14 November 2023

Almost-extinct skink named in honour of Cape York bushman rediscovered after 40 years

| Sarah Martin
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man with tripod and camera

A critically endangered skink named after Cape York bushman Barry Lyon has been rediscovered near Mount Suprise. Photo: Sarah Martin.

Four decades after iconic Cape York bushman Barry Lyon discovered it hiding in deep clay cracks near Mount Surprise, a skink on the verge of extinction has been rediscovered.

James Cook University associate professor Conrad Hoskin was among the team of researchers looking for the rare Lyon’s Grassland Striped Skink, and was the first to spot it in their traps.

“It was really exciting to go look for something that hasn’t been seen for 40 years, especially that skink as it wasn’t far off being listed as extinct,” Dr Hoskin said.

Dr Hoskin said researchers hoped the Lyon’s Skink wasn’t as critically endangered as first thought, but just hard to find.

The skink was recently listed as critically endangered by the State and Federal governments in recognition of its small distribution and vulnerability to events such as bushfires, drought, weeds and disease.

“There is a bunch of similar habitat spread through the area, and it may just genuinely have been overlooked and could turn out not to be that rare, but rather really, really hard to find,” Dr Hoskin said.

He said the next steps would be to do more surveys at different times of the year and in different locations to learn more about the elusive skink.

“It’s great to rediscover it, and now we need to find out more about it – what things could be a threat to it, what its distribution is.”

The surveys were part of research by the Resilient Landscapes Hub of the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program, looking for highly threatened reptiles across Queensland.

Queensland Museum Network’s Dr Andrew Amey, who led the expedition, said the goal was to find three species of skink that have small distributions confined to the Mount Surprise area, about 300 km south of Cairns.

“These lizards are all hard to find and seldom seen,” Dr Amey said.

“It shows that parts of Australia such as grasslands and open woodland that are grazed by cattle can still host important biodiversity.

“It was an exciting moment to find all three skinks, but to find the Lyon’s Grassland Striped Skink was an amazing discovery.”

Humble ecologist Barry Lyon, who refers to himself as “just a former ranger”, said although he couldn’t remember actually holding the skink when it was discovered in 1981, rediscovering it was fabulous.

“I’m supposed to have caught the first one, but I can’t remember that, honestly,” Mr Lyon said.

“I was part of the team who discovered it. We were doing wildlife survey work out near Mount Surprise, looking for reptiles, birds, mammals and frogs and recording everything we found.

“No-one has seen any live ones since, so it’s fabulous that they’ve found it again.”

Mr Lyon said he had briefly visited the area again and had always meant to go back for longer to search properly for the skink named in his honour.

“It’s absolutely fabulous to think that it has survived all this time,” he said.

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