Twenty-four recently discovered species of skinks are close to extinction.
The skinks, a type of lizard, were recently discovered in the Caribbean, and scientifically named. The leader of the research team, Blair Hedges, says that half of the newly discovered skinks are probably extinct or close to extinct by now. And all of the others are threatened with extinction. The primary cause of the loss is from the mongoose, which was introduced to the islands by farmers in the 19th century.
“Now, one of the smallest groups of lizards in this region of the world has become one of the largest groups,” Hedges said. “We were completely surprised to find what amounts to a new fauna, with co-occurring species and different ecological types.”
It’s thought that skinks originally arrived in the Americas, around 18 million years ago, on floating masses of vegetation from Africa.
Skinks are nearly unique among reptiles in that they produce a human-like placenta and give live birth, after a long pregnancy period.
“While there are other lizards that give live birth, only a fraction of the lizards known as skinks make a placenta and gestate offspring for up to one year,” Hedges said.
“The mongoose is the predator we believe is responsible for many of the species’ close-to-extinction status in the Caribbean,” Hedges said. “Our data show that the mongoose, which was introduced from India in 1872 and spread around the islands over the next three decades, has nearly exterminated this entire reptile fauna, which had gone largely unnoticed by scientists and conservationists until now.”
“By 1900, less than 50 percent of those mongoose islands still had their skinks, and the loss has continued to this day,” Hedges said.
“According to our research, all of the skink species found only on Caribbean islands are threatened,” Hedges said. “That is, they should be classified in the Red List as either vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered. Finding that all species in a fauna are threatened is unusual, because only 24 percent of the 3,336 reptile species listed in the Red List have been classified as threatened with extinction. Most of the 9,596 named reptile species have yet to be classified in the Red List.”