The Caribbean had been thought to house just six species of these smooth-scaled lizards. But when study leader Blair Hedges and colleagues reexamined skink specimens in museums around the world, they found that the animals were much more diverse.
In addition to the 6 known species, the team found 24 brand new species and 9 species that had been previously described—and sometimes photographed—but considered invalid.
In total, the team says, the Caribbean now has 39 known skink species.
“I was completely taken by surprise, because I’ve been working in this area for more than 25 years, and I’ve been to a lot of these islands,” said Hedges, a biologist at Penn State University.
Half of the newfound reptiles may be extinct or nearly extinct, mostly due to introduced predators—such as the small Indian mongoose—and deforestation, noted Hedges, whose study was published April 30 in the journal Zootaxa.
The Anguilla bank skink, which lives on the mongoose-free islands of Anguilla and St. Barthélemy (regional map), is a bit better off. But due to threats from habitat destruction and other invasive predators, such as the black rat, the study team proposes that the species be listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Source: Christine Dell’Amore | National Geographic