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Researchers Study Skink Habitat

Many people have never seen a Northern Prairie Skink, an unusual little reptile with the amazing ability to escape predators by shedding and regrowing their tail.

Unfortunately the skink is an endangered species and its future is uncertain.

The Northern Prairie Skink (skink) is listed as a Species at Risk that is only found in the sandy regions of southwestern Manitoba, according to Allison Krause Danielsen, a University of Manitoba graduate student currently conducting research about the skink’s habitat requirements. “There is so much that we don’t know about the skink,” she said.

For example, “we don’t know their population levels and we do not fully understand their habitat needs,” Krause Danielsen explains. “The current research that we have so far has all been in parks, public lands and Shilo Military ranges. Those lands are managed very differently than private land.”

As a result her research focuses on private land, where most of the skinks are likely found.

The skink is the only true lizard found in Manitoba. It is described as a smooth, shiny, olive-green lizard with dark stripes. Adults range in length from 127 mm to 204 mm (five to eight inches).

Many landowners are anxious to assist with the research because they enjoy having skinks around as their diet consists of crickets, grasshoppers and other insect pests.

“Since they can live very close to human development it is important to gain knowledge of their habitat needs on private land,” she said.

Krause Danielsen’s research project is partially funded by the Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk, a federally funded program for activities that benefit species at risk, and the Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation (MHHC), a Crown corporation that works to protect habitat for all types of plants and animals, including endangered species like the skink.

The research being carried out by Krause Danielsen will provide a better understanding of this species. When combined with other research conducted under the guidance of Dr. Pamela Rutherford at Brandon University, and continued efforts from Envi ronment Canada and MHHC it is hoped this will help to ensure their long-term survival.

According to the committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, it is very likely that populations are declining due to agricultural development, invasion by exotic weeds and succession to aspen forest. The remaining populations are severely fragmented by the patchy distribution of a suitable combination of sandy soils and mixed-grass prairie.

While skinks are found on sandy soil throughout southwestern Manitoba, this particular project involves locations on private land. Krause Danielsen is currently monitoring eight different locations spread out between MacGregor and Shilo. She routinely monitors these sites and searches for skinks.

When they are found, she captures them and documents a large amount of information such as the habitat type, ground cover and GPS co-ordinates. She also takes a variety of measurements including weight, length and sex. Then the skink is marked for future identification and released back where it was found.

Normally these lizards are found in well-vegetated sandy areas in prairie openings near tree cover, she explains. “We think the plant species isn’t as important as the structure of the skink habitat.” For example the percentage of ground cover appears to be more important than the actual plant species where the skinks are found.

Another aspect of the project is to interview landowners to document information about sightings on their property including habitat composition and a variety of other information. This involves visiting and interviewing landowners near Carberry, Sprucewoods and the surrounding area.

If you are aware of any locations where skinks are regularly found please contact Allison by email at: prairie. [email protected]

MHHC is currently buying conservation agreements (perpetual easements) on private land with suitable skink habitat.

If you want to play a part in ensuring the survival of this endangered species, and you have a block of sandy, mixed-grass prair ie habitat then please contact MHHC’s habitat conservation specialist in Minnedosa at (204) 867-6032 or Killarney at (204) 523-5522 for more information.

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