Two new lizards discovered in South Island

Mataura Range skink.
Mataura Range skink. Photo credit: Image - Supplied / Carey Knox, Southern scales

A skink discovered in Southland's Mataura Range and a gecko from the Nelson Lakes are the newest additions to New Zealand's lizard lineup.

Genetic tests confirmed the two new lizard species from discoveries made during Department of Conservation surveys in South Island alpine areas last summer.

DOC Science Advisor and lizard survey project leader Dr Jo Monks said the intensive surveys had resulted in discoveries in some of the country's least explored places.

"We're still in the 'age of discovery' for our lizards, and we're likely to find more as we continue our survey work this summer."

Both species are "new to science" but are yet to have formal descriptions. Further survey work will provide more information about the lizards, their conservation status and how best to protect them.

In the last 30 years, the number of known lizard species has increased nearly four-fold with new discoveries.

New Zealand now has 126 gecko and skink species found nowhere else in the world. They are unique and give birth to live young, unlike many lizards elsewhere that lay eggs.

"New Zealand has more endemic lizard species than endemic birds, so it really is a 'land of lizards' as well as a 'land of birds'."

The recently updated Conservation Status of New Zealand reptiles 2021, shows about 90 percent of our skink and gecko species are threatened or at risk of extinction and more lizard populations are in decline.

Lizards are vulnerable to a wide range of introduced predators, including mice, hedgehogs, weasels, and feral cats, in addition to rats, stoats and possums, which cause the most damage to native birds.

More effective control tools need to be developed to better protect lizards from predators such as mice.

The genetic tests also confirmed a gecko found for the first time in the mountains near Haast last summer, is the same as one previously known only on tiny offshore islands in South Westland.

Several new populations of cryptic skinks, Eyres skinks and cascade geckos were also confirmed.

Nelson Lakes gecko.
Nelson Lakes gecko. Photo credit: Supplied / Ben Barr

Genetic testing also revealed that another lizard, referred to as the Cupola gecko, that was first discovered in the Nelson Lakes 50 years ago and then again last summer, is not a distinct species.

It has turned out to be a morphologically distinct population of forest geckos - a widespread species found in the North and South Islands.

The Department of Conservation will lead further alpine lizard surveys over the next two summers, enabled by funding in Budget 2018 for work on data deficient species, that little is known about.

Makaawhio Rūnanga are also involved in lizard surveys in South Westland through the Jobs for Nature programme.

"It's exciting to have our Mahaki Ki Taiao group leading this kaupapa in South Westland with the possibility they will discover more lizard species now their eyes are more attuned," Makaawhio Rūnanga Chairperson Paul Madgwick said.

DOC welcomes information from the public about lizard sightings, especially in the alpine zone, which can lead to new findings. People are asked to take photos of the lizards and send reports with exact location information to