In 2011, a group of researchers from Macquarie University discovered that the Great Desert Skink lizard is probably the most social lizard in the world. The researchers claimed it is the first lizard on the planet known to form stable families that build and maintain underground homes and “villages”.
They jointly work with one another in building and taking care of their burrows. The adults usually excavate the tunnles, while the younger lizards dig the small “pop” holes. Couples are faithful to one another and always mate with the same skink lizard.
The studies of the desert skink lizards were conducted at the Uluru Kata-Tjuta National Park in Northern Australia, the location of the world-renowned sandstone monolith, which stands 348 meters high and bears various inscriptions made by ancestral indigenous peoples. The rangers of the National Park monitor the threatened desert skink lizard, which belongs to the genus Liopholis, native to the south-western quarter of Northern Australia.
The Great Desert Skink Lizard is a medium-sized burrowing lizard, reaching average lengths of 7 inch (19 cm). It has very smooth and glossy scales, and is mostly rust-colored on the top of its body, with a vanilla-colored belly. It has fairly large eyes and a short snout.
Is it really the only Social Skink Lizard?
So far, there have been over 5,000 species of lizards that have been documented and studied all over the world, and from all these – only the Great Desert Skink Lizard has been found to live in tight social families that truly invest in building long-lasting homes. Their burrows can reach up to 40 feet (12 meters) in length, with as many as 20 entrances, and the skink lizard families will usually inhabit them for up to seven years.
This unique Skink lizard can pair with a mate for many years and raise several generations in one burrow constructed by the two parents. Old lizards will live in the same burrow with their siblings, regardless of age difference. Similarly to many humans around the world, these skink lizards can have one shared home for multiple generations of skinks, where all are contributing to finding food and maintaining their home.
The researchers also revealed that young skink lizards sharing the same home are almost all siblings, who decide to delay their home-leaving in order to care for their families. This family-like character is extremely unusual among lizards, making them possibly the most social lizards on the planet.
This research also collaborates with the old stories and knowledge of the ancient Aboriginal people, native to the area. They claim that Skink lizards indeed dig extensive burrows, then find their mates, return to the burrow and raise social families within these “homes”. They also claim that skink lizard parents usually remain faithful.
The research into the Great Desert Skink Lizard continues, as scientists believe these unique creatures can provide more insight into the evolution of family groups, and social behavior, which might also be relevant to humans.