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What Is a Prehensile-Tailed Skink?

By Jack Magnus
Updated May 21, 2024
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The prehensile-tailed skink, Corucia zebrata, is also known as a monkey-tailed skink and the Solomon Islands tree skink. It is a large, herbivorous reptile weighing from 14 to 28 ounces (about 397 to 794 gm) with a prehensile tail that it uses for gripping and hanging from branches and trees. The lifespan of this lizard is from 15 to 25 years. C. zebrata is native to the tropical rain forests in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea; however, its range has widened considerably because of the pet trade.

This member of the scincidae, or skink, family of reptiles is green with black markings that can appear similar to a zebra's stripes. The prehensile-tailed skink is active from dusk through dawn, and is shy and secretive. It is a strong lizard with sharp claws but is preyed upon by snakes, large mammals and humans, both for food and the pet trade.

C. zebrata has adapted well to captivity, and many of the available specimens are captive-bred. They require a large cage with adequate branches to allow them to climb and suspend themselves. This breed can reach lengths of 32 inches (approximately 81.3 cm) in the wild, of which about one-half is the prehensile tail; they are usually smaller in captivity. The prehensile-tailed skink is from an equatorial environment, so it needs light for 12 hours a day, daylight temperatures between 80 and 90° Fahrenheit (26.7° to 32.2° Celsius), and evening temperatures of about 70° Fahrenheit (21.1° Celsius).

A humid environment is essential for these tropical reptiles, and this environment can be maintained by misting the substrate and any plants in the cage. Live plantings in the cage help maintain humidity; however, this herbivore will forage on live plants, so toxic plants should be avoided. The prehensile-tailed skink can be fed a wide variety of greens, fruits and vegetables, and hard-boiled eggs.

While they are naturally shy and retiring, a prehensile-tailed skink that is handled often may become more comfortable with, and even seem to enjoy, the interaction. When they feel threatened, they will adapt defensive posturing, hiss and may bite. Their jaws are powerful and can deliver a strong bite.

If the proper environment is provided, prehensile-tailed skinks will breed in captivity. They breed during the rainy season, which can be simulated by extensive misting. Prehensile-tailed skinks give birth to live young after a six- to eight-month gestation period. A female can have two offspring but most often will have only one. The young are able to feed and fend for themselves fairly soon after birth but spend about a year with their parents in the wild, where they are protected by both the mother and father.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a prehensile-tailed skink?

A prehensile-tailed skink, also known as Corucia zebrata, is a species of skink that is unique due to its muscular, grippable tail. This adaptation allows it to maneuver and hold onto branches in its arboreal habitat. Native to the Solomon Islands, this reptile is the largest known skink species, with a herbivorous diet primarily consisting of leaves.

How does the prehensile tail benefit the skink?

The prehensile tail acts like a fifth limb for the skink, providing stability and support as it climbs through the dense foliage of its rainforest environment. This adaptation is crucial for navigating the vertical complexity of their habitat and for securing themselves while feeding on leaves and vegetation.

What does the prehensile-tailed skink eat?

Prehensile-tailed skinks are primarily herbivorous, feeding on a variety of leaves, flowers, and fruit. Their diet is unusual for skinks, which are typically omnivorous. This specialized feeding habit reflects their adaptation to a life spent mostly in the trees of their rainforest homes.

How big can prehensile-tailed skinks get?

Prehensile-tailed skinks are the largest skink species, with adults typically reaching lengths of up to 32 inches (about 81 centimeters). Their robust size is complemented by a sturdy build, which is necessary for their arboreal lifestyle and leaf-based diet.

Are prehensile-tailed skinks social animals?

Yes, prehensile-tailed skinks are known for their social behavior, which is quite rare among reptiles. They often live in small family groups, and exhibit social interactions such as communal nesting and care for their young, which is a fascinating aspect of their behavior not commonly seen in other lizard species.

What is the conservation status of the prehensile-tailed skink?

The prehensile-tailed skink is currently listed as a species of "Least Concern" by the IUCN Red List. However, they face threats from habitat loss due to logging and human encroachment, as well as from the pet trade. Conservation efforts are important to ensure their populations remain stable in the wild.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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