Saturday, July 10, 2010

Ocellated skink

Ocellated skink (Chalcides ocellatus)
The skink is a common reptile with a long cylindrical body and very small weak legs. These are used to push the animal forward when walking slowly, but when it is escaping from danger it pulls them along its sides and slithers over the ground like a snake.

The skink, known in Maltese as xaħmet l-art, lives in sandy places and in fields.

Skinks feed on a variety of creatures. Their food includes snails, beetles, grasshoppers and small lizards.
It spends much of its time close to stonewalls. It is usually a shy creature but although it is sometimes difficult to spot as it instantly disappears when approached, one can tell that it is present by the sound of its body moving swiftly over dry leaves and other vegetation as it hurries to its burrow.

 I photographed this specimen while it was warming itself in the sun on a stone that forms part of a dry stone wall along a path at Fiddien. I managed to get just one picture before it disappeared between the stones.

Being shy and afraid of other animals is vital for most animals as otherwise they would quickly fall victim to predators. Individuals that are not shy do not become adults and are eliminated from the population before reaching breeding age.

The reverse is true in places where animals do not have to face such dangers. Shy individuals are not removed from the population. Fearless individuals breed over generations the population becomes less shy. Many years ago I visited Ottenby Nature Reserve on the island Oland off the Swedish coast.

The animals in the reserve have been protected for at least two hundred years and have become so tame that both hares and fallow deer, two very shy game species, have lost their fear of man. One particular hare was so tame that I managed to photograph it from less than three metres away.

At the Ghadira Nature Reserve where hunting has not been allowed for thirty years, rabbits are also loosing their fear of man. A few rabbits are so tame that they continue feeding without fear even when approached somebody walks by just a couple of metres away.

This article was published in The Times on 26.05.10

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