Tiliqua rugosa

Last updated

Tiliqua rugosa
Eastern shingleback
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Family: Scincidae
Genus: Tiliqua
T. rugosa
Binomial name
Tiliqua rugosa
(Gray, 1825) [2]
T. r. rugosa
T. r. asper
T. r. konowi
T. r. palarra
Tiliqua rugosa distribution map.png
Distribution of Tiliqua rugosa

Trachydosaurus rugosus

Western shingleback 2008 Tiliqua rugosa.jpg
Western shingleback
Rottnest Island shingleback Shingleback on road, Rottnest Island.jpg
Rottnest Island shingleback

Tiliqua rugosa, most commonly known as the shingleback skink or bobtail lizard, is a short-tailed, slow-moving species of blue-tongued skink (genus Tiliqua) endemic to Australia. It is commonly known as the shingleback or sleepy lizard. Three of its four recognised subspecies are found in Western Australia, where the bobtail name is most frequently used. [3] The fourth subspecies, T. rugosa asper, is the only one native to eastern Australia, where it goes by the common name of the eastern shingleback.


Apart from bobtail and shingleback, a variety of other common names are used in different states, including two-headed skink, [4] stumpy-tailed skink, bogeye or boggi, [5] pinecone lizard. [6] The Noongar Aboriginal people refer to rugosa as yoorn in their language. [7]

T. rugosa has a short, wide, stumpy tail that resembles its head and may serve the purpose of confusing predators. The tail also contains fat reserves, which are drawn upon during brumation in winter, during which many lizards perform a behaviour similar to hibernation except they require water every day, but can go without food. This skink is an omnivore; it eats snails and plants and spends much of its time browsing through vegetation for food. In human habitation, it is often seen basking on roadsides or other paved areas.

Etymology and taxonomy

The species was first described by John Edward Gray in 1825 as Trachydosaurus rugosus. [2] [6] It is now classified as Tiliqua rugosa. Some herpetologists claim this species has more common names than any other lizard. [4]


Four subspecies of Tiliqua rugosa are currently recognised: [6]

Distribution and habitat

The species is widely distributed in arid to semiarid regions of southern and western Australia. The range extends from Shark Bay, Western Australia, across the southernmost regions of the country to the coast, then north into Queensland. Four subspecies are found in Western Australia, including one at Rottnest Island. It also lives in the eastern states of Victoria and New South Wales, but does not reach coastal areas in these states. [11]

The habitat of the species includes shrub lands, eucalyptus forests, desert grasslands, and sandy dunes. They often shelter in the bush under low foliage. Being cold-blooded, these skinks are well known to have a strong preference for sun basking in open areas, and are often seen along roadsides or other cleared areas in its range. [12] On average, individuals have a home range of four hectares, and can move up to 500 metres per day. [13]

These lizards show strong home range site stability for up to several years and often multiple lizards can utilise the same burrow. As conditions become hotter and drier these lizards tend to share the burrows. During the spring time and given an adequate source of food that season and normal mating behaviour, males can often overlap each other's ranges. This can lead to territoriality and agonistic behaviour. [14]


Tiliqua rugosa has a heavily armoured body and can be found in various colours, ranging from dark brown to cream. [4] Its snout–vent length varies from 260 to 310 mm (10 to 12 in), [15] and it is very heavy-bodied for its length. [4] Their eyes are small with a reddish-brown and grey colour. [5]

Shingleback lizard Shingleback lizard Australia.jpg
Shingleback lizard

It has a triangular head and a bright blue tongue, [4] inside a bright pink mouth. [5] Its short, stumpy tail is similar in shape to its head. This is probably a defence mechanism to confuse predators although it also stores fat and has led to the common name of "two-headed skink". [4] Unlike many skinks, shinglebacks do not exhibit autotomy and cannot shed their tails. [16]

The average lifespan for these skinks is 10 to 15 years, but some individuals have been known to live for as much as 50 years in the wild. [17]

Shed skin, 37 cm long, head on right of image Tiliqua rugosa - shed skin.jpg
Shed skin, 37 cm long, head on right of image

The species normally shed their skin as a whole, including the eye covering. This takes up to several hours, during which the lizard rubs against objects to help the process.

The species exhibits sexual dimorphism, with males being stockier than females and having a larger head although females generally grow larger than males.


Front view ShingleBack.jpg
Front view

T. rugosa is an omnivore that eat snails, insects, carrion, vegetation and flowers. Since they are slow-moving, they tend to eat other slow moving species. This is perhaps why T. rugosa has a stronger preference for plants than other blue-tongue skink species. They can easily crush through the shells of snails with their strong jaws. [5]

As they overlap with human habitation and settlement, they have also been known to eat human food, such as sausage and chicken, as well as fruits such as strawberries, banana and passionfruit.


T. rugosa live a very sedentary lifestyle and generally act peacefully toward other individuals. [4] However, these lizards are territorial and can display agonistic behaviour towards conspecific intruders. They have stable home ranges and can differentiate between individuals through chemical cues. Familial neighbours who share home ranges and burrows do not show aggressive behaviour. However, unfamiliar males will be attacked by other males in occasional agonistic interactions. Scale damaged has allowed for the observation that unpaired males are more likely to display agonistic behaviour towards each other.

Captive specimens Shingleback skink Honolulu Zoo.jpg
Captive specimens

They are floating males and thus wander many home ranges with male inhabitants. T. rugosa performs almost no parental care, so the observed monogamy is only advantageous premating. [14]

In captivity

The shingleback skink has become a popular pet among Australian enthusiasts. They are relatively docile and easy to feed and maintain. A permit may be required to keep them in some states. Skinks will bite humans if threatened. These bites, although not venomous, will hurt like other animal bites and may cause the affected area to swell or bruise. [5]

Threat display Bobtail (Tiliqua rugosa) at The Spectacles, September 2019 01.jpg
Threat display


The species was once preyed upon by dingos, Australian pythons such as Morelia spilota , and local peoples; today the potential threats are more likely to come from large, introduced feral species such as foxes and cats. [18] In the bush habitat in Western Australia, birds of prey like falcons and kookaburras, and large snakes will commonly prey on these skinks. [5]

Ticks and nematodes commonly parasitise this species by attaching under scales or in the ear. [5] The kangaroo soft tick, Ornithodoros gurneyi, has been studied as a common parasite of T. rugosa, with claims that it infects the skinks when they spend time under trees or shrubs, where they commonly shelter during hot summer days. [19]

They have many performative defence mechanisms for predators. T. rugosa tends to gape open its mouth and display its blue tongue, which is often accompanied with intense hissing. Since they have a harsh bite, it is used for defence if interactions worsen.


T. rugosa is a viviparous skink meaning that its young are born live rather than being hatched from eggs as with most other lizards. Pregnancy and parturition are incredibly taxing on females. Relative clutch mass is 26.8% ±1.5% that of the mother. [20]

Brood size may be from one to four — more usually two to three — relatively large offspring. [21] The trade-off with small litter size versus large body size increases their survival chances. [4] Females possess a well-developed placenta with which they feed their unborn young. [22]

Unlike most other lizards the species tends to be monogamous and tend to re-unite in pairs during September to November prior to the breeding season. Pairs have been known to return to each other every year for up to 20 years. [4] [23] The breeding season is from December to April and the gestation period is usually 3–5 months. [22]

When they are born, the young immediately consume their afterbirth. [4] They stay with their parents for several months before becoming independent, but they remain in close proximity, forming a colony of closely related skinks. [4]

The male of a monogamous pair eats less while parenting, remaining alert and ready to give an alarm. [4] They will tail behind the female to protect them from rival males while the female fends for food. [24]


Forming monogamous pair bonds is a central facet of the bobtail lizard's life. Their excellent sense of direction allows the male to follow or pursue the female repeatedly, even outside of mating season. When one of the pair is killed, these skinks have even been observed grieving or brooding for their pair partner. [13]

Social monogamy is beneficial to female bobtail lizards more than males. This is why polyandry is seldom found but polygyny is more common. Females tend to prefer attentive males, and therefore hold the mating choice. Researchers have found that males have to prove themselves to the female by following them around for a couple of weeks before mating, to be selected as a mate. For this reason, females often prefer to stay with the same male in future years; they gain the value of consistency and confidence that the male will once again be attentive. Females that switch mate pairs some years have been found doing so when the male was less attentive in the previous year. [25]

There are many reasons for why monogamy is especially popular in bobtail lizards. First, having two long-term pairs enhances parental care as there are two parents to watch after, fend for, and acquire resources for the offspring. Additionally, monogamy makes it easier for males to guard female home ranges. In polygamous setups, guarding multiple female ranges against other males proves to be difficult and waste time and resources.

Extra-pair fertilisation, although more rare, tends to produce larger broods. However, the trade-off is that the female receives less attention in these setups, hence monogamy is most popular. [25]

Sensation and perception


Their hearing can be measured at the round window as cochlear microphonics and summating potential (of the cochlea), and compound action potential and single-fibre responses (of the auditory nerve).[ jargon ] These indicate a best hearing range near 1000 Hz. Earlier reports that their hearing sensitivity varied with the season [26] [27] have been shown to be an artefact of the seasonally varying sensitivity to anesthetics. [28]

Single-unit recordings from the auditory nerve show both spontaneous and nonspontaneous responses. Tuning curves show peak sensitivity between 200 Hz and 4.5 kHz. The absolute sensitivity is quite high, with some thresholds at 6 db sound pressure level, very close to human best sensitivity. [29]


The sense of smell is crucial for this species avoidance behaviours. Living in bush lands that are so prone to fire means skinks have to easily be able to detect smoke. During studies, it was proven that T. rugosa engaged in more active behaviour such as pacing and tongue flicking in the presence of smoke. Scientists have concluded that fires are detected by their olfactory senses. [30]

Visual perception

It has been discovered that bobtail lizards maintain the ability to navigate home when displaced from their home range. This remarkable ability is due to visual cues from light polarisation and ferromagnetic detection, forming a sort of "celestial compass" that provides the lizard a sense of direction when coming back home. However, this ability only persists until about 800 metres out of the home range, and further displacement distances means the skink is too far away to navigate.

Conservation status

Under the IUCN Red List, Tiliqua rugosa is categorised as Least Concern. They are a protected species in Australia and can only be exported lawfully under a federal permit, but their import into and trade between other countries is not commonly illegal. [31] Its population is stable and for the most part there are no significant threats. [32] However, the subspecies T. r. konowi, located on Rottnest island, is considered Vulnerable. [33]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Skink</span> Family of reptiles

Skinks are lizards belonging to the family Scincidae, a family in the infraorder Scincomorpha. With more than 1,500 described species across 100 different taxonomic genera, the family Scincidae is one of the most diverse families of lizards. Skinks are characterized by their smaller legs in comparison to typical lizards and are found in different habitats except arctic and subarctic regions.

<i>Egernia</i> Genus of lizards

Egernia is a genus of skinks that occurs in Australia. These skinks are ecologically diverse omnivores that inhabit a wide range of habitats. However, in the loose delimitation the genus is not monophyletic but an evolutionary grade, as has long been suspected due to its lack of characteristic apomorphies.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pink-tongued skink</span> Species of lizard

The pink-tongued skink is a species of lizard in the family Scincidae. C. gerrardii is endemic to Australia, where it is also called commonly the pink-tongued lizard. As suggested by these common names, its distinguishing characteristic is a pink tongue as opposed to the blue tongue of lizards of the closely related genus Tiliqua.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Blue-tongued skink</span> Genus of lizards

Blue-tongued skinks comprise the Australasian genus Tiliqua, which contains some of the largest members of the skink family (Scincidae). They are commonly called blue-tongued lizards or simply blue-tongues or blueys in Australia. As suggested by these common names, a prominent characteristic of the genus is a large blue tongue that can be bared as bluff-warning to potential enemies. The type of predator/threat that is near will determine the intensity of colour present in the tongue. In addition, their blue tongue will produce a response in the prey which will in turn diminish the attack. The tongue can also deform itself and produce a thick mucus in order to catch prey. They are relatively shy in comparison with other lizards, and also significantly slower due to their shorter legs.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Animal sexual behaviour</span> Sexual behavior of nonhuman animals

Animal sexual behaviour takes many different forms, including within the same species. Common mating or reproductively motivated systems include monogamy, polygyny, polyandry, polygamy and promiscuity. Other sexual behaviour may be reproductively motivated or non-reproductively motivated.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Blotched blue-tongued lizard</span> Species of lizard

The blotched blue-tongued lizard, also known as the southern blue-tongued lizard or blotched blue-tongued skink is a blue-tongued skink endemic to south-eastern Australia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Eastern blue-tongued lizard</span> Species of reptile

The Tiliqua scincoides scincoides, or eastern blue-tongued lizard, is native to Australia. It is unique due to its blue tongue, which can be used to warn off predators. In addition to flashing its blue tongue, the skink hisses and puffs up its chest to assert dominance and appear bigger when in the presence of its predators such as large snakes and birds. The eastern blue tongue is ovoviviparous and precocial, meaning that its young are more developed and advanced at their time of birth. The Tiliqua scincoides scincoides is not venomous to humans and can be found in suburban and urban areas, specifically in house gardens.

Monogamous pairing in animals refers to the natural history of mating systems in which species pair bond to raise offspring. This is associated, usually implicitly, with sexual monogamy.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Adelaide pygmy blue-tongue skink</span> Species of lizard

The Adelaide pygmy blue-tongue skink or pygmy bluetongue is a species of skink, a lizard in the family Scincidae. The species was previously thought to be extinct and only rediscovered in 1992. Known locations of the species extend from Kapunda in the Light River valley, about 77 kilometres (48 mi) north east of Adelaide, northwards to Peterborough, about 254 kilometres (158 mi) north of Adelaide.

Monogamy is a form of dyadic relationship in which an individual has only one partner during the length of the relationship. Having only one partner at any one time, whether that be for life or whether that be, contrasts with various forms of non-monogamy.

<i>Hemolivia</i> Genus of single-celled organisms

Hemolivia is a genus of the phylum Apicomplexia.

Social monogamy in mammals is defined as a long term or sequential living arrangement between an adult male and an adult female.

<i>Tiliqua scincoides</i> Species of lizard

Tiliqua scincoides is a species of skink. It is native to Australia as well Tanimbar Island.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Centralian blue-tongued skink</span> Species of lizard

The Centralian blue-tongued skink or Centralian blue-tongue is a species of skink, occurring predominantly in the far north-west corner of New South Wales, Australia. It is one of six species belonging to the genus Tiliqua; the blue-tongued skinks and the shinglebacks.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Primate sociality</span>

Primate sociality is an area of primatology that aims to study the interactions between three main elements of a primate social network: the social organisation, the social structure and the mating system. The intersection of these three structures describe the socially complex behaviours and relationships occurring among adult males and females of a particular species. Cohesion and stability of groups are maintained through a confluence of factors, including: kinship, willingness to cooperate, frequency of agonistic behaviour, or varying intensities of dominance structures.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Stokes's skink</span> Species of lizard

Egernia stokesii is a gregarious species of lizard of the Scincidae family. This diurnal species is endemic to Australia, and is also known as the Gidgee skink, spiny-tailed skink, Stokes's skink and Stokes's egernia. The species forms stable, long-term social aggregations, much like the social groups seen in mammalian and avian species. This characteristic is rarely found in the Squamata order, but is widespread within the Australian subfamily of Egerniinae skinks. Populations of E. stokesii are widely distributed, but fragmented, and occur in semi-arid environments. There are three recognised subspecies. The conservation status for the species is listed as least concern, however, one subspecies is listed as endangered.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Black rock skink</span> Species of lizard

The black rock skink is a species of large skink native to Eastern and Southern Australia from central New South Wales to Grampians National Park in Victoria. A large, dark colored skink, up to 135 mm from snout to base of the tail, the black rock skink is the first reptile discovered to have a "nuclear family" structure where the parents form a pair and care for their offspring for more than one year. The black rock skink is a viviparous skink meaning females give birth to live offspring instead of laying eggs. They defend their home range and families against conspecifics for up to several years.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">West Australian Reptile Park</span> Zoo near Perth, Western Australia

The West Australian Reptile Park is a reptile and native wildlife park located at Henley Brook in the upper Swan valley region of Perth, Western Australia. A privately owned facility, the park is home to a number of reptile species and other animals. Offering the chance for visitors to hold some snakes, lizards and turtles at certain times of day, the park is open 10am–5pm almost every day of the year.

Ornithodoros gurneyi, a kangaroo soft tick, is a species of the argasid family. A parasite found in arid regions of Australia, the species occurs on red kangaroos, lizards and people.


  1. Sanderson, C.; Lloyd, R.; Craig, M.; Gaikhorst, G. (2017). "Tiliqua rugosa". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species . 2017: e.T109481513A109481530. doi: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-3.RLTS.T109481513A109481530.en . Retrieved 19 November 2021.
  2. 1 2 Gray, J.E. (1825). A synopsis of the genera of reptiles and Amphibia, with a description of some new species. Annals of Philosophy 10:193—217. p. 201
  3. City of Wanneroo (2009). "Bushland Critters" (PDF). Retrieved 9 November 2010.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Pianka, Eric R.; Vitt, Laurie J. (2003). Lizards: Windows to the Evolution of Diversity (Organisms and Environments, 5) . Vol. 5 (1 ed.). California: University of California Press. ISBN   978-0-520-23401-7.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "Shingleback Lizard". The Australian Museum. Retrieved 28 March 2020.
  6. 1 2 3 Tiliqua rugosa at the Reptarium.cz Reptile Database
  7. "Noongar Word List | Kaartdijin Noongar". www.noongarculture.org.au. Retrieved 28 March 2020.
  8. Gray, J. E. (1845). Catalogue of the specimens of lizards in the collection of the British Museum. London: Trustees of die British Museum/Edward Newman.
  9. Mertens, R. (1958). "Neue Eidechsen aus Australien". Senckenbergiana Biologica (in German). 39: 51–56.
  10. Shea, G. M. (2000). "Die Shark-Bay-Tannenzapfenechse Tiliqua rugosa palarra subsp. nov.". In Hauschild, A.; Hitz, R.; Henle, K.; Shea, G. M.; Werning, H. (eds.). Blauzungenskinke. Beiträge zu Tiliqua und Cyclodomorphus (in German). Münster: Natur und Tier Verlag. pp. 108–112. ISBN   3-931587-33-9.
  11. Cogger, Harold G. (2000). Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia. Sanibel Island, FL: Ralph Curtis Books. ISBN   0-88359-048-4.
  12. Browne-Cooper, Robert; Brian Bush; Brad Maryan; David Robinson (2007). Reptiles and Frogs in the Bush: Southwestern Australia. University of Western Australia Press. p. 99. ISBN   978-1-920694-74-6.
  13. 1 2 Sleepy lizards' monogamous lives tracked by researchers ABC News, 26 December 2015. Retrieved 16 April 2017.
  14. 1 2 Gregory D. Kerr, C. Michael Bull, Exclusive core areas in overlapping ranges of the sleepy lizard, Tiliqua rugosa, Behavioral Ecology, Volume 17, Issue 3, May/June 2006, Pages 380–391,
  15. Wilson, S. & Swan, G. (2003). A complete guide to reptiles of Australia. New Holland Publishers, Sydney. ISBN   1 876334 72 X
  16. "Lizards & Snakes: Alive! | American Museum of Natural History". Archived from the original on 22 November 2008. Retrieved 12 October 2009.
  17. Life, death and a sleepy lizard: One researcher's remarkable work on a monogamous blue-tongue ABC News, 16 April 2017. Retrieved 16 April 2017.
  18. C. M. Bull, and Y. Pamula (1998). "Enhanced vigilance in monogamous pairs of the lizard, Tiliqua rugosa" (PDF). Behavioral Ecology. Oxford University Press. 9 (5): 452–455. doi: 10.1093/beheco/9.5.452 . ISSN   1465-7279 . Retrieved 12 April 2008.
  19. Norval, Gerrut; Sharrad, Robert D.; Gardner, Michael G. (2 November 2021). "A mammal tick with a taste for lizard blood: parasitism by the kangaroo soft tick, (Ornithodoros gurneyi) on sleepy lizards (Tiliqua rugosa)". Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases. 13 (1): 101859. doi:10.1016/j.ttbdis.2021.101859. ISSN   1877-959X. PMID   34768200. S2CID   242070724.
  20. Bull, C. Michael; Pamula, Yvonne; Schulze, Lana (December 1993). "Parturition in the Sleepy Lizard, Tiliqua rugosa". Journal of Herpetology. 27 (4): 489. doi:10.2307/1564848.
  21. Tuesday, 27 February 2007 Jennifer ViegasDiscovery News (27 February 2007). "Lizard suffers world's worst pregnancy". www.abc.net.au. Retrieved 1 February 2022.
  22. 1 2 Australian Museum (2020). "Shingleback Lizard" . Retrieved 9 November 2010.
  23. Bull, C. Michael; Cooper, Steven J. B.; Baghurst, Ben C. (1998). "Social monogamy and extra-pair fertilisation in an Australian lizard, Tiliqua rugosa". Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. 44 (1): 63–72. doi:10.1007/s002650050515. S2CID   12509852.
  24. Bull, C. M.; Pamula, Y. (1 January 1998). "Enhanced vigilance in monogamous pairs of the lizard, Tiliqua rugosa". Behavioral Ecology. 9 (5): 452–455. doi: 10.1093/beheco/9.5.452 . ISSN   1045-2249.
  25. 1 2 Bull, C. Michael; Cooper, Steven J. B.; Baghurst, Ben C. (1 October 1998). "Social monogamy and extra-pair fertilization in an Australian lizard, Tiliqua rugosa". Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. 44 (1): 63–72. doi:10.1007/s002650050515. ISSN   1432-0762. S2CID   12509852.
  26. Johnstone, J. R. & Johnstone, B. M. (1969). "Electrophysiology of the lizard cochlea". Experimental Neurology. 24 (1): 99–109. doi:10.1016/0014-4886(69)90008-9. PMID   4306107.
  27. Johnstone, J. R. & Johnstone, B. M. (1969). "Unit responses from the lizard auditory nerve". Experimental Neurology. 24 (4): 528–537. doi:10.1016/0014-4886(69)90156-3. PMID   5799201.
  28. Koeppl, C.; Manley, G.A. & Johnstone, B.M. (1990). "Peripheral auditory processing in the bobtail lizard V Seasonal effects of anaesthesia". Journal of Comparative Physiology. 167 (1): 139–144. doi:10.1007/bf00192413. S2CID   39416842.
  29. Manley, G.A.; Koeppl, C. & Johnstone, B.M. (1990). "Peripheral auditory processing in the bobtail lizard I Frequency tuning of auditory nerve fibers". Journal of Comparative Physiology. 167 (1): 89–99. doi:10.1007/bf00192409. S2CID   12644895.
  30. Mendyk, Robert W.; Weisse, Adam; Fullerton, Will (1 May 2020). "A wake-up call for sleepy lizards: the olfactory-driven response of Tiliqua rugosa (Reptilia: Squamata: Sauria) to smoke and its implications for fire avoidance behavior". Journal of Ethology. 38 (2): 161–166. doi:10.1007/s10164-019-00628-z. ISSN   1439-5444. S2CID   209331460.
  31. Heinrich, S.; Toomes, A.; Shepherd, C. R.; Stringham, O. C.; Swan, M.; Cassey, P. (5 July 2021). "Strengthening protection of endemic wildlife threatened by the international pet trade: The case of the Australian shingleback lizard". Animal Conservation. 25 (1): 91–100. doi:10.1111/acv.12721. ISSN   1367-9430.
  32. Sanderson, Chris; Lloyd, Ray; Craig, Michael; Gaikhorst, Glen (21 February 2017). "IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Tiliqua rugosa". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
  33. Atlas of Living Australia (2015). "Atlas of Living Australia" . Retrieved 30 April 2022.

Further reading