Each day, the National Aquarium’s animal programs team hosts encounters with different animals—including Margaret the hyacinth macaw—in the Harbor Overlook area in Pier 3. Recently, the animal programs team began encounters with a new prehensile-tailed skink, nicknamed Oscar. He is participating in one to two encounters per week as he gets acclimated to the space and program staff.
Skinks are large lizards, typically with short limbs, belonging to the family Scincidae. The prehensile-tailed skink is primarily found in the tropical forests of the Solomon Islands, north of Australia. This species is the largest of the more than 1,500 known skink species—growing to almost 3 feet and weighing up to 2 pounds.
Prehensile-tailed skinks have short, but strong, legs equipped with sharp claws—perfect for climbing trees! When their claws can’t do the trick, these skinks put their namesake prehensile tail to use. These lizards are able to wrap their tails around objects, such as tree branches, to stay balanced. Since skinks are so well adapted for life in trees, they rarely come down to the ground in their natural habitat.
Spending most of its time hidden in trees during the daylight hours, the prehensile-tailed skink is mainly active during the early morning and evening. During this time, it moves through trees, feeding on fruits and leaves. Here at the Aquarium, Oscar is fed a mixture greens, fruits and veggies—so far, his favorites appear to be lettuce and grapes! The prehensile-tailed skink is the only skink species that is strictly herbivorous.
If you thought this skink’s unique characteristics ended there, think again! The prehensile-tailed skink is also one of the only reptiles to give birth to live young. After a period of anywhere from six to eight months, females give birth to typically one, but sometimes two, offspring. Both parents look over and protect their offspring for the first few months of life.
Stay tuned for more animal updates!