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Tiliqua rugosa

Tiliqua rugosa (Trachydosaurus rugosus)

Superregnum: Eukaryota
Regnum: Animalia
Subregnum: Eumetazoa
Cladus: Bilateria
Cladus: Nephrozoa
Superphylum: Deuterostomia
Phylum: Chordata
Cladus: Craniata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Infraphylum: Gnathostomata
Superclassis: Tetrapoda
Cladus: Reptiliomorpha
Cladus: Amniota
Classis: Reptilia
Cladus: Eureptilia
Cladus: Romeriida
Subclassis: Diapsida
Cladus: Sauria
Infraclassis: Lepidosauromorpha
Superordo: Lepidosauria
Ordo: Squamata
Subordo: Scincomorpha
Superfamilia: Scincoidea

Familia: Scincidae
Subfamilia: Egerniinae
Genus: Tiliqua
Species: Tiliqua rugosa
Subspecies (4): T. r. asper – T. r. konowi – T. r. palarra – T. r. rugosa

Tiliqua rugosa (Gray, 1825)

Holotype: BMNH 1946.8.5.1.
Type locality: “New Holland [=Australia]”.


Trachydosaurus rugosus Gray, 1825: 201 [original combination]

Primary references

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. BHL Reference page.


Uetz, P. & Hallermann, J. 2022. Tiliqua rugosa. The Reptile Database. Accessed on 23 May 2021.
Sanderson, C., Lloyd, R., Craig, M. & Gaikhorst, G. 2017. IUCN: Tiliqua rugosa (Least Concern). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T109481513A109481530. DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-3.RLTS.T109481513A109481530.en

Vernacular names
English: Shingleback
magyar: Kurtafarkú szkink
日本語: マツカサトカゲ

Tiliqua rugosa, most commonly known as the shingleback lizard 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 recognized 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]

Tiliqua rugosa asper:[8] eastern shingleback – eastern Australia
T. rugosa rugosa: bobtail or western shingleback – Western Australia
T. rugosa konowi:[9] Rottnest Island bobtail or Rottnest Island shingleback – Rottnest Island, Western Australia
T. rugosa palarra:[10] northern bobtail or Shark Bay shingleback – Shark Bay, Western Australia

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 meters per day.[13]

These lizards show strong home range site stability for up to several years and often multiple lizards can utilize 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

It has a triangular head and a bright blue tongue,[4] fitting in a bright pink mouth.[5] Its short, stumpy tail is similar in shape to its head. This is a defence mechanism, to confuse predators, 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 are 10-15 years, but some individuals are known to live for 50 years in the wild.[17]
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, where males are stockier and have a larger head. However, females can grow ultimately bigger than the males.
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 are pretty peaceful to each other.[4] 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

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 areas. Skinks will bite humans if threatened. These bites, although not venomous, will hurt like other animal bites and cause the affected area to swell or bruise.[5]
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 parasitize 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, giving birth to broods of one to four relatively large offspring. Females can give birth to a single infant that, on average, is 35% of her body weight.[20] The tradeoff for small litter size and large body size aids their survival chances.[4] Unlike most lizards, the species tends to be monogamous, and stay in pairs that continue outside the breeding season of September through November; pairs have been known to return to each other every year for up to 20 years.[4][21] The gestation period is usually 3-5 months, and breeding season starts around January until April.

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.[22]

Forming monogamous pair bonds is a central facet of the sleep 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 sleepy 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.[23]

There are many reasons for why monogamy is especially popular in sleepy 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 fertilization, 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.[23]
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[24][25] have been shown to be an artefact of the seasonally varying sensitivity to anesthetics.[26]

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.[27]

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.[28]
Visual perception

It has been discovered that sleepy lizards maintain the ability to navigate home when displaced from their home range. This remarkable ability is due to visual cues from light polarization 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 categorized under Least Concern. Its population is stable and for the most part there are no significant threats. However, the subspecies T. r. kunowi, located on Rottnest island, is considered Vulnerable. This is likely due to high rates of collection by humans as well as attacks by domesticated pets like cats. The pet trade must be properly monitored in the future to further assess stability of the population.[29] Due to their prevalence among paved property, they are often turned into roadkill.

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.
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
City of Wanneroo (2009). "Bushland Critters" (PDF). Retrieved 9 November 2010.
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.
"Shingleback Lizard". The Australian Museum. Retrieved 28 March 2020.
Tiliqua rugosa at the Reptile Database
"Noongar Word List | Kaartdijin Noongar". Retrieved 28 March 2020.
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.
Mertens, R. (1958). "Neue Eidechsen aus Australien". Senckenbergiana Biologica (in German). 39: 51–56.
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.
Cogger, Harold G. (2000). Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia. Sanibel Island, FL: Ralph Curtis Books. ISBN 0-88359-048-4.
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.
Sleepy lizards' monogamous lives tracked by researchers ABC News, 26 December 2015. Retrieved 16 April 2017.
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,
Wilson, S. & Swan, G. (2003). A complete guide to reptiles of Australia. New Holland Publishers, Sydney. ISBN 1 876334 72 X
"Archived copy". Archived from the original on 22 November 2008. Retrieved 12 October 2009.
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.
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.
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: 101859. doi:10.1016/j.ttbdis.2021.101859. ISSN 1877-959X.
Tuesday, 27 February 2007 Jennifer ViegasDiscovery News (27 February 2007). "Lizard suffers world's worst pregnancy". Retrieved 1 February 2022.
Bull, C. Michael; Cooper, Steven J. B.; Baghurst, Ben C. (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. S2CID 12509852.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.

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.

Further reading
Wikispecies has information related to Tiliqua rugosa.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Tiliqua rugosa.

Lysaght, Gary-Jon; Corvo, Shannon (19 February 2020). "Fleas and ticks may be creating new sub-species of shingleback lizards". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 20 February 2020.

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