series 31 | episode 07
guest presenter, landscape architect emmaline bowman introduces us to some humble and hardworking helpers in australian gardens, and shows us how we can make them feel at home at our place
all about skinks
lizards, like birds and insects, are found in almost every environment in australia – from the coasts, to the rainforests, from arid
zones to our bustling urban environments and, if we are lucky enough, in our backyards and gardens. our lizard diversity is rich, with australia home to over 520 species of lizards, split broadly into 5 categories – the goannas and monitors, dragons, legless lizards, geckos and skinks. today, our focus is on the little guys – the skinks! there are over 140 species of skink in australia, from the big bluetongues and land mullets, right down to the grey and brown garden skinks. emmaline has loved skinks and geckos since she was a kid and is keen to find out more about these beauties and show us how to get these good guys into our gardens.
You're reading: Skink Shelters
to attract skinks, we first need to understand them and the role that they play in our environment. emmaline is with threatened fauna expert, nick clemann, in the habitat of the threatened swamp skink, deep in the ‘burbs east of melbourne. nick explains that “current threats to various skinks include loss, fragmentation and degradation of habitat; elevated predation rates from introduced predators; and climate change affecting the lizards’ thermal biology, but also things like nest temperatures”. “these threats exist both in wild spaces, and in urban
zones, so creating habitat for skinks is important” says nick.
Read more: The Top 5 Watering Myths | Gardener’s Supply
the importance of skinks
geckos and skinks, although generally small, are the unsung environmental heroes of the bush and the backyard. nick points out that “skinks vary from being almost entirely insectivorous to largely herbivorous, and a handy rule-of-thumb is that the larger a species is, the more herbivorous it will be. things like blue-tongued lizards tend to eat a lot of plant material, whereas the small skinks in the garden will be feeding almost exclusively on tiny invertebrates”.
this makes many skinks extremely efficient pest controllers in their garden, enjoying meals of crickets, beetles, spiders, grasshoppers, moths and cockroaches. others, like the three-towed skink, will devour worms, beetle larvae and centipedes, while the bigger of the skinks, the bluetongues and land mullets, adore their fruits and vegies, but also love a meal of snails. but, it is this love of pests that often leads to their demise in urban settings. use of pesticides, insecticides and other chemicals within gardens can have a detrimental impact on the skinks food sources and can, in the case of snail pellets, result in the death of blue tongues if they gobble up snails that have ingested this poison. reduction of garden chemicals is one easy way that we can encourage skinks back to our gardens. dogs, and especially cats, are also generally not good news for garden skinks. as well as the risk of direct predation (especially from cats), “the presence of pets can force lizards to change their behaviour, such as abandoning favoured basking sites in ways that are harmful to the lizards” says nick.
another way to safely encourage skinks into the garden is by understanding and creating of suitable habitats for them. nick explains that “some skinks are sun-loving (‘heliothermic’) while others tend to stay under cover, using the temperature of the environment, rather than basking to control their body temperature (‘thigmothermic’). this is one reason why having a variety of structural and thermal opportunities is ideal for a ‘skinky’ garden”. if you keep pet lizards, creating a suitable outdoor space for them to bask and sunbathe is a great idea.
Read more: How to say garden in Chinese
garden designs for skinks
emmaline, as a long-time skink lover, has some great ideas for designing a garden space just for skinks, and they include:
- include rocks, big bits of bark, and logs in your garden for lizards to sun themselves on and hide in and under. place your rocks and logs near some dense bushes or shelter so the skinks can quickly hide if a predator comes along. include pvc pipes, rock edges and planters or stacks of bricks as sheltering spots for lizards if you can’t get fallen branches, logs or rocks. old tin or roofing is also great in the garden as somewhere for lizards to sun themselves or hide under, as long as it is secured from wind events. providing a source of clean, fresh water is also recommended. a shallow bowl of water in a protected spot, with dense foliage and logs nearby is ideal. if your garden already has a pond, make sure you use some sticks or rocks to act as a ramp, just in case a lizard topples in and needs to
- skinks create nests in moist soil under objects in the garden, with females laying around four eggs each, sometimes in communal nests which hold dozens of eggs. the eggs look like mini chicken eggs but are soft and rubbery and are often disturbed by gardeners and animals in early summer and again in autumn. leaving leaf litter around the garden, as well as providing coarse wood mulches around plants can help encourage nests, as well as provide safe hiding places for the lizards if they are disturbed by predators. if you do happen to disturb a nest, gently cover it over with soil as quickly as possible.
- plant locally native grasses and thick ground covers which afford lizards loads of places to hide. wallaby grass (austrodanthonia sp.), weeping grass (microlaena stipoides), poa species, mat rush (lomandra hystrix), dianella species and kangaroo grass (themeda triandra) act as both coverage, and ‘all-you-can-eat buffets’ for many garden skinks and geckos. dense groundcovers like native violets (viola hederacea (enchylaena tomentose) which some skinks adore! big fans of bluetongues will often plant a “sacrificial” strawberry or blue berry for their fruit-loving garden residents to snack on – the perfect treat on after a day of rock basking!
how to make a skink box
- 1220 x 810 x 4mm marine a grade plywood
- pva wood glue
- measure and cut the following, using handsaw:
- 300mm x 200mm – qty 1 (base)
- 250mm x 200mm – qty 2 (inner and top)
- 150mm x 50mm – qty 2 (inner ends)
- 300mm x 100mm – qty 2 (sides)
- 200mm x 100mm – qty 2 (ends)
- place a (base) on flat surface, and attach d (sides) and e (ends) vertically, using pva glue around edges
- once glue has set, place 1 x c (inner end) inside the box, against one end and attach to base (vertically) with pva glue
- measure 250mm from installed inner end, and attach remaining c with pva glue
- once glue has dried, run bead of pva glue along top of installed inner ends (c) and attach 1 x b. there should now be a smaller “box” with lid, inside the larger box
- take remaining b, and place on top of box, covering the “deepest” end, with the opening over the “inner box”
- locate the box in an area of part shade, digging into the ground to secure, ideally with some protection from plant coverage.
- place a rock on the top of the box to secure and ensure there is sufficient coverage of leaf litter around the opening to make the box appealing for skinks.