Manitoba’s only lizard is being protected and studied
Very little is actually known about the skink, and as a result a skink-monitoring project is underway. It is being carried out by a volunteer, Devon Baete, on behalf of the Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation.
For the past two summers, Baete has talked to landowners who have Northern Prairie Skinks (skink) on their property. With their permission, he places out small pieces of plywood on the ground and skinks will crawl under these during the heat of the day. He goes back and monitors these locations to record skink sightings. Last summer he documented 30 skinks.
The skink is Manitoba’s only true lizard. It is endangered and found only in the sandy regions of southwestern Manitoba, with the largest concentrations located between MacGregor and Shilo. It is a smooth, shiny, olive-green lizard with dark stripes. Adults range in length from 127 mm to 204 mm (five to eight inches).
While protecting sandhill habitat is important for protecting the endangered Northern Prairie Skink, this is far from the only type of wildlife that makes its home here. In fact, different reptiles are frequently observed while monitoring the skinks, according to Baete. In his recent travels, he has noted hognose snake, red-bellied snake, smooth green snake and garter snake.
Skinks are an elusive little lizard that is hard to find and when you do, they are gone in the blink of an eye. They make their home in the sandhills and very few people ever get the chance to see one.
Sigried Johnson lives on a Glenboro-area farm. Sightings of skinks are very rare, she says and when you do see them, it can be brief. “Last summer I saw one in my tomato plants down in the garden,” Sigried said. “It is very hard to catch a glimpse of one as they move at a heck of a rate. They take you by surprise and then are gone.” Like other landowners, she enjoys having them around as they do no harm and she enjoys seeing them.
Her neighbour agrees. “Skinks are good things; they like eating crickets and grasshoppers,” said Rosalie Sigurdson. “There’s no problem having them around.” Rosalie noted that she most often finds skinks in openings along the south-facing side of hills on their property.
Recently, the Sigurdsons and Johnsons took an extra step and permanently protected their farms’ sandhill habitat with a Conservation Agreement (CA) to ensure the skinks’ future well-being.
While the skink’s exact habitat needs are not fully understood, habitat managers know that protecting sandhills is beneficial. Ensuring that sandhill areas remain in their natural condition is one way of ensuring the long-term survival of this rare, yet ecologically important reptile.
As more and more of this land gets converted from its natural state, protecting the remaining tracts of suitable habitat becomes even more important. As a result, the Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation (MHHC) actively works with landowners to protect skink habitat on private land.
The Johnson farm is typical sandhill topography and in addition to finding a range of snakes similar to Baete’s observations Sigried notices many birds. Some of her recent observations include indigo bunting, eastern phoebe, owls, hummingbirds, and in their small wetland, a variety of ducks.
The Sigurdsons appreciate the other sandhill critters, especially the frogs. Rosalie’s keen ear regularly captures the calls from wood frog, boreal chorus frog, grey tree frog and leopard frog.
Sigurdson recommends the use of Conservation Agreements to protect habitat. “They are particularly good for people interested in preserving land for animals and other wildlife,” she said.
CAs are a form of easement and a tool that allows landowners to permanently protect the habitat on a portion of their property for future generations. They continue to hold title to the land and enjoy all the other benefits of landownership.
For more information on Conservation Agreements contact a Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation office at 204-729-3502 or visit the website at www.mhhc.mb.ca.