– Article written by Nick Evans of KZN Amphibian and Reptile Conservation –
The Midlands boast a wonderful array of reptiles. Along with its endemic chameleon (the Midlands Dwarf), there is another reptile species endemic to this area: the Bourquin’s Dwarf Burrowing Skink (Scelotes bourquini). This legless lizard was only described as recently as 1994. It was named after the man who discovered it, Orty Bourquin, who used to work for the Natal Parks Board.
It looks very similar to other species in this genus. However, the tail is much longer than that in other species, and it has two extremely tiny limbs, barely visible to the naked eye. Some of the other Scelotes species either have slightly large legs, or none at all. This little lizard could be confused for a snake, due to its apparent limbless body. Those typical skink scales (small, smooth and shiny) are one way of identifying it, along with its indistinctive, small head.
It is currently listed by the IUCN Red List as Vulnerable, due to its restricted and fragmented range. It is found between Howick and Nottingham, a fairly small area, where they occupy grasslands. They spend most of their time underground, feeding on small invertebrates. They’re a difficult species to find, but do not seem to occur in high numbers. Their habitat is threatened by the usual: housing, plantations and agriculture.
Myself and three friends recently went on a mission to find one of these elusive skinks, after getting a reliable locality for them from a friend. Our trip was a success! One of our group, Darren Van Eyssen, managed to locate one hiding under a rock. It was a gravid (pregnant) female, which was great news for this species, measuring at around 15 cm long. We were delighted! After a quick photoshoot, to document the find, we put it back where it was found. These lizards are live-bearers. Little is known about their reproduction, but I would guess she could give birth to around five babies +-.
We managed to see a few other nice reptiles too, including Drakensberg Flat Geckos, Drakensberg Crag Lizards, two other species of skinks (with legs!), a harmless Slug-eater and a Skaapsteker. It’s always nice to spend a day out in the field!
I’d love to be able to see more of the amazing reptiles occurring in the KZN Midlands soon!
BTW Nick, Scelotes bourquini has been shown to be a synonym of Scelotes guentheri – See https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.4671390