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Monkey tail skinks   (Corucia zebrata)

 


(Scroll down for more pictures)

 

These large tree dwelling skinks are found on at least 10 islands of the Solomon Islands.

There are two subspecies known.

The nominate Corucia zebrata zebrata lives on the islands of Choiseul, New Georgia, Isabel, Guadalcanal, Nggela, Malaita, San Cristobal, Ugi, Santa Ana and Shortlands.

The subspecies Corucia zebrata alfredschmidti (Köhler, 1997) is known from the islands of Bougainville and Buka, which belong politically to Papua New Guinea..

These unique skinks are related to the skinks of the genus Tiliqua, known from New Guinea and Australia. They have adapted to a life in the trees and have developed sharp long claws and a prehensile tail during eons of evolution. The TL of a full-grown monkey tail skink is about 28 inches, of which 12 inches are for the SVL.

 The subspecies C.z.alfredschmidti has more parietal scales (7 in stead of 5-6), larger ventral scales and larger dorsal scales. Further their eyes are more bright yellow and the heads often greenish colored. The head of C.z.alfredschmidti is more narrow then the head of C.z.zebrata.

C.z.alfredschmidti has also a more slender body and is smaller, with a SVL of at least an inch less then in the nominate form.

The color of the back is olive-colored, green-yellow to pale-green in the nominate form and more strongly green to olive brown in “alfredschmidti”

The belly of the nominate form is light green to crème colored, while it is light yellow green with a light gray reticulated pattern.

The nominate form has dark transversal stripes and the other subspecies has wide gray-green oblique (sloping) stripes. The head of “alfredschmidti” is pattern-less, while the head of the nominate form has more or less irregular dark spots.

The iris is yellow in “alfredschmidti” and olive green in the nominate form.

The climate on the Solomon Islands is quite constant throughout the year. Nocturnal minima are never below 60 F and diurnal maxima never above 90 F. The amount of rainfall there is high and spread out over the whole year. The preferred body temperature of these skinks is between 80 and 85 F.

  Although these skinks are generally assumed as being nocturnal, while sleeping during the day in hollow trees, I have found them to be out and basking in the morning sun. Especially gravid females and young animals spend at least an hour every morning basking. Therefore for terrarium keeping we need to consider giving them also access to UVB light.

   There has been only a decade of considerable importations of these skinks. In the period 1985-1990 they were imported in small numbers at high prices. From around 1990 imported numbers increased and prices went down. However, this skink is a slow breeder and also deforestation made their numbers in nature go down as the year 2000 was nearing. This resulted in a congress in Paris in the year 2001, where was decided that Corucia could no longer be legally imported to Europe and the USA. Therefore from now on we depend on captive breeding entirely in order to maintain this unique species in terraria. Also while during the 1990s breeding was largely frustrated by the too low prices of wild caught Corucia, people did not try to breed them too much.

Now that captive numbers decrease year by year and prices go up, it has also become economically worthwhile breeding them again. Therefore I will stress the technique of captive breeding in this sidebar.

   In the year 2001 I started accumulating Corucia zebrata for breeding. I bought “surplus” animals and also ran into a group of recently imported animals from the last importation. These imports were damaged and some died in the course of 2002. These solitary animals bite each other a lot if they are not “of the same smell”, which they are not after collection. During transport and storage they see, better smell each other as foreign animals and start biting each other. In addition the sharp claws damage other animals.

   For breeding I kept the animals in groups of 1 male and 1 or two females. Then I needed to check daily and see if the females of different smell accept each other or attacked each other and solve this adequately by changing animals. Once a group of 1 male and one or two females is established and accept each other, their will be no longer any problems. Add another female and changes are high that this female is attacked and killed. Any exchange of animals therefore must be avoided as much as possible and if there is no other way, then chances are better of all new animals are all put in a new cage, where for every animal all is strange and where there is not yet a territory to be defended. My animals are kept outdoors in an unheated greenhouse that can be covered during cool night in Spring and Fall. This system allows me to keep them outdoors for 7 months. They are then moved indoors for 5 months. They do not thrive as much indoors as they do outdoors. The heating of the terraria, combined with ventilation makes it hard to keep relative air humidity at an acceptable level. In nature these numbers are between 75% and 80 % most of the time. During the 7 months outdoors the females especially bask a lot and can load up on vitamin D3 the natural way.

On April 12th, 2002 my first Corucia baby was born. At birth most babies are around 11 inches in TL. This baby was 17.5” on March 26th of 2004 and 19” on November 25th of 2004.

On September 30th 2003 my first triplet was born. The babies were of a normal size of 11 inches TL. The babies of this triplet reached 16 to 17 inches TL in Nov 2004. Assuming that the growth rate will decrease when they get older, I estimate that sexual maturity is reached at an age between 4 and 5 years.

In 2003 five females gave birth to a single baby; six females to twins and one female to a triplet.

The average number of offspring was that year therefore 1.667 (1 2/3). In 2004 13 babies were born, mostly from twins. This is contrary to other literature, where I read that single babies are the rule, twins are rare and triplets never heard of. It may have to do with two things that I do different from other breeders. One thing is the direct sunshine, as mentioned above and another thing is in the food. I feed my Corucia very often corn, sweet corn, which they bite off with love from the entire fruit. As in April 2003 I had 31 animals and as now the number 60 is reached, the colony has doubled within two years. In April 2003 I had 30 adult Corucia, the doubling of population size will be from 3 to 4 years if we work with animals of various ages.

As for the food, different animals will have different preferred food. In most Corucia terraria the Ficus benjamini leaves are all eaten off during the summer, while in other terraria these plants are not touched at all. But let us start with the magic food for Corucia. It is the otherwise poisonous plant, called Scindapsis aureus or also called Epipremnum aureum. This plant occurs naturally in its habitat and seems the first choice food. One can consider growing this plant just for that reason. Further there are many types of leaves and fruits eaten by these monkey tail skinks.

These are apple, pear, bananas, beans, chicory, cabbage, kale, lettuce, fig leaves, figs, cherries, leaves and flowers of hibiscus, peaches, papaya, roses, celery, grapes, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots and my food of choice: Corn.

Also animal food like this is accepted: snails, mice, caterpillars, crickets, locusts, cat food, baby chickens, meat, boiled eggs. I only feed vegetarian food though.

Literature:

Hauschild, A & P.Gaßner (1999)    Corucia zebrata, Der Wickelschwanzskink, Natur und Tier Verlag Münster     80 pages.

 

Köhler, G (1997): Eine neue Unterart des Wickelschwanzskinkes Corucia zebrata von Bougainville, Papua Neuguinea. – Salamandra, Frankfurt, 33 (1): 61-68.

 

McCoy, M (1980): Reptiles of the Solomon Islands.- WAU Ecology Institute, Handbook # 7, Papua New Guinea, 82 pages.

triplet born at agama international   

  This is a common pair, with the skinny one being the male.

  Mother protecting her baby.

 

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