Plague skinks have been discovered in Marlborough in the South Island. Although they have been spreading in the North Island for some time, this is the first time they've been observed in the South Island.
It is likely that plague skinks are being spread to new locations by accident, when they are inadvertantly transported in goods - especially potted plants.
So, be alert to signs of the species. If you live in an area where plague skinks are known to occur, including the latest area in Marlborough, or travelling through these areas, take care to check that you are not being a carrier.
What to look out for?
You might see plague skinks themselves - but take care to check for the distinctive single large scale on the top of the animal's head, which distinguishes plague skinks from the native skinks. Plague skink nests, with their numerous white oval eggs, is the other most easily detected sign. Nests are commonly found in gardens beneath pot plants, in compost, under sheets of corrugated iron and anywhere that may provide protection for the eggs until they hatch.
The spread to Marlborough is worrying because Marlborough is an area where a number of endemic lizard species occur - that is, species that occur nowhere else in the world. Plague skinks, which are prolific breeders, threaten the survival of native skinks and geckos by out-competing them (for food, amongst other things, as pictured here). Efforts are under way to contain this latest invasion.
There is as yet no reliable way to control plague skinks, although possible methods are being researched and the Department of Conservation has trained a conservation dog to detect plague skinks.
If you think you have seen signs of plague skinks, call the 24 hour DOC hotline 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) or MPI Biosecurity 0800 809 966 immediately.
Photograph: by Linda Coster (cropped from original)