The zoo's resident snakes, Cleo, Lucy, Skink, and Solomon live in the zoo's classroom and are a part of the zoo's teaching programs and community outreach.
Skink, Solomon Island (aka Prehensile-Tail or Zebra Skink)
The largest of the known skinks, this animal can measure up to 32 inches from the snout to the tip of the tail and weigh 14-28 oz. They are native only to the Solomon Islands, but are now exported as a house pet worldwide. Found in the tropical rainforest, this skink spends little or no time on the ground. Its large powerful claws and long prehensile tail enable it to cling to trees. It is usually found in the oldest trees in primary forests. Life span in captivity is about 15 years.
Thick, strong legs, a muscular body, and a large prehensile tail give this animal an imposing appearance. The head is large and flat with small eyes. Its powerful mouth has a short tongue that is broad, flat, and fleshy. The skin of the prehensile-tailed skink is smoother and shinier than any other lizard’s and the scales are smooth, flat, and overlapping. The body of the skink ranges in color from dark green to almost black. Unlike other lizards, it does not have the ability to regenerate if its tail should break off when caught by predators.
Nocturnal and herbivorous, it feeds primarily on the leaves of the Solomon Island creeper plant. At the Zoo, Solomon is fed a steady diet of greens, vegetables, fruits, and hard-boiled eggs, with a vitamin supplement.
The prehensile-tailed skink is ovoviviparous, meaning the female produces eggs that hatch within her body and are nurtured there. After about 6-7 months, a single baby (and rarely, two) is born. The baby is 6-9 inches long and stays with the mother for about 6 months after birth. The father will also defend the baby – post-partum attention from either parent is unusual in the reptile world.
The prehensile-tailed skink is not endangered, although the Solomon Islands government has regulated trade to avoid over-collection for the pet industry. Logging has also eliminated much of this animal’s habitat. It is listed on CITES appendix II which means the prehensile-tailed skink is considered “threatened.”
◦ Appendages adapted to grasping and holding.
◦ New World Monkeys (South American) are mainly arboreal and many have prehensile tails.
◦ Old World monkeys (Africa & Asia) lack prehensile tails.
◦ Other animals with prehensile tails: opossum, binturong, kinkajou, and chameleon.
Reptiles have protective, scaly skin and tough, leathery-shelled eggs. The skin is dry in comparison to an amphibian’s moist skin. Snake skin feels similar to an orange peel. They have two types of scales on their bodies: the diamond shaped scales on their backs, sides and head; and the longer wide belly scales called scutes. As growth and wear take place, the outer layer of skin is shed, usually in one piece. The old skin loosens around the mouth and is turned back inside out as it catches on sticks, rocks, or other rough surfaces as the snake crawls. Even the eye covering is shed along with the head skin. Just prior to shedding a snake is referred to as being “opaque.” Their skin, including their eye caps (snakes have no eyelids) becomes milky looking. A snake should not be handled at this time due to its inability to see efficiently and to reduce any additional stress. All snakes have a spinal column, and there is a pair of ribs and muscles for each scute.
Snakes are “cold-blooded,” which means they derive their body temperature chiefly from their surroundings. When their temperature is below our body temperature they feel cold to us. Most snakes control their temperature by moving from sunlight to shade. Snakes “smell with their tongues.” They insert their forked tongue into a slot in their mouth called the Jacobson’s organ, which sends the information to the brain. Some snakes, including boas and pythons, have heat sensitive “pits” around their mouth. The information received through these heat sensors is transmitted to the same part of the brain that processes sight, so they can “see” prey in total darkness by its body heat. Pits are so sensitive that the body size and distance of a mouse can be judged for an accurate strike from two feet away. These heat sensors can also be used to detect the size and distance of a potential predator. They have no external ears but can “hear” by picking up vibrations from their environment. All snakes are carnivorous. Because of their slow metabolism, they can eat less frequently than “warm-blooded” animals. At the Zoo, all snakes are on a feeding schedule. Snakes should not be held for 2-3 days after eating. If the Zoo snakes are not to be handled (opaque, just ate or ill) there will be a SNAKE INDISPOSED sign on their cage.