Merauke Faded Blue Tongue Skink (Shea, 2000)
Tiliqua gigas evanescens

Text Written by James Wilson

Recently Dr. Glen Shea described this new subspecies of the Indonesian Blue-tongued Skink as (Tiliqua gigas evanescens). It is also commonly referred to as the Merauke Gigas. The sub-specific name evanescens, means to fade or lighten, and makes reference to the faded appearance that adult specimens are said to display. Dr. Shea chose to refer to this new subspecies as the Southern New Guinea Blue-tongued Skink. Since the undescribed Irian Jaya Blue-tongue also inhabits southern New Guinea, and is still occasionally referred to under this same name. I have chosen to call it the Merauke Faded Blue-tongued Skink. I feel that it was a logical compromise to use the old common name, with a tie in to the scientific name. While common names are not set in stone, I do feel that they play an important role in species identification in the pet industry and the reptile hobby, and that there should be some consideration taken to avoid any potential confusion that could be caused when giving new common names.

The Merauke Gigas has been exported out of Merauke in southern Irian Jaya, since the mid 90's, and is starting to be seen more often, in some of the larger pet store chains here in this country. There has been a great deal of speculation with regard to the actual origin of this blue-tongue, with many people suggesting that it may be the result of hybridization between the Common Indonesian Blue-tongue (Tiliqua gigas gigas), and the Irian Jaya Blue-tongue (Tiliqua ssp.) To date there is no evidence to support this theory.

Description

As a baby, the Merauke Faded Blue-tongued Skink is nearly identical in appearance to the Common Indonesian Blue-tongue. However, as it grows into adulthood, its color and pattern will often fade and become much less obvious than in Tiliqua gigas gigas. Adult specimens are usually a slate grey color with thin grey or tan bands. Like the Common Indonesian, the Merauke's ventral surface may or may not be striped or reticulated with black and orange. It has the typical gigas black limbs and single black nape stripe. However, its head is usually much paler and usually unmarked. The Merauke Gigas has a tail that accounts for 80-90% of the snout-vent length, with more defined banding on it than Tiliqua gigas gigas. The anterior temporal scales of the Merauke Blue-tongue are elongated and much longer then the other temporal scales. It is a large skink (especially for a gigas), with adults ranging between 20 (51 cm) and 27 inches (68.5cm). Unlike many of the island forms of Tiliqua gigas, the Merauke Gigas often has a good disposition.

Distribution

The Merauke Faded blue-tongued skink can be found through out southern New Guinea covering the majority of Papua and a small portion of south-eastern Irian Jaya. It is has been reported to inhabit the transitional zones between the coastal plains (frequented by the Irian Jaya blue-tongue Tiliqua scincoides ssp.) and the Tropical forests (frequented by Tiliqua gigas gigas).