A tale of African skinks

Skinks are shiny –bodied, ‘typical Lizards; most have small limbs but some have no legs at all. The scales are smooth or keeled, flat shinny. The scales overlap and are toughed by osteoderms, giving skink a stout ,fairly rigid but flexible coating, which assists in their way of life, as many live underground or in and among rocks ,where resistance to wear is necessary. Skink tend to have  small, often pointed or wedge –shaped  heads, with  small eyes ,round pupil ,eyelid absent in some burrowing species. They have no obvious neck and the head has large symmetrical scales on top and usually has an ear hole. The tail is often quite long and smooth. When picked up the skink            will bite and writhe violently; if incautiously held by the tail, they instantly shed it and escape; the tail later rapidly regenerated.

Skinks are usually diurnal, and live in a variety of habitat; they live underground, in leaf litters, in sand, on the ground, in holes, on rock and in trees. They range from small species rarely larger than 5 or 6 to about 60 cm. Our biggest skink is the short is the short –necked skink Mabuya brevicollis.

They are often highly visible, basking in open area, shuttling back and forward between sun shine and shade; the striped skink Mabuya striata is one of the east Africa’s most visible and common lizards and readily adapts to suburbia. Some skinks are territorial, living in structured colonies led by a dominant male, other are solitary and secretive. Most skinks lay eggs but a few give live birth, some species do both, depending upon where they live.

Skinks occur through out the tropical and parts of temperate world, but although wide spread, very few fossils are known. About 80 genera, with over 700 species are known, some 45 species in 14 genera are known from East Africa with 13 endemic.

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