in our backyard Environment

The Common Dotted Garden Skink is a ground runner

The Common Dotted Garden Skink   | Photo Credit: Lakhan Kohli

In 2014, when I had just started exploring nature and wildlife, I was still mostly oblivious to the wonderful creatures around me. One such experience made me look at my concrete colony in a completely different and positive light. In a sense I owe my career to the female Shikra (a predatory hawk) that frequented the trees around my house.

I would spend hours in the park, sometimes even taking my lunch there so as not to miss an important moment. One pleasant April day, I found the Shikra happily perched on the Champa tree my grandmother had planted in my wee years of childhood. To my excitement, the bird had in its talons, a small worm-like animal. I captured the sight on my camera, and when I processed the images, I was surprise to find it was a scaly creature the Shikra had captured.

I decided to explore what the mysterious prey could be, and a day later narrowed it down to the Common Dotted Garden Skink (Lygosoma punctata). Over the next few days, I started seeing one every day. I didn’t think our urban gardens could have other lizards apart from the regular girgit (Oriental Garden Lizard) or the usual House Gecko found even in our high-rise apartments, often feasting on insects.

A Shikra (hawk) eats a Garden Skink

A Shikra (hawk) eats a Garden Skink   | Photo Credit: Abhishek Gulshan

Skinks are often referred to as saamp ki mausi in Hindi, mostly dwelling on the ground. This species is quite a widespread species of skink found in the Indian Subcontinent. Skinks are lizards that belong to the family Scincidae, one of the most diverse families of lizards with over 1,500 species described.

The Common Dotted Garden Skink is smooth and iridescent and does have a snout, like other lizards. It can grow up to 85 mm with a very snake-like in appearance with short toes.

On being intimidated, it moves away very swiftly on the ground usually to hide in the undergrowth or in a nearby crevice. Getting a glimpse is difficult, so listen for a rustling sound as it darts across fallen leaves. You’ll find it under rocks, potted plants, in crevices and underground in the park.

The upperpart of an adult is brown, while a juvenile has a red tail, which turns brown and develops spots as it matures into adulthood. The underpart is yellowish-white.

There is somewhat of a mystery about its general behaviour but what we do know is that like most other small lizards, it is an insectivore and oviparous (lays eggs that mature and hatch after being expelled from the body). Being a reptile, it is more commonly seen in warmer seasons, especially in the rains, when their regular hideouts are flooded with water. At the onset on winter, these cold-blooded animals that need the sun for energy, will come out to bask in spots of sunlight, like on rocks and barks.

Skinks and other lizards are beneficial for our gardens. They are natural pest-controllers that feed on insects which could potentially harm our plants. Let’s respect them for who they are: magnificent colourful reptiles that do a service to humankind.

The writer is the founder of NINOX - Owl About Nature, a nature-awareness initiative. He is the Delhi-NCR reviewer for Ebird, a Cornell University initiative, monitoring rare sightings of birds. He formerly led a programme of WWF India.

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Printable version | Dec 2, 2020 6:45:48 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/common-dotted-garden-skink-in-delhi/article32928396.ece

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