Azure-tailed lizard species rediscovered on island of Hawaii

Azure Tailed Skink (Photo credit: Gary Miller)

When a former student sent Guillaume Mautz, professor emeritus of biology at the University of Hawaii in Hilo, a snapshot of a lizard believed to be extinct in Hawaii– he was instantly curious.

It was a recently taken photograph of what appeared to be an Azure-tailed Skink, a species of lizard that was once commonly found in the Hawaiian Islands and that only inhabited a small 10-acre islet in the large Moloka’i. EUH Hilo Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science alumnus Aaron Mickelson sent the photo to Mautz for his expert opinion.

“I said I know what it is, but it’s not supposed to be here anymore,” Mautz explained. “The little brown skinks common in Hilo’s backyards are a different species called the delicate skink. They may have a slate colored tail but it is not a true blue. The Azure-tailed Skink also has a stripe on the top of its head.

Teacher in the forest
Guillaume Mautz

To confirm its existence on Hawaii Island, Mautz embarked on a trek to the lizard population spotted in a small grove of pandanus at the edge of ocean cliffs near Nīnole on the Hāmākua coast. Mautz recently published an article on the rediscovery of the species in Herpetological review.

According to Mautz, the disappearance of azure-tailed skinks in the Hawaiian archipelago over the past 100 years could be linked to feral cats, rats, mongooses and invasive ant species.

“The other difficulty for the wildlife populations at the edge of the cliffs on Hawaii Island is that residential real estate development is progressing rapidly on the Hāmākua coast, ”Mautz said. “The new developers favor ocean views over small farms and set up landscaped homes near the edge of the cliffs.”

So far, Mautz’s findings cannot confirm whether azure-tailed skinks are confined to pandanus groves and whether there are other lizard populations elsewhere on the island.

“There is a rumor of sighting of a blue tailed skink in the pandanus forest in the Kohala Mountains,” he said. “I have searched the fragmented pandan groves atop a cliff on the Hāmākua Coast and the Kohala Mountains for other lost treasure lizards, so far without luck.”


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