The Garden Skink (Lampropholis guichenoti), also known as the Pale-flecked Garden Sunskink, is perhaps the most widespread and common skink in Victoria. It lives in a wide variety of habitats and locations, from the the urban landscapes of Melbourne, to the wet forests of the Victorian Alps and from the coast to the dry inland. It’s a very successful species and undoubtedly a major food source for lots of bigger animals. So you wouldn’t think a Garden Skink would need to worry about suffering a beating from his/her compatriots – but you’d be wrong.
This handful of skinks were so completely caught up in their disagreement that I was totally ignored as they wrestled, chased and bit one hapless individual. Lucky for them I wasn’t a Grey Shrike-thrush, or Kookaburra.
The squabble lasted for about 10 mins, until I broke it up, wondering whether they had injured the poor fellow under assault. It took determination and a fingernail to prize that last aggressor from the victim, who then quickly scuttled away. The behaviour I witnessed was most likely about dominance in the local population of Garden Skinks. It seems such aggressive disputes as this one may be uncommon and it’s not clear why it occurred, though it is breeding season and aggression seems to be related to reproduction, rather than ‘site defense’. The summary of social structure in Garden Skinks seems all too familiar:
“Body size and sex influenced position in the social structure, with males tending to dominate females and larger lizards tending to dominate smaller ones. In general males were more aggressive than females.” (Torr & Shine 1996). If you’re really keen to know more about dominance and social hierarchy in this species, you can read this paper Patterns of Dominance in the Small Scincid Lizard Lampropholis guichenoti.
The paper describes Garden Skinks as having a “a modilied despotic social structure” – Little Despots of the garden.