Tanimbar Island Blue Tongue Skink (Shea, 2000)
Tiliqua scincoides chimaerea

Text Written by James Wilson

The Tanimbar Island blue-tongued skink was discovered in the mid-90's, and has been waiting for a scientific designation since. It appears that its wait is now over. Dr. Glen Shea of the University of Sydney has officially described this insular island form as a third scincoides subspecies under the name Tiliqua scincoides chimaerea. The name refers to the Chimaera, which was a monster from Greek Mythology that used a combination of physical traits from other animals. Dr. Shea felt that this subspecies incorporates traits that are individually seen in other blue-tongues, but are found, in combination, only in the Tanimbar Island blue-tongue. Dr. Shea chose to use the common name, Sunda blue-tongued skink because this skink is not only found on Tanimbar Island, but also on the tiny Baber Islands just off of Tanimbar Island's west coast. However, the name, Sunda, applies to the whole south-western archipelago of Indonesian islands (from Sumatra to Timor) and gives the false impression of a massive range in which this skink, or any other blue-tongue, does not even exist. Tanimbar and the Baber Islands are not part of the Sunda or Lesser Sunda Island chain, but are actually part of the Moluccas island chain. So as to not create any more confusion, and also because Tanimbar Island is still, by far, the largest land mass in this subspecie's range, I have chosen to leave it with the original common name.

There is published literature that suggests that the Tanimbar Island blue-tongued skink might be a man made hybrid, linking it to an unholy hybridization between the ultra rare and expensive Western blue-tongued skink (Tiliqua occipitalis) and one of the more common species. At this point, we must ask ourselves one simple question. What would be the motivation for someone, with access to these rare and valuable lizards, to breed them with anything but other Western blue-tongues? Any other breeding would be an act of futility, producing offspring of little or no monetary value. It is safe to say that the Tanimbar Island blue-tongue is not a hybrid, and is just one of the first of a long list of new island specific insular species yet to be discovered. They were imported in small amounts in the mid 90's, often as the Dwarf blue-tongued skink, causing many people to confuse them with the endangered Adelaide Pygmy blue-tongued skink (Tiliqua adelaidensis). Tanimbar blue-tongues rarely come into the U.S. anymore, with the decline in numbers most probably being due to the very aggressive temperament that came with them (They were not the placid blue-tongued skinks that keepers had grown accustomed to in the past). Captive-bred specimens are occasionally available, and become quite tame if they are handled regularly as babies. However, if these babies are not handled, they will act as though possessed by the devil, hissing whenever their keeper approaches and urinating, defecating, or biting if their warning is not heeded.

Description

The Tanimbar Island blue-tongued skink is usually banded in golden brown and a silvery grey, with a yellow gold coloration that extends from its belly up on to its lower jaw and chin. The scalation is extremely smooth and glossy, with the free edges of the dorsal scales being rounded. Its forelimbs are basically patternless, and lighter in color than the hind limbs. The head also lacks any flecking or temporal streaking. There are occasional specimens that are white on the entire ventral surface, and banded with silver and light grey. These unusual looking skinks appear to be anerytheristic, with many of them also appearing to be hypomelanistic. It is not yet known if these animals are from a population of skinks restricted to a certain local, or if they are simply a second color phase that has no geographic basis. The anterior temporal scales on the Tanimbar blue-tongue are elongated and much longer than the other temporal scales. Unlike the other scincoides, the Tanimbar has no more than 33 rows of mid-body scales. The tail accounts for 50-60% of the snout-vent length. Tanimbars are smaller than most other blue-tongues with adult sizes ranging from 15-17 inches (38-43 cm). Litters of up to 10 live young are normally produced. However, I know a breeder in San Diego whose Female Tanimbar produced 18 healthy babies in a single litter, which is most certainly a record for this small subspecies.

Distribution

The Tanimbar Island blue-tongued skink's range is restricted to the Tanimbar and Baber Island groups located at the lower end of the Molucca Island chain in Indonesia.