The Tussock skink (Pseudemoia pagenstecheri) is a small, striped lizard found only amongst grasses and sedges. Its stripes camoflauge it and its sinuous movements allow it to move rapidly out of sight at the approach of danger. It can be difficult to distinguish this skink from its close relatives.
Tussock Skinks are very similar to other members of the genus Pseudemoia. The dorsal surface of back, head, limbs and tail light greyish to dark olive brown. Usually this species possesses a broad black vertebral stripe along the middle of the back to the base of the tail. Additional black edging to scales usually produces narrow lines running along the top of the back.
Most specimens have white flecks on some dorsal scales, in some specimens arranged along the body, resulting in light edges to the black dorsal lines. A narrow buff dorsolateral stripe runs along scale row 4 (counted from the middle of the back) , or sometimes row 4 and the lateral edge of row 3. This stripe is edged above and below by black. A straight edged light grey (females) or orange/red (breeding males) stripe runs along the middle of the sides on one or more of scale rows six to eight, fading anterior to the forelimb but reappearing as a pale crescent under the eye. The lower lateral line usually has no dark stripe along its lower margin.
Upper lateral scales between the two light stripes with numerous dark-edged scales. Underside pale grey to pale yellowish, sometimes weakly flushed with pink or coppery colouring posteriorly, becoming white on the throat and chin. Scales on the soles of the feet brown, those under the toes dark brown to black. Scales on the back with a matt or slightly glossy surface. Frontoparietal scales paired. Tussock Skinks possess a stronger, less disrupted striped colour pattern than Southern Grass skinks. Male Tussock Skinks are smaller than females, having a maximum head and body length of 51 mm compared to the females at 58 mm. Tasmanian specimens achieve a greater size than their mainland counterparts. Breeding males lack red ventral colouration found in Southern Grass skinks.
A shy, elusive lizard found exclusively in tussock grassland habitats where trees are absent or form only a well spaced woodland. They prefer areas where the grass is medium to tall. Tussock skinks are remarkably well adapted to living amongst tussocks, moving their elongate bodies sinuously to disappear rapidly at the first sign of danger. Male Tussock skinks are thought to live for up to four years, although females may live for as long as seven years. They are thought to reach maturity at 2-3 years of age. This species appears in some literature as Pseudemoia entrecasteauxii form 'A'.
This species, like the other Tasmanian members of the genus Pseudemoia, possesses an advanced placenta with which the female parent transfers nutrients to the developing embryo through most of the development. Sperm is stored in the oviducts over winter before ovulation occurs in spring. From 3-11 young are born in Summer.
The available habitat of this species has been very much reduced since European settlement, (99.5% of native grasslands already lost) and suitable habitat is very poorly represented in reserves. The protection of the remaining grasslands is essential to the survival of this small lizard. Landowners and property managers can assist in the conservation of this small species by controlling gorse and by fencing off areas of native grasses.
This species appears to meet the criteria to be listed as vulnerable under the Threatened Species Act.
Habitat destruction through overgrazing, inappropriate fire regimes and the spread of gorse all pose threats to the survival of this lizard.