Kaputar rock skink
The critically endangered Kaputar rock skink is found only in the high rocky peaks of Mount Kaputar National Park. With one of the smallest ranges of any vertebrate in NSW, this rare reptile is at risk of extinction.
Isolated sky islands
The Kaputar rock skink is known from just 3 high-elevation areas of the Nandewar Range, part of an ancient shield volcano that was last active some 21 million years ago. Initial surveys to locate the skink found it living only in sub-alpine habitat above 1300m. More recent records have found these rare skinks may occur down to 1100m above sea level.
It’s estimated the species’ total distribution is around 30km2. This makes it one of the smallest, most geographically restricted ranges of any vertebrate in NSW.
Other suitable rocky habitat across the top of the range is fragmented, and separated by warmer lowland valleys, which the temperature-sensitive skink seems unable to cross. Future field surveys are planned to see if other isolated populations of Kaputar rock skink might be hiding away on other summits.
The Kaputar rock skink faces the harsh winters of Mount Kaputar’s highest peaks by seeking refuge in deep rocky crevices amongst the ancient volcanic rock and lava fields. These offer critical thermal insulation from extreme cold in winter, as well as protection from wildfire in summer.
Another advantage is that during winter months huddled up in their rock hidey-holes, skinks are almost 100% safe from predators.
3 facts about Kaputar rock skinks
1. A new species
The Kaputar rock skink is one of Australia’s newest declared reptiles. That’s not to say it just appeared completely out of nowhere. Ancestors of the species likely occupied the ancient volcanic peaks along the Nandewar Ranges for at least a million years. Due to their similarities with other high-elevation skinks, it wasn’t until 2019 that researchers finally twigged that the Kaputar rock skink was, in fact, a unique species in its own right.
2. Winter refuge
Unlike birds and mammals, reptiles can’t regulate their core body temperature by metabolising the food they eat. That’s why they spend hours basking in the sun. When conditions are cold and overcast, reptiles become cold too, and if you live above the snowline freezing to death is a serious threat.
The ancient volcanic rock fields found across Mount Kaputar’s highest peaks offer the skinks deep rock crevices that provide refuge from freezing winters, and summer fires.
Research from animals with similar lifestyles indicates this overwintering slow-down behaviour is an effective means to extend the lifespan of the animal.
3. A fiery future
It was feared the catastrophic 2019 wildfires that engulfed the Nandewar Ranges had devastated Kaputar rock skink populations. Assessments post-fire found that these resourceful little creatures were able to bunker down in deep rock crevices to escape the flames. But while most skinks can survive a single fire event, increasingly frequent and severe fires, and rising temperatures make localised extinction a real risk.
- Common name
- Kaputar rock skink
- Scientific name
- Egernia roomi
- Conservation status in NSW
- Critically endangered
Nowhere to hide
Rapid climate warming poses a long-term survival risk for the Kaputar rock skink. Living at the top of the Nandewar Range means that there’s nowhere for them to go as seasonal temperatures rise, and high-elevation habitat that’s reliably cool enough shrinks.
Their habitat is also at risk from wildfires that destroy the vegetation, reduce the skink’s food sources, and make them vulnerable to predators. The skinks’ natural predators include reptiles and birds. Unfortunately, feral animals like cats and foxes also have a taste for these critically endangered skinks.
Feral herbivores like goats, which excessively graze vegetation and foul rock habitat, can make skink shelter sites uninhabitable. Introduced weeds and human disturbance, including rock stacking by visitors, also damage habitat.
With skink populations restricted to such small, isolated areas, they’re at high risk of localised extinction.
How you can help
If you’re visiting Mount Kaputar National Park, help prevent the spread of weeds and soil-borne diseases that can harm the Kaputar rock skink’s delicate habitat by ensuring boots are clean and stay on tracks.
Walking across the elevated lava field of Mount Lindsay you might see rock-stack formations called cairns, made by other visitors. Please avoid moving loose rocks, as this disturbs animal habitat and can obstruct rocky crevices that the Kaputar rock skink relies on. With this rare reptile already restricted to such a tiny area, please leave the rocks for the skinks and other native species.
Part of Mount Kaputar National Park has been declared an Asset of Intergenerational Significance (AIS), providing the strongest legal protections for the Kaputar rock skink and its habitat, to ensure its survival for future generations.
You might also like
Around 85% of the approximately 900 threatened species in NSW are found in our national parks and reserves. Find out what we're doing to protect threa...
Assets of Intergenerational Significance (AIS) are declared to bolster protections for an area with exceptional environmental or cultural values, like...
Today, we're at risk of losing nearly 1000 of our state's native animals and plants. That's why the NSW Government established Saving our Species. It'...
The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) Threatened Species Framework outlines a series of actions to meet our commitment of zero extinction...