South Australia – Threatened Species Day fact sheet
Environment Australia, 2002
Burrowing lizard! Dug into a corner…
Great Desert Skink
Illustration: Ro McFarlane, Threatened Species Network
The Great Desert Skink is a large burrowing lizard that can grow up to 44 centimetres long and weigh up to 350 grams. It is nationally listed as a vulnerable species. Its skin colour ranges from a bright orange-brown, similar to the colour of the desert sand, through to dull brown or light grey. It forages at night, and eats a wide range of invertebrates such as beetles, cockroaches, ants, spiders and termites plus any vertebrates small enough to be swallowed.
The Great Desert Skink constructs large and complex burrows that can be over one metre deep and up to five metres wide! The burrows can have up to ten entrances which are joined by a maze of connecting tunnels. Burrow systems are communal, and some Skinks may stay in the same burrow for many years, whereas many others move between burrows.
An extremely fastidious creature, the Great Desert Skink has an area outside the burrow which it always uses as a lavatory. In fact, looking for these latrines is the easiest way to find great desert skink populations!
Great Desert Skinks inhabit the sandy regions of Central Australia. They are most often found in sandplains vegetated by spinifex grass hummocks and scattered shrubs. Populations have been identified in the Great Victorian, Gibson, Tanami Desert and Great Sandy Deserts.
The major threat to the Great Desert Skink is destruction of its habitat through large wildfires. Before European settlement, Aboriginal people undertook patch burning regimes in desert areas, and the regrowth – which appeared after the fire – attracted species that they could hunt for food. Because these patches were burnt over a period of time, a range of habitats with different age structures were created, and these supported a wide variety of plants and animals.
The patchy landscape contained recently burnt areas with low fuel loads. This meant that wildfires could not spread easily over the whole landscape and that the fires did not reach a high intensity. The decline of patch burning in the early to mid 1900s led to a uniform landscape cover. As a result the landscape is more susceptible to higher intensity wildfires that burn all plant food over large areas, causing a large number of animals to starve.
It is also thought that that the Skink may be preyed upon by feral cats and foxes.
Through the Threatened Species Network, the Commonwealth Government and the World Wide Fund for Nature are helping protect populations of the Great Desert Skink in South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. Projects include the implementation of traditional patch burning regimes and feral animal control. Strong community involvement will facilitate the search for new populations using traditional ecological knowledge, vegetation maps and fire history data. Habitat information for new populations that are found will be evaluated and added to existing information on critical habitat.
You can help the Great Desert Skink and other threatened species by:
- looking for evidence of Skink populations if you are travelling through the areas where the Great Desert Skink is found, and reporting them to the local Parks Authority.
- protecting the habitat of all our native species including the Great Desert Skink; and
- supporting local efforts to conserve threatened species in your area by joining a local conservation, 'friends' or Bushcare group or by volunteering for Conservation Volunteers Australia.
For more information on helping threatened species in South Australia contact the Threatened Species Network Coordinator:
Telephone: (08) 8223 5155
You can also find out more information about Australia's threatened species by calling the Department of the Environment and Heritage's Community Information Unit on free call 1800 803 772 or by visiting the Department of the Environment and Heritage threatened species web site at www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened
The Bead Glasswort is a small shrub that grows to about 20 centimetres high. It is found in Victoria and South Australia on the margins of some salt lakes and on low ground that is subject to flooding. The plant dies back or is killed during times of flooding and the seedlings germinate when the water dries out.
The Bead Glasswort is nationally listed as a vulnerable species. It is threatened by excessive flooding which can deposit high concentrations of salt on the soil surface. Some populations have been threatened by extraction of salt and gypsum deposits. It is also under threat from grazing by domestic stock and rabbits, disturbance, weed invasion and rubbish dumping.
Populations have being fenced off to prevent grazing by domestic stock, and access to some of the sites by vehicles and bikes has been restricted. Some of the populations are protected within national parks such as the Murray-Sunset National Park.