by Barbara George, Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
My cats are continually teaching me things they feel I should know. These include how cats evade electric fences, how many feathers there are on a dove, and many other interesting natural facts.
Currently, Ginger Jim is researching skinks, in particular the Cape Legless Skink, Acontias meleagris. His research laboratory is our office-cum-workroom, so we are acting as his assistants, specifically in the area of note-taking and removing specimens after investigation.
These skinks are quite beautiful, but boy! do they move fast! Having no legs is not a deterrent; they wriggle like snakes but in proportion make larger ‘loops’ for each movement. Being only a few millimetres in height, they can slide into spaces we didn’t know existed.
The shortest we have seen was around 120mm (12cm) and the longest around 300mm (30 cm). Since not much could be found about their lives, we have no idea how old these may be, whether days, weeks or months old.
Ginger Jim is a big cat, a good hunter, but ever so gentle with these thin, wriggly catches; very few are hurt or killed, and these seem to be accidental. The others are released into the garden, no doubt to be caught again another day. Once caught, and we have been alerted, he usually loses interest.
The main drawback of his current research project is timing – usually between 1 and 3am! This suits him, being a cat who sleeps most of the day, but doesn’t really suit us; we are alerted – and expected to respond – to each new specimen, and try to rescue and release as soon as possible.
So how do lizards leap? With great force and extraordinary muscle power. Our usual method of capture is a 2-litre ice-cream container, dedicated to rescuing and releasing all kinds of captured specimens. From a standing/lying start on the base of the container, a reasonably large skink can propel his entire body over the rim of the container, a good 12 to 15 times his height. It is amazing to watch, and quite scary, considering the drop to the ground when the container is being carried at human-hand height. Skinks are very flexible and resilient, as this one showed by surviving seemingly unhurt, and is now, hopefully, living safely in the garden.
Courtesy Cape Biosphere Trails
Cape legless skink
Size: A medium-sized legless skink with adult snout-vent length in the region of 200-240 mm.
Description: It lacks all traces of external limbs and has a short stubby tail. There are no external ear openings. It has movable, opaque lower eyelids and 3-4 supraciliary scales above each eye. There are three subocular scales and the second upper labial does not border the eye. The body scales are smooth, not enlarged on the belly, and arranged in 14-16 scale rows at midbody. The coloration is olive-brown, greyish-brown to a darker reddish-brown above, more or less uniform, or with a darker spot in the distal half of each scale, or yellow above with longitudinal series of transversely elongated dark spots. The darker dorsal side is usually sharply demarcated from the lighter yellowish-colored ventral side.
Biology: Like all African legless skinks, the Cape Legless Skink is a burrower and is normally found under stones or dead logs on loose soil in coastal and fynbos vegetation. It feeds on small soil invertebrates. It rarely drinks water and apparently obtains moisture from the surrounding soil and its food. The species is viviparous and gives birth to 2-4 young in late summer.
Distribution: This species occurs along the southern coastal regions of the Western and Eastern Cape, with isolated populations along the Karoo escarpment.