A large, ever-expanding family of Cunningham's skinks lives at the Australia Zoo, where they enjoy catching sun rays and munching on hibiscus flowers.
Native to southern Australia, Cunningham's skinks are often found in elevated ranges, basking in the sun on boulders and large, rocky outcrops. They are never far from shelter or a crevice in which to hide.
Like other Australian skinks, they are chunky, have a thick neck, muscular limbs and a torso that is squarish in cross-section.
Their skin is cloaked in scales that end in sharp, rigid points. When threatened, a Cunningham's skink will dart into the closest crevice and puff up its body, using its spiny scales to anchor itself in the asylum.
When they aren't lazing about in the tropical sunshine, Cunningham's skinks like to forage for insects and vegetation, including flowers, berries, shoots and leaves. They will also eat discarded skink skin, possibly to recycle the protein and energy that is lost through shedding.
During the mating season, amorous males spend a lot of energy chasing down females. The male bites the female on her neck, body and tail in order to subdue her for mating. A normal male will spend anywhere from two to six weeks pursuing a female for the opportunity to continue his bloodline.
The gestation period lasts about 60 days. During this time, the mother nourishes her developing embryo via a primitive placenta. In early to mid-summer, the female gives birth to between four and six live young. Skinks are the only lizards that give birth to live young.
The young skinks will remain part of the family group for several years. A typical Cunningham's skink colony includes one to two adult males, six to seven females and two generations of offspring.
The family maintains a distinct territory, defending it against other intruding skinks. They even have a special area they use as a communal toilet!
Name: Cunningham's Skink (Egernia cunninghami)
Primary Classification: Scincidae (Skinks)
Location: Southeastern Australia.
Habitat: Large rock outcrops, often sheltering in crevices and under rock slabs.
Diet: Mainly flowers, berries, shoots, leaves and insects.
Size: Up to 12 inches in length.
Description: Gray to brown to black in color. Black, red, white or brown flecks or bands. Short head and thick neck. Chunky build. Body is squarish in cross-section. Muscular limbs. Scales end in sharp, rigid points.
Conservation Status: Common