Archives For lizards

By Denice Gillespie, Partnerships Ranger in Kaitaia

I recently visited the Shadehouse, a native plant nursery in Kerikeri, where I had the pleasure of meeting Roger a lizard enthusiast and member of Guardians of the Bay of Islands, a local group working on a diverse range of island restoration projects.

The Shadehouse nursery grows native plants for various community groups around the Bay of Islands. When the plants are ready at the nursery they are taken to whichever ecological district the seed came from and planted.

Group talking with Roger at the Shadehouse, Kerikeri.

Meeting Roger from the Guardians of the Bay of Islands

Potting mix which the Shadehouse uses on a regular basis has created the perfect breeding environment for rainbow skink, a pest species from Australia that competes with our native lizard species for food, habitat and space. Rainbow skinks are a threat to our invertebrates, ground nesting birds and other native lizard species. It also reproduces faster and in larger numbers than our native skinks.

Roger showed us various pit fall traps that he had set up around the Shadehouse as a biosecurity measure to trap these invasive pests.

The trap is made from a tin can placed inside of a hole with a piece of wood on top and is baited with cat food. The smooth tin walls make it difficult for rainbow skinks to escape but is friendly to our native species who are clever and can escape the traps.

A copper skink on the ground.

A clever native copper skink that can escape the trap

The traps are checked on a regular basis and they are proving to be very effective at catching rainbow skinks.

If you wish to trap pest skinks seek some advice from your local DOC office to avoid accidental harm to our native species.

Rainbow skink pest preserved in alcohol.

The rainbow skink pest

Thanks to Roger and the Shadehouse crew for a great day out in Kerikeri.

Naturalist, conservationist and herpetologist, Dylan van Winkel, has worked in an a variety of challenging environments, both in New Zealand and abroad. Today he writes about a recent visit to Hauturu/Little Barrier Island as part of a Pacific gecko translocation.

This post was originally published on Dylan’s blog.

Pacific gecko on Astelia sp. flower. Photo © Dylan van Winkel.

Pacific gecko on a Astelia sp. flower

Situated 15 miles from Cape Rodney, and 11 miles from Aotea/Great Barrier Island, Hauturu/Little Barrier Island bursts out of the ocean; its knife-edged ridges rising to 2,370 ft at the summit of Mount Hauturu.

The 3,038 hectare island is fringed by an almost continuous boulder beach—except where vertical cliffs plummet into the ocean.

Rocky shore and driftwood on Hauturu coastline. Photo © Dylan van Winkel.

Hauturu/Little Barrier Island typical coastline landscape

It is a site steeped in rich Māori cultural tradition and nationally significant conservation initiatives; and is home to some of New Zealand’s rarest and most threatened fauna and flora.

Sphenodon punctatus (Northern tuatara). Photo © Dylan van Winkel.

Northern tuatara—this fellow is part of an island breed-for-release programme

The name Hauturu, was traditionally bestowed by Toi, who arrived in New Zealand from Hawaiki circa 1150 AD in search of his grandson Whatonga.

It was said that the island was uninhabited by “ordinary mankind” but on the misty summits lived the patu-pai-arehe/fairies, visiting the coastline only at night or in misty weather to fish and collect kai moana/sea food (Hamilton 1961).

While the thought of night-faring fairies is somewhat hard to believe, there is undoubtedly some truth in the myth, as at night, the island truly becomes alive!

Oligosoma smithii (shore skink).  Photo © Dylan van Winkel.

Shore skink

Scaly creatures, spiny giants, venomous villains, feathery beasts, and slimy critters emerge and take over the forest floor. However, even so, walking at night requires cautious and vigilant steps, alerted senses, and often quick reactions to catch a glimpse of the island’s inhabitants.

Little Barrier Island giant weta . Photo © Dylan van Winkel.

Little Barrier Island giant weta—the world’s heaviest insect. So heavy, they are unable to jump effectively

By day, the island is alive with bird song and, in fact, Hauturu harbours the highest number of threatened bird species compared to any other island in the country! Their calls penetrate and echo through the 400-plus species of plants and, in particular, the dawn chorus is mind-blowing; arguably unmatched by any other site in New Zealand.

North Island robin, Mt Hauturu summit. Photo © Dylan van Winkel.

North Island robin, Mt Hauturu summit

In January 2014, I was fortunate enough to join a team of conservationists, lead by Auckland Council ecologist Su Sinclair, on a lizard project, aimed at translocating Pacific geckos (Dactylocnemis pacificus) to two Hauraki Gulf Islands undergoing ecological restoration.

Dactylocnemis pacificus (Pacific gecko) sub-adult on Pohutukawa. Photo © Dylan van Winkel.

Pacific gecko on Pohutukawa

Here are a few photos representing some of the treasures found on Hauturu during our ten day stay in paradise.

More photos can be found on Dylan’s original blog post.

By Rod Hitchmough

Tony Whitaker passed away in February 2014. He was a herpetologist (studied reptiles and amphibians); a passionate advocate for conservation of, and research on, lizards; and a great friend of the Department. 

Tony providing a temporary perch for the largest living gecko species in the world (Rhacodactylus leachianus from New Caledonia). Photo: Marieke Lettink.

Tony providing a temporary perch for the largest living gecko species in the world (Rhacodactylus leachianus from New Caledonia)

Tony worked for Ecology Division of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) in the 1960s and 1970s and, since then, had done contract research, writing and biological surveys.

When Tony started his work, he and Joan Robb of the University of Auckland were the only ones working on lizard ecology and taxonomy in New Zealand.

In his Ecology Division days Tony made numerous discoveries and had many insights which were revolutionary at the time but are now accepted as common knowledge.

Tony and DOC Science Advisor James Reardon photographing the rare Rangitata skink in its scree habitat. Photo: Marieke Lettink.

Tony and DOC Science Advisor James Reardon in their element photographing the rare Rangitata skink in its scree habitat. This species was discovered by Tony in 2004

He was the first to see that lizard faunas were extremely different on islands with and without kiore (Pacific rats). Kiore had been previously regarded as “harmless vegetarians” (apparently no one had wondered whether they had any impact on plants, which we now know they do).

He was the first to use baited pitfall traps for lizards and also the first to survey/monitor nocturnal species by locating their eye-shine using a head-torch and binoculars. He was the first to suggest that lizards might be important pollinators and seed dispersers for some plants, and that pale-coloured small berries carried in the centre of dense divaricating shrubs would be difficult for birds, but very easy for lizards to access.

Black-eyed gecko. Photo: Dave Timmerman-Vaughan.

Black-eyed gecko

He carried out a series of island surveys which greatly improved our understanding of the distribution and conservation status of many species, and discovered many new populations of uncommon species and some new species.

His collections from those trips and other survey trips on the mainland are now a very important component of the Te Papa lizard collection. He also named and wrote the formal description for the black-eyed gecko.

With Bruce Thomas, he prepared and published the first Bibliography of New Zealand lizards, an invaluable research resource which includes even the most obscure publications.

Tony also began the systematic recording of reptile and amphibian distribution records, leading to the development of the current Herpetofauna database, now one of the best sets of distribution data for any group of animals or plants in New Zealand.

Tony’s contribution to lizard conservation was huge. He was a member of every lizard-related recovery group DOC has had, including the Lizard Technical Advisory Group.He was a member of the reptile expert panel for all four assessments of lizard status which have been carried out using the New Zealand Threat Classification System, and earlier contributed to the Molloy and Davis species conservation priority listings.

He prepared lizard action plans and identification guides for many conservancies, and carried out many surveys and research contracts.

In the last few years he was extremely involved with biosecurity issues and had a Ministry for Primary Industries contract to identify all reptiles and amphibians intercepted at the border. Tony and his wife Viv also spent a lot of time in New Caledonia, carrying out surveys of areas proposed for mining. In the process he was also involved in the discovery and naming of many new species of skinks and geckos there.

Tony was a valued personal friend and mentor for many at DOC. As well as knowing a huge amount about lizards and always being willing to share his time and expertise, he was a warm, kind, interested, very humorous, non-judgemental friend. We will miss him enormously.

New Zealand’s largest lizard, and one of the world’s largest geckos, moved onto Motuihe Island this week.

Duvaucel's gecko. Photo: Dick Veitch.

Duvaucel’s gecko

100 Duvaucel’s geckos joined other threatened wildlife already on Motuihe, as part of an ecological restoration programme being implemented by the Motuihe Trust with the support of Iwi and the Department of Conservation.

Geckos play an important role in ecosystems as predator and prey, as well as dispersers of seeds and pollinating plants.

Duvaucel’s geckos are nationally “At Risk” and by reintroducing these animals to Motuihe, the long-term survival of Duvaucel’s gecko will be further assured.


Learn more

Threatened geckos to find sanctuary on Motuihe Island – Media release

New Zealand geckos

Visit Motuihe Recreation Reserve

Wendy Jackson provides policy, strategy, and implementation advice for DOC on a number of international conventions relating to wildlife. She attended the recent conference in Thailand on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and reports back.

What do New Zealand green geckos, hammerhead sharks, and Madagascar ebony have in common? Aside from being important to ecosystem functioning and holding cultural value, these species were also recently afforded stronger protection in international law through their listing on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

A green gecko, hammerhead shark and Madagascar ebony.

Green geckos, hammerhead sharks and Madagascar ebony were considered at the recent CITES conference

The increased protection for New Zealand green geckos (Naultinus spp.) is particularly significant for New Zealand. Over the past few years, these species have been subject to high levels of poaching and smuggling, which have contributed to population declines.

North Cape green gecko.

North Cape green gecko

The proposal for additional protection was submitted to the other 177 CITES member countries last year, and was adopted by consensus last week at a CITES meeting held in Bangkok, Thailand.

These additional protections increase the ability of authorities (in New Zealand and overseas) to conduct enquiries, investigate illegal activities and makes seizures. It will also mean harsher penalties under international law for people found to be illegally trading in geckos. This is a fantastic outcome for New Zealand and especially for our geckos!

Delegates at the recent Conference of the Parties to CITES.

The 16th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES

More information about the greater protection afforded to the New Zealand Green Gecko can be found on the DOC website.

A full summary of the CITES conference is also available.

Come behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation (DOC).

Today we profile Hannah Edmonds, Biodiversity Ranger – Species.

Name: Hannah Edmonds.

Position: Biodiversity Ranger – Species.

Hannah Edmonds holds a shark.

Sharks need love too

At work…

What kind of things do you do in your role?

Monitoring, translocating and recovery planning for the following species:

Setting Gee Minnow traps out for Sinbad Skinks,  Sinbad Valley.

Setting Gee Minnow traps out for Sinbad Skinks,
Sinbad Valley

What is the best part about your job?

Working in some absolutely stunning parts of rugged Fiordland, on interesting and challenging creatures, oh and with some cool people too!

What is the hardest part about your job?

Trying to monitor and protect species that we know so little about with a limited budget.

What led you to your role in DOC?

I did a Landcare Research Conservation Corps in Nelson when I was about 18. We came down to Fiordland and monitored Fiordland skinks and robins on Breaksea Island among other things, and I was hooked. I ended up doing a suite of pest and species contracts in the Nelson/Marlborough area, and wildlife work overseas for a few years. Then I did the Postgraduate Wildlife Management Diploma at Otago. After that, and another jaunt overseas, I came to Te Anau for a six month contract. That was (gulp) 10 years ago!

What was your highlight from the month just gone?

Taking ‘Kids Restore the Kepler‘ competition winner, four year old Lilli, out to see a kiwi. She was pretty excited and did really well coping with several hours scrambling through bush catching six kiwi chicks!

The beautiful Sinbad skink.

The beautiful Sinbad skink

The rule of 3…


3 loves

  1. My two metre Peter.
  2. Friends and family (including the furry ones too).
  3. Wilderness and wildlife.

3 pet peeves

  1. Anthropocentricity, and anthropomorphism is pretty annoying too. Big words ay, I can tell you’re impressed.
  2. Going without real coffee.
  3. Trying to come up with three pet peeves.

3 foods

  1. Fejoas from Nelson/Marlborough.
  2. Scallops from Stewart Island.
  3. Berry fruit yoghurt icecreams from Cromwell.

3 favourite places in New Zealand

  1. Fiordland of course, in particular the alpine and the special islands.
  2. Kahurangi: Mt Owen, Mt Arthur, Cobb Valley.
  3. Golden Bay‘s golden beaches.
Lilli the lucky four year old competition winner and myself with Haast tokoeka.

Lilli the lucky four year old competition winner and myself with Haast tokoeka

Favourite movie, album, book

  • Movie: Im a bit of a Tim Burton and Guy Ritchie fan… but I’d have to say The God’s Must be Crazy is a winner for giving you the stitch from laughing so much!
  • Album: Oh so many, but the all time bogan classic Hysteria by Def Leppard rocks on! The drummer from Def Leppard’s only got one arm!
  • Book: ‘South’ or ‘Endurance’ about Shackleton and his crew’s unbelievable journey of survival.

Deep and meaningful…

What piece of advice would you tell your 18 year old self?

Become a famous rock star before you get to your late 30’s… oh, and moisturise.

Who or what inspires you and why?

There are many people who have done amazing things the world over, and closer to home who inspire me to live the dream. My inspiration also comes from learning more about our lesser known species and wanting to protect them from extinction.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A famous rockstar, or more realistically, a zoologist.

And now, if you weren’t working at DOC, what would you want to be?

A rockstar of course.

What sustainability tip would you like to pass on?

Sustainability to me means to keep the motor running—well that’s a contradiction in terms. I mean the mind and body; look after it so it will sustain you throughout your lifetime.

Which green behaviour would you like to adopt this year—at home? At work?

I’d like to be growing more vegies, catching more trout, and shooting more deer so there are less trips to the supermarket, less packaging and so I know what I’m eating. Oh and I might buy a better bike so I don’t drive to work so much.

A native New Zealand bat.

Check this out! One of the coolest mammals in the world and it’s endemic to New Zealand! The short-tailed bat is an incredible prehistoric creature with bulk attitude!

If you could be any New Zealand native species for a day, what would you be and why?

I’d like to get into the brain and body of a Sinbad skink so I can find out where else in Fiordland’s extensive alpine they are living!

What piece of advice or message would you want to give to New Zealanders when it comes to conservation?

Think of the bigger picture, or entire ecosystems, and why you are doing what you are doing. A trap line for stoats may protect some species such as kiwi or kaka, but what about controlling rodents for other species such as mohua, bats and lizards?

Terror Peak, Fiordland.

Welcome to my office! Alpine lizard survey at Terror Peak, Fiordland

Otago skink rangers Sandra Soeder and Tim Lever share their special experience seeing an Otago skink giving birth in the wild.

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