We were given a single Corucia zebrata in the summer of 1992 as a pet shop rescue. The animal was dehydrated and undernourished, but responded well to treatment, gaining weight rapidly once it became acclimated to its new environment. The skink was a large adult, with a number of battle scars, including missing toes, a chunk of muscle removed about two-thirds of the way along the tail, and a patch of scar tissue over the pelvic region. Injuries such as these are often suffered by females during mating. The presumed female lives in a 3' x 3' x 3' enclosure, with a ceiling-mounted hiding area and a number of climbing branches. Two sides of the cage are wooden, the remaining sides are wire mesh. Feeding occurs three or four times a week in the early evening. In general, our care follows the guidelines put forth in a number of recent publications on Corucia zebrata, including Kevin Wright's article in the March/April 1991 issue of Reptile & Amphibian Magazine, Philippe de Vosjoli's "The General Care and Maintenance of Prehensile-Tailed Skinks", and more recently Michael Balsai's article in the July 1995 issue of The Vivarium.
Although initially we did not intend to breed Solomon Island skinks, the endearing behavior of this individual convinced us to attempt captive breeding. In the late fall of 1994, we obtained two more individuals. We attempted to locate individuals that exhibited the same overall coloration and markings of our original skink. The variability in coloration and markings among C. zebrata may be indicative of separate forms, and we worried about possible incompatibilities. Both new skinks were smaller than our original animal. We arranged a quarantine enclosure for the two new arrivals, and had all three skinks examined professionally for internal parasites. The two new lizards had mild nematode infestations which were eliminated. Sexing the new skinks was problematic. By comparison with published photographs and discussion with other keepers, we decided that the two new arrivals were a pair, with the smaller animal being male.
In the spring of 1995 we decided that the lizards had been in quarantine long enough - no signs of disease were evident, and the internal parasites had been eliminated. The two new animals were allowed to leave their cage and wander around our living room in the evenings. As the original skink was also allowed to roam in the evenings, this eventually led to meetings between the animals. The first meeting between the older female and the smaller new skink, tentatively identified as a male, occurred a few days after we had begun letting the lizards wander freely. The skinks circled each other a few times. Once or twice each opened their mouths and lunged at the other, although neither skink was actually bitten. After this sparring match the male moved away from the female.
Four days later the two skinks encountered each other again, in approximately the same place. Once again, the two skinks circled each other. Neither attempted to bite the other immediately; instead they continued to circle. Surprisingly, the male squeezed under the female, until she was sitting on top of him (see Figure 1). The female then headed away from the male, moving about eight feet before the pursuing male caught up to her. Once again the two began to circle each other.
The male bit the female's tail, although not firmly. He quickly released it and then bit again from the left side, further up the tail toward the female's body. He then bit the area over her pelvis (which had shown visible scarring when we first obtained her). He held this grip for a few moments (Figure 2), and then released it as she began to circle around him (Figure 3). She continued moving, with the male following. He approached her from the right and attempted to seize her midsection (Figure 4). She shrugged this attempt off, and moved a few inches forward. The male moved up beside her, and still from the right side seized the skin over her shoulders (Figure 5).
The male held the female by the shoulders for about two minutes. Neither skink moved during that time. The male then slid over the female, still holding her by the shoulders (Figure 6). His right foot was draped over her hips while he pivoted his groin under her hips. His tail passed under hers, and he used his left leg to push up and under her pelvic area (Figure 7). They maintained this position for just over one minute, and then the male relaxed and moved his groin out from under the female (Figure 8). The male moved away, and after a few minutes, the female also walked away. The whole incident took less than fifteen minutes.
The male and female skink have encountered each other a number of times since the mating occurred. The female consistently has been aggressive towards the male, lunging at him with mouth agape. He usually backs away quickly, with her continuing to lunge after him while he is still within range.
The two female skinks proved to be incompatible. The newer female is quite aggressive, and attacks the older and larger female whenever the two meet. We have elected to keep the skinks separated - the larger female has her own cage, while the other two are kept in a similarly sized cage in another room. Encounters still occur periodically when all three are allowed to roam freely at the same time.
Given the popularity of C. zebrata and the possible decrease in availability due to the CITES II listing (although they currently are still available at a relatively low price), the Solomon Island skink seems to be a good candidate for captive breeding. Captive breeding has succeeded numerous times, both in private collections and in institutions. The Philadelphia Zoo has bred these skinks over multiple generations, for example. Unfortunately, captive-bred lizards are rarely available, for a number of reasons: litter size, length of gestation, difficulty in sexing animals, and difficulty in obtaining compatible breeding groups. Females give birth to one, occasionally two, large babies, after a pregnancy of six to seven months. Maternal care of the newborn skink has been reported by a number of sources. All of these factors make C. zebrata less desirable to professional for-profit herpetoculturists than comparably sized lizards, such as Blue-tongued skinks (Tiliqua species) for example. Amateur breeders will have to fill the gap that this omission will leave; hopefully these observations on mating behavior will help in this effort. As Philippe de Vosjoli notes in his book "[Solomon Island skinks] are sold at prices that do not reflect their actual rarity and low reproductive rate. This is a situation that cannot last".
Balsai, Michael J. (1995) Husbandry and Breeding of the Solomon Islands Prehensile-tailed Skink, Corucia zebrata. The Vivarium 7 (1); 4-11.
de Vosjoli, Philippe. (1993) The General Care and Maintenance of Prehensile-tailed Skinks. Advanced Vivarium Systems, Lakeside, CA.
Moser, Karen. (1992) The Prehensile-tailed Skink, Corucia zebrata Gray: Care, Behavioral Observations, and Reproduction. In: Contributions in Herpetology (Strimple, Peter D. and Jane L. (eds)) Greater Cincinnati Herpetological Society, Cincinnati, OH. 85-89.
Sprackland, Robert G. (1993) The Solomon Islands Prehensile-tailed Skink (Corucia zebrata). Reptiles (Dec.): 24-28.
Wright, Kevin M. (1991) The Solomon Island Skink. Reptile & Amphibian Magazine (Mar/Apr): 10-19.
Originally published in Reptile & Amphibian Magazine, Sept/Oct 1996, pages 24-31.
Reprinting of this article for non-profit purposes is permitted provided that it is unaltered and appropriate attribution, including copyright information, is included. Please notify the author of any reprinting.