Key to Identifying Tasmanian Lizards

Many species of lizard occurring in Tasmania are so similar that even experts have difficulty telling them apart. Unfortunately, reptiles mostly use the senses of taste and smell to identify friend or foe and colour can be very variable within species. It is difficult to identify many species of lizard without some knowledge of the terms used. We have provided a diagram showing the arrangement of head scales which may be used in conjunction with other characteristics to identify skinks.

It can be difficult to identify many species of Tasmanian skink without looking at them in the hand, but where animals are found can often give a good indication of what the specimen is likely to be. Only rarely do very similar species occur together. With time, almost anybody can identify most species of lizard by looking at them where they are found. Reptiles are now protected throughout Tasmania.

Key to the Lizards of Tasmania

To use this key, start at the beginning (1a) and read both parts (a and b) of each couplet to make a decision. The information is cumulative, so if you do not start at the beginning and work your way through, you risk misidentifying the lizard.

The distinctive Southern water skink which in Tasmania is found only on Rodondo Island, has not been included in this key.

1a.Scales smooth, without a fold of skin under the throat: Go to 2.
1b.Scales rough, with a fold of skin under the throat: Mountain Dragon.

2a.Parietal scales completely separated by the interparietal, not contacting each other: Go to 3.
2b.Parietal scales in contact behind the interparietal scale: Go to 5.

3a.Stocky build, two narrow lines of spots down the back, limbs not noticeably short: Go to White's skink.
3b.Very short legs, without two narrow lines of spots down the back: Go to 4.

4a.Heavily built, head much wider than neck, broad blue tongue: Blotched Blue-tongue.
4b.Build slender, snake-like. Narrow tongue, long tail, head not much wider than neck: She-oak skink.

5a.Limbs short, nasal scales contacting, lower lips barred: Bougainville's skink.
5b.Limbs well developed, nasal scales separated, lips not barred: Go to 6.

6a.Frontoparietals fused into a single large scale: Go to 7.
6b.Frontoparietals separated, two distinct scales: See key to identifying grass skinks.

7a.Rich brown above, without spots, strong stripes or bands of colour running through or around the ear. No trace of a vertebral stripe. Ear tiny, toes short: Delicate skink.
7b.Other colour patterns. If rich brown above, side of neck spotted, banded or striped around the ear: Go to 8.

8a.Pattern consisting of strong, longitudinal stripes including a strong pale dorsolateral stripe in the middle of scale row three and an elongate body. Found in eastern and northern Tasmania at low altitudes: Three-lined skink.
8b.Pattern consisting of flecks, spots, stripes, or a combination. Well-developed limbs. If strongly striped, occurring in south-west Tasmania: See key to identifying Snow skinks, Niveoscincus.

Head Scales 

The head scales of Tasmania's reptiles can be important aids to identification. The frontoparietal scale in particular varies among species which otherwise look similar, such as the Grass skinks and the Three-lined skink.

Left: All Grass skinks in the genus Pseudemoia have divided frontoparietal shields.
​Right: The frontoparietal scales are fused into a single shield on the Three-lined skink.​

In some species, the distance between the nasals is important in allowing species to be differentiated, such as the Metallic skink and the Delicate​ skink.

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