. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service does not have a listing for the prehensile-tailed skink.

Extensive logging is the major threat to its survival: The Solomon Islands are being cut and developed at an alarming rate; some 90% of their tropical rainforest have been lost due to extensive logging. Corucia cannot stand this type of habitat loss as being so dependent upon old-growth forests.

Past commercial collecting for the pet trade where large numbers of lizards, that have a low reproductive rate, had been exported from the only islands where they are endemic caused a negative impact on the wild populations. Currently, there are no legal imports for commercial activities, although wild-caught prehensile-tailed skinks are still finding their way into the pet trade.

Did you know…

  • This is the largest species of skink and the only one with a fully prehensile tail.
  • Also called “monkey-tailed skinks” or Soloman Island skink
  • There are two currently recognized subspecies of the prehensile-tailed skink, the common or banded prehensile-tailed skink (Corucia zebrata zebrata) and the Bougainville prehensile-tailed skink (C. z. alfredschmidti).

Photographs

Picture 104.jpg
Jessie, the Prehensile-tailed skink – Stone Zoo

 

Documents

Any Documents to attach, species spotlights, etc.

Contributors and Citations

  • The Philadelphia Zoo
  • Nancy Romanik, Education Program Manager – Zoo New England, Stone Zoo
  • Baton Rouge Zoo
  • Houston Zoo, Natural Encounter
  • Shedd Aquarium
  • Brandywine Zoo
  • Prehensile Tailed Skink SSP Studbook 2018