|Common Name:||Monkey – Tailed Skink, Solomon Islands Skin, Prehensile-Tailed Skink, Giant Skink, Zebra Skink, Monkey Skink|
|Scientific Name:||Corucia Zebrata|
|Life Span:||25 to 30 years|
|Length:||Over 2 feet|
Monkey Tailed Skinks, otherwise known as Solomon Islands Skinks, and Prehensile Tailed Skinks, are considered as the world’s largest species of skinks. They reach up to 32 inches in length, from nose to the end of their tail when they are fully grown. Their tail accounts for more than half of their overall length. What makes them special from other species is their capability to climb. They are arboreal and primarily terrestrial.
These skinks are characterized by the slender and long body, with strong and short legs, along with with a head that is triangular in shape, and small round pair of eyes. They have a strong jaw for crushing, though their teeth are small, as they are used for eating plants and vegetation.
This skink’s prehensile tail helps it to move from branch to branch easily. This is also the reason why it got its other common names, including monkey tailed skink, or monkey skink. Male skinks have a broader head, with a more slender body compared with female skinks. They also feature a “V” shaped scale pattern just close to their cloacal opening. This scale pattern cannot be seen among female skinks.
The scale patterns of Solomon Islands skinks are usually dark green in color but are also speckled with black or light brown color. The scales that can be seen on their undersides vary from light yellow to various hues of green. The toes on their legs have curved, thick nails that are very useful for them when climbing and for gripping tree limbs.
In general, Solomon Islands Skinks are crepuscular animals, which means that they are typically active during the dusk and dawn, eating mostly at dusk. They are also active and feed during dawn but to a lesser extent. They have good vision, heavily depending on this sense, to identify potential threats and food.
This species also relies on its sense of smell, using it to determine its territory, as well as the other members of its group, which is called a ciculus. Similar to snakes, skinks smell by flicking their tongues, gathering smells and scents. When their tongue is retracted, it touches right to the opening of an organ that is located at the roof of their mouth.
Taxonomy and Etymology
The monkey tailed skink was described in 1855, by John Edward Gray, as a species with a scientific name Corucia Zebrata. Its generic name Corucia comes from the Latin word coruscus, which means “shimmering.” This is a fitting description of the effect of the colors from the scales of the skink’s body. The specific name zebrata is the Latin form of the word Zebra. This came from the zebra-like stripes of monkey tailed skinks. The appearance of these skinks may vary from one island to another.
Habitat and Distribution
The Solomon Islands Skink is a native to the archipelago of the Solomon Islands, located in the southwest Pacific Ocean. The most common subspecies are also found on the islands of Isabel, New Georgia, Choiseul Island, Ngela, Malaita, Ugi, Makira, and Santa Ana. These skinks are mainly arboreal, usually living in the upper canopy of the forested areas within its range.
There are a number of subspecies of the Monkey Tailed Skinks. The most common subspecies, the c. z. zebrata features a white sclera with their eyes. On the other hand, the Northern Solomon Islands skinks, or the c. z. alfredschmidti subspecies features a black sclera. The iris of this latter subspecies is a combination of green and yellow, while the iris of the common skink may vary from orange to green to dark black.
The northern Solomon Islands skink is shorter, with the adult males averaging 24 inches, while the females average 22 inches in length from nose to the tip of their tail. The common Solomon Islands skinks, on the other hand, are longer, with the adult males averaging 28 inches, and the females averaging 24 inches in length.
Feeding and Diet
Solomon Islands Skinks are generally herbivores. They usually feed on flowers, leaves, fruits, as well as growing shoots of various plant species. Newborn skinks are observed to eat their placental sac right after birth and are usually not fed on other types of food during the first two days. Juvenile skinks, on the other hand, eat feces from adults. This helps them get the needed microflora that is beneficial in digesting their food.
They are also constant eaters. In fact, they will eat every day, for the entire day, if food is provided to them. It is very important to note that even though these animals are mostly vegetarian, because of their defensive behavior, they will bite other animals. Also, if their size allows for it, they will eat them as well. In captivity, this behavior should be avoided.
In order to introduce calcium to your pets, the use of powdered supplements is recommended. These supplements may be sprinkled into leaf matter, or combined into a powdered diet. To keep the skinks growing healthy, once the dose of calcium per week is good enough. This is because they take so long to grow, even taking up to 5 years just to fully mature.
This similar schedule may be applied when introducing a multivitamin once every week. With Monkey Tailed Skinks, it is very important to keep the vitamin and calcium doses separate in order to make sure that the products do not mix together during digestion, thus causing problems. The placement of food can be arranged to a single area of the cage, whether on a dish or a platform or placed indiscriminately throughout the tank.
Solomon Islands Skinks are species that are socially complex. They usually live in smaller family groups, which are composed of one male and a group of 2 or 3 females. This behavior is uncommon among reptiles. Their group is called circulus. Both the male’s females may become territorial and show aggression with the introduction of unfamiliar animals, whether of the same species or otherwise.
This social behavior becomes apparent when a circulus rears their offspring. All members of the circulus help in caring for, and protecting, not just their territory, but also the baby. This is beneficial, given that these skinks only give birth to one, large baby. The baby will go through a period of gestation for about 8 months, staying within the circulus for up to a year.
Baby skinks have been observed as eating fecal matter from the adults. This is important for the development of their digestive tract, helping in the digestion of plant food. They are also diurnal animals, spending most of their day up in the trees looking around for food.
Before taking into consideration the preparation of your skinks’ enclosure, it is important to note that introducing unfamiliar animals to the group may cause some difficulties. Even when space is prepared accordingly, there might be some signs of aggression when they are housed together. Once it has been determined that all skinks are living together peacefully, it is also recommended to keep them together for a year, in order to prevent the need to reintroduce, along with the different complications that are associated with it.
The recommended size of housing for Monkey Tailed Skinks is approximately 36 by 18 by 36 inches. This housing is good enough for a pair of skinks. These skinks are known to become busy moving around when they are established in their new homes. Adding some décor can also enrich the housing. This can be done once every few months, but do not need to be implemented strictly.
It is highly important to stimulate your pets’ brain, which is often neglected by most reptile keepers. The enclosures need to have a thick layer of bark bedding beneath in order to suit the tropical climate that you want to replicate. Climbing areas need to be prepared both horizontally and vertically. It is very important that your pets can level off the ground since they love basking for even exposure. It is also best to give them options about whether to climb or hang while eating or sprawled out level.
The Solomon Islands Skinks are considered as among the very few reptile species that live together in a communal group called circulus. They reproduce through viviparous matrotrophy, wherein the female gives a placenta for its young. The young ones are born after a period of gestation that lasts from 6 to 8 months. This is a unique characteristic among reptiles.
Unlike most reptiles, the female skinks carry her developing young inside her, providing nourishment through her placenta. After six to eight months, a single reptile is born. The newly hatched skink is a huge one, about half the size of the mother.
Almost all births of skinks are single babies, though twins (and even triplets) are born occasionally. The baby skink usually stays within its circulus for about 6 to 12 months in which it is protected by all members of the group.
When they reach one year old, the juvenile skink will start to move off to create a new family group. There have been reports of skinks staying within the same group after several births without getting expelled. However, the females show fierce protective behavior after giving birth. This maternal protectiveness is rare among reptiles, though it is relatively shorter in terms of duration compared with the behavior that is common by mammals.
The very slow rate of reproduction among Solomon Islands skinks, along with the destruction of their habitat, only shows that this skink may eventually become at risk of extinction in the wild.
Threats and Conservation
A serious ongoing threat to the survival of the Monkey Tailed skink species is extensive logging. Other possible threats include hunting for food consumption by the native people, and export demand for the pet trade. Due to the numbers of lizards which were exported for the pet trade, the area in which skinks are considered as native, along with its rate of reproduction, Solomon Islands Skinks were listed as a CITES Appendix II animal, allowing limits to be set on the number of animals that will be allowed in the commercial trade. These skinks are also reported to be eaten by some indigenous people.
Due to the fact that there is no existing regulation regarding rapid deforestation happening in the Solomon Islands, a limit in exportation to institutions that are recognized may be required in order to help this species in its survival amid genetic diversity. One way to do so is through breeding programs. Captive breeding alone is not a practical way due to the limited number of offspring that they produce, as well as long gestation periods.
How to Care for a Monkey-Tailed Skink
The Monkey Tailed Skink is represented in both private and public collections. For example, the Philadelphia Zoo is known to breed these skinks throughout the past 40 years. Keeping this species in captivity comes with certain challenges. These skinks are large arboreal tropical animals, which means that they need a huge enclosure, with a temperature that is constant, between 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, with heat provided above and below.
With this preparation, your pet can bask in the heat from above, especially during dusk, while also giving a radiant heat from below in order to assist indigestion. The way it works with the skink’s circulus is that not all groups are open when new animals are introduced. Despite all those successful programs inbreeding, their unusual nature of giving single births and long, slow growth has made these breeding programs challenging.
A healthy and well-cared monkey tailed skink can live up to 25 to 30 years. Their diet consists mainly of vegetation, such as green beans, kale, and cooked sweet potato, along with some slices of peeled kiwi fruit, papaya, and apple. They should also be given access to a shallow, large, and clean source of water. All of these help in increasing their longevity.
It is also recommended to bathe your skink in shallow and lukewarm water at the start of the monthly shed. This is known to help in greatly reducing the stress, which usually comes with shedding while hastening the process at the same time.
Fun Facts about Monkey Tailed Skinks
These skinks are acknowledged as the world’s largest skink. This is true despite the fact that about half of their length is tail. They are called prehensile or monkey-tailed skinks because they often use their agile and long tails to move around in trees, similar to monkeys.
These skinks are also among the few lizards which cannot lose their tail when threated, but it hisses or bites aggressively to defend itself. They are also olive-green to dark-green in color, with some speckles of light brown to black color. This speckling may look like the stripes of a zebra, thus its Latin name.
Solomon Island Skins are arboreal, which means that they dwell in trees, and spend all of their time in the canopy. In the wild, their favorite trees include the strangler fig tree, which is a species found in the rainforest. They are herbivores, feeding on leaves, flowers, shoots, and fruits. They are also able to eat toxic plants without experiencing ill-effects.
These skinks are also nocturnal, which means that they usually come out at night while sleeping most of the day. Due to their nighttime habits and funny faces, they are sometimes called “island gnomes” or ghosts by local people in the Solomon Islands.
Where to Get a Monkey Tailed Skink
There are possible sources of monkey tailed skinks, including a breeder or a pet store that specializes in these kinds of reptiles. A note, however, this species can be expensive to purchase.
How to Choose a Monkey Tailed Skink
Monkey tail juveniles are typically born late in the year, and usually available on sale the following seasons. Babies that are captive bred are hard to find, though they are generally the better choice as you have an idea on their background, age, and previous care.
Overall, common sense is important in determining a good candidate for purchase. Healthy skin has a tail that acts healthily, struggling vigorously when restrained, using tail and four limbs. When they are relaxed, they move slowly, but when agitated, they can move really fast.
A skink that listlessly mopes around the cage or lies in a place with closed eyes even when you attempt to disturb it may need to be avoided. Make sure to check the body of the skink. It should be rounded and smooth, with no obvious injuries or bumps.
If you see the hip-bones, the skink may not be eating well and is underweight. The eyes of the skink should also be bright and clear. Watery or sunken eyes can be signs of illness. A healthy skink is curious and interested in what is going on around him. There should be no mucus present around the nose, mouse, or vent.
Some Monkey Tailed skinks may have missing toes. However, so long as these injuries can be healed, there is no problem with it. You may also want to check the entire body thoroughly for the possible presence of mites. These tiny insects usually gather around the place where the limbs meet the body, around the vent and the ears.
Monkey tailed skinks are known to consume both feces and shed skin. This should be prevented, as it could be unhealthy for them. While it has been believed that there are some nutrients that they can get out of these substances, old feces should never be left inside the cage for a period of time. If they consume feces as part of their natural process, they should only do so with the fresh ones.
The color of the skink may also indicate the region where the skink came from. This can help you pair up skinks that are compatible easier. With this in mind, you can select similarly colored skinks wherever possible, especially if you are planning to create a breeding group. A recommended option is to purchase an established and settled group or get several youngsters that you can raise together. This will help avoid potential aggression among them.
Things to Consider Before Getting Your Monkey Tailed Skink
There are some factors that need to be taken into consideration before even getting your first skink. For one, is there a reptile vet near your area? Most reptiles, including your very own monkey tailed skink, will require to see a vet at one point or another. Regular vets may not have expertise in handling exotic reptiles.
It is also important to ensure that you have access to all the foods that your pet would need. Just like all other herbivores, these skinks need a variety of diet in order to get the needed vitamins and nutrients for their bodies. Along with this is the consideration of whether or not you have the needed time to prepare food for your pet. The meals may need to be washed, grated, chopped, peeled, and even cooked.
Do you have the room to house a group of these reptiles? Note that monkey tail skinks are social animals. They are also quite active. In fact, they have been observed to suffer some stress-related problems if they are kept too close to the ground. This means that you need to prepare a tall and large enclosure to allow your pets to move around.
Personally, you also need to determine what it is that you expect out of your monkey tail skink. While these animals make good pets in most cases, their brutal bites, sharp claws, and even unpredictable natures can make them quite difficult for some people. If you really want an interesting reptile that likes doing its own thing, a monkey tail skink is often a good choice.
You also need to consider what will happen to your pets if you need to go out, say, for a holiday. It is important to find a dependable person for your pets. If nobody is available to give them food in their cages, this could be dangerous for them.
What do monkey tailed skinks eat?
Monkey tailed skinks are herbivores. They feed on the flowers, leaves, fruits, and other growing shoots of food plants.
How long do monkey tailed skinks live?
A healthy and well-cared monkey tailed skink can live up to 25 to 30 years.
Are monkey tailed skinks poisonous?
No species of skink is venomous. As such, being stung or bitten by one is not a problem. Just like lizards, when a skink is threatened and attacked, its tail will simply break off and continues to wiggle, which can be distracting to a possible predator.
When does sexual maturity start for Solomon Islands skinks?
Sexual maturity among Solomon Islands skins starts when they reach 2 years of age. Copulation usually happens during the early evening in the trees, lasting from 5 to 15 minutes.
How do Solomon Islands skinks defend themselves?
In order to defend themselves from potential predators, these skinks make a sharp hissing noise. They are also known to bite savagely.
What species is the largest skink?
The Solomon Islands skink is considered as the world’s largest species. Adults may reach an overall length of 32 inches from the nose to the tail when they are fully mature. Their tail accounts for more than half of their length.
Do skinks need a heat lamp?
In general, skinks do not require belly heat as much as they require a heat lamp. There is also an easy way to achieve both. You can secure a small slate rock, and get the right heat lamp enough for the size of the enclosure, and the temperature needed. Do not forget to create a basking area by allowing the rock to be heated up by the lamp first.
Do skinks fight?
Male skinks can be very territorial and are known to attack other males aggressively during spring. You may even see some skinks locked in together in a jumble, holding on to each other.
What are skinks good for?
Skinks are beneficial to the balance of the environment because they feed on snails, grasshoppers, cockroaches, slugs, even small mice.
How do you tell the gender of a skink?
Male skinks are more swollen, especially at the base of their tail compared with females. They also have a pair of enlarged scales near their cloaca. Females and juveniles, on the other hand, have some color, though not as bright as males. Even if you cannot really have a close look at their belly, there are other behavior clues that reveal their gender.