Story: Lizards

There are two types of lizard in New Zealand: skinks and geckos. Those most commonly seen are small and dull-coloured. But this belies some unique adaptations to a temperate climate, and a great diversity – new species are being discovered all the time.

Full story by Kerry-Jayne Wilson
Main image: Radio-tagged gecko

The Short Story

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New Zealand has two lizard families – skinks and geckos. There are probably over 80 species, but new species have been discovered and some have not yet been named.

Appearance

  • Skinks have smooth skin, small legs, and small eyes that can blink.
  • Geckos have scaly skin that looks a bit baggy, stout legs, and large eyes that cannot blink.

Reproduction

Lizards overseas usually lay eggs, but most in New Zealand give birth to live young. This might be an adaptation to cooler weather. New Zealand lizards have fewer young than elsewhere – geckos have two young every one or two years, and skinks have between two and five each year.

Habitat and diet

You will find lizards almost everywhere in New Zealand, except the subtropical Kermadec Islands or the cold subantarctic islands. For example, the egg-laying skink lives near the coast in the northern North Island, while the black-eyed gecko lives only high in the mountains near Kaikōura and Nelson.

Most lizards eat insects, fruit or seeds. The scree skink will eat other lizards.

Origins

It is uncertain whether lizards lived on New Zealand when it broke away from the supercontinent Gondwana, 85 million years ago, or whether they are more recent arrivals. Some scientists think that lizards may have been carried across the ocean on pieces of wood, 20–40 million years ago.

Extinction

Since people and mammalian predators (such as cats and rats) arrived in New Zealand, at least three lizard species have become extinct. Another eight are extinct on the mainland and can only be found on predator-free islands.

Almost half of New Zealand’s reptiles are threatened or endangered. It is illegal to handle or keep any native lizard without a permit from the Department of Conservation.

You've read the short story, now
How to cite this page:

Kerry-Jayne Wilson. 'Lizards', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 9-Jul-13
URL: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/lizards