Save Our Skinks!

helloHabitat Stewardship Program, Species At Risk, Uplands

Manitoba’s Only Lizard Added to Endangered Species List

A young skink poses for the camera.
Photo: Devon Baete

Very little is actually known about the Northern Prairie Skink.  Volunteer Devon Baete, on behalf of Manitoba Habitat Heritage, is looking to change that.

For the past two summers Baete has been talking to and visiting landowners who have skinks on their property.  With their permission, he sets “skink traps”- small pieces of plywood placed on the ground, which skinks crawl under during the heat of the day.  He then goes back several times over the summer to record skink sightings, 30 in all in 2011.

The Northern Prairie Skink is Manitoba’s only true lizard.  It is endangered and found only in the sandy regions of southwestern Manitoba, with the largest concentrations found between MacGregor and Shilo. It is a smooth, shiny, olive green lizard with dark stripes, with adults ranging in length from 127 mm to 204 mm (5 to 8 inches).

While protecting sandhill habitat is important for preserving the skink, it is far from the only type of wildlife that makes its home here.  Baete has observed a variety of reptiles  while monitoring for skinks, including hognose, red-bellied, smooth green and garter snakes.

Skinks are an elusive species that is hard to find and disappear in the blink of an eye.  Even residents that make their home in the sandhills ever get the chance to see one.

“Last summer I saw one in my tomato plants down in the garden,” Sigried Johnson says.  “It is very hard to catch a glimpse of one as they move at a heck of a rate, They take you by surprise and then are gone.” Like other landowners, she enjoys having them around as they do no harm and she enjoys seeing them.  Her neighbour, Rosalie Sigurdson, agrees, “Skinks are good things they like eating crickets and grasshoppers.  There’s no problem having them around.”

Recently, the Sigurdsons and Johnsons took an extra step and permanently protected their farm’s sandhill habitat with a Conservation Agreement (CA) to ensure the skinks’ future wellbeing.  Ensuring that sandhill areas remain in their natural condition is one way of ensuring the long-term survival of this rare, yet ecologically important reptile.

As more and more of this land is converted from its natural state, protecting the remaining tracts of suitable habitat becomes even more important.  As a result, the Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation (MHHC) actively works with landowners to protect skink habitat on private land.

The Johnson farm is typical sandhill topography, and, in addition to finding a range of snakes, Sigried notices many different species of birds.  Some of her own recent observations include an indigo bunting, eastern phoebe, owls, hummingbirds, and, in the small wetland on their property, a variety of ducks.

Sigurdson recommends the use of Conservation Agreements to protect habitat.  “They are particularly good for people interested in preserving land for animals and other wildlife,” she says.

CA’s are a form of easement, and a tool that allows landowners to permanently protect the habitat on a portion of their property for future generations. They continue to hold title to the land and enjoy all the other benefits of land ownership.

For more information on CAs, contact your local Habitat Conservation Specialist.

By Bill Stillwell, Edited from article in The Manitoba Co-Operator, July 5, 2012