Field studies on a social lizard

home range and social organization in an Australian skink, Egernia major

K. Osterwalder, A. Klingenböck, R. Shine*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

27 Citations (Scopus)


Although most reptiles have polygynous mating systems without long-term pair bonds, one lineage of large scincid lizards in Australia is exceptional in this respect. Reports of complex sociality in the genus Egernia led us to conduct the first radiotelemetric field study of a species within this group. Land mullets (Egernia major) are large (60 cm total length), viviparous lizards from rainforest habitats in south-eastern Australia. To document the spatial ecology and social organization of this species, we captured 12 adult lizards in the Barrington Tops area of eastern New South Wales and implanted them with miniature radiotransmitters. The lizards were released at their sites of capture and located daily for the next 6 weeks. All of the radiotracked lizards had discrete home ranges of approximately 10 000 m2, based around well-defined core areas (approximately 2000-3000 m2). Females tended to move further, and to range over wider areas, than did males. All of the radiotracked lizards lived in social groups consisting of one or more adult males and females plus juveniles of all age classes. Subgroups were apparent within one group of five radio-tagged lizards: individual animals consistently shared their shelter sites and home ranges with one or more specific individuals. Male/female pairings were more frequent than expected under the null hypothesis of random association among individuals. The data in the present study support anecdotal reports of pair bonds in E. major and support suggestions that the social systems of species in this genus are more complex than those of previously studied reptiles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)241-249
Number of pages9
JournalAustral Ecology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Pair bond
  • Radiotelemetry
  • Reptile
  • Sociality
  • Spatial ecology

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