Leopard skink (Ctenotus pantherinus)

Barrow Island leopard skink in habitat

Top facts

  • The leopard skink is a large, stocky species that is coppery-brown in colour with darkly outlined white spots on its body.
  • Unlike other Ctenotus species, the leopard skink is active by both day and night, adapting to foraging in the cooler temperatures of night in order to exploit water-rich termites as a food source.
  • The leopard skink subspecies Ctenotus pantherinus ocellifer is known only from a single specimen collected in New South Wales.
  • Relying mainly on spinifex grass habitats, the leopard skink has the largest range of all the Ctenotus species. 
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Leopard skink fact file

Leopard skink description

GenusCtenotus (1)

Well known for its unusual night-time foraging behaviour (4), the leopard skink (Ctenotus pantherinus) is reddish-brown in colour and has many rows of darkly outlined white spots running along its body (3) (5). Large in size and stoutly built (3), the leopard skink has four subspecies: Ctenotus pantherinus acripes, Ctenotus pantherinus calx, Ctenotus pantherinus ocellifer and Ctenotus pantherinus pantherinus (1). The Barrow Island subspecies, C. p. acripes, differs from the rest in having black claws, ridged scales under its toes and feet, and an increased number of scales on its body (6)

Also known as
Barrow Island leopard skink, leopard ctenotus, panther skink.
Egernia whitei carnarae, Lygosoma breviunguis, Lygosoma ocellatum, Lygosoma ocelliferum, Lygosoma pantherinum.
Length: 18 - 22 cm (2)
Snout-vent length: 9.4 cm (3)

Leopard skink biology

Very little information is available on the biology of the leopard skink (2).

Ctenotusspecies are known to be active solely during the day time, but the leopard skink is unusual within its genus as it also remains active at night to forage. This remarkable behaviour is believed to be due to its dietary preference for termites, which are nocturnal and occur in higher numbers in the cooler temperatures of the evening (4) (8). Between 70 and 90 percent of this species’ invertebrate diet is made up of the water-rich insect, and the leopard skink’s ability to exploit this food source by adapting to the constraints of low night-time temperatures also lowers the risk of predation by birds. Although this species remains more active during the day time when temperatures are high, foraging primarily takes place at night (4).

Ctenotus skinks respond rapidly when disturbed, retreating quickly from the source into a burrow, if available. Many skink species are able to shed their tails as an escape mechanism from predators, and it is possible that the leopard skink also displays this behaviour when captured. Skinks are oviparous, laying eggs instead of giving birth to live young (9).


Leopard skink range

Of all the Ctenotus species, the leopard skink has the largest range (4), and is found across Australia in New South Wales, Northern Territory, Queensland, and Southern and Western Australia (1). C. p. ocellifer is known only from a single specimen from New South Wales (2). C. p. acripes is the only leopard skink subspecies to occur on Barrow Island, off the coast of Western Australia (5), although this subspecies has also been recorded in parts of Queensland and Northern Territory (6)


Leopard skink habitat

Members of the Ctenotus genus thrive in sandy or stony, arid environments (6) (7). The leopard skink is reported to occur in spinifex grassland habitats (4), particularly where Triodia cover is present (2) (7).


Leopard skink status

The leopard skink is not yet classified on the IUCN Red List. 


Leopard skink threats

Although there are no known threats to the leopard skink at present, the subspecies C. p. ocellifer is listed as endangered in New South Wales. Identified threats include habitat fragmentation and degradation caused by the clearing of its habitat, grazing and badly managed fire regimes, as well as predation by foxes and cats, and drought (2).


Leopard skink conservation

Suggested recovery actions for the leopard skink in New South Wales have been to control pest populations of foxes, cats and rabbits, manage fire regimes so as to not burn all habitats at the same time, maintain vital spinifex cover and prevent clearing of this species’ habitat (2).


Find out more

Find out more information on the leopard skink:

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A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
Active at night.
An animal that reproduces by laying eggs, which hatch outside the mother’s body.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.


  1. The Reptile Database (April, 2013)
  2. New South Wales Government: Threatened species profile - Leopard ctenotus (April, 2013)
  3. Wilson, S. (2005) A Field Guide to Reptiles of Queensland. New Holland Publishers, Sydney.
  4. Gordon, C., Dickman, C. and Thompson, M. (2010) What factors allow opportunistic nocturnal activity in a primarily diurnal desert lizard (Ctenotus pantherinus)? Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A,156: 255-261.
  5. Moro, D. and MacAulay, I. (2010) A Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Barrow Island. Chevron Australia, Perth. Available at:
  6. Storr, G. (1978) Notes on the Ctenotus (Lacertilia, Scincidae) of Queensland. Records of the Western Australian Museum, 6(3): 319-332.
  7. Wilson, S. (2012) Australian Lizards: A Natural History. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
  8. Robin, L., Dickman, C. and Martin, M. (2011) Desert Channels: The Impulse to Conserve. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.  
  9. Michael, D. and Lindenmayer, D. (2010) Reptiles of the NSW Murray Catchment: A Guide to Their Identification. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.

Image credit

Barrow Island leopard skink in habitat  
Barrow Island leopard skink in habitat

© Greg Harold / Auscape International

Auscape International
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Tel: (+61) 2 4885 2245
Fax: (+61) 2 4885 2715


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