Great desert skink (Egernia kintorei)

Great desert skink
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Great desert skink fact file

Great desert skink description

GenusEgernia (1)

The great desert skink is a relatively large and robust lizard (3) (4), with the rather cylindrical body, smooth scales and short limbs typical of skinks (5). The rounded, tapering tail is slightly longer than the head and body, and in good seasons becomes swollen at the base with stored fat reserves. The upper surface of the body varies in colour from bright orange-brown to dull brown or light grey, while the underside is yellow, cream or grey (2) (3) (4) (6) (7). The male great desert skink tends to be heavier than the female, with a broader head, and often has blue-grey flanks, whereas in the female and juvenile the flanks are either plain brown or bear orange and cream vertical bars (3) (7).

Also known as
great desert-skink, Kintore’s egernia, Kintore’s skink.
Snout-vent length: 20 cm (2)
Total length: up to 44 cm (3)
up to 350 g (3)

Great desert skink biology

The great desert skink lives in large, complex burrow systems, up to ten metres in diameter and over a metre in depth, and often with several entrances. It is an unusually social species (9), and the burrows may be occupied by family groups of up to about ten, sometimes for several years in a row. The great desert skink may also take over, adapt and enlarge the burrow of another species, and occupied burrows can be easily identified by large, communal latrines on the surface, where the group regularly defecate (2) (3) (4) (6) (7). The great desert skink feeds on a wide variety of small prey, particularly termites, as well as cockroaches, beetles, spiders, ants, and occasionally small lizards. Flowers, leaves and fruits may also be taken (3) (4) (6) (7). Most foraging takes place in the early evening or at night during the hotter months, and the species may hibernate within special chambers inside the burrow during the cooler months (4) (6).

The female great desert skink gives birth to between one and seven live young between December and February (3) (7). The young skinks have a snout-vent length of around seven to eight centimetres at birth (3) (9), and remain in the burrow with the adults until the second or third year (3) (4) (6). The great desert skink is quite long-lived, and may potentially reach over 20 years in captivity (3).


Great desert skink range

Once quite widespread across the sandy and gravelly desert regions of central Australia, the great desert skink now has a more patchy and restricted distribution across parts of Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory (2) (3) (4) (7) (8).


Great desert skink habitat

This species is found in a variety of desert habitats on sandy, clay and loamy soils (2) (8), typically occurring in sandplains vegetated by spinifex (Triodia spp.) and scattered shrubs, as well as in adjacent dunefields (3) (4) (6) (7) (8). The great desert skink generally prefers areas of habitat that have been burnt within the last 15 years (3) (4).


Great desert skink status

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


Great desert skink threats

The great desert skink is a culturally important species for a number of Aboriginal groups, and has also traditionally been an important food source (3) (4). However, since the arrival of Europeans in Australia, an alteration in traditional burning regimes has led to more infrequent but larger, more intense fires, with potentially devastating effects on skink populations. Introduced predators such as cats and foxes are also a threat, while rabbits may dig up the skink’s burrow systems and overgraze its habitat (3) (4) (6) (7) (8), putting further pressure on its already fragmented and declining population. At Yulara (near Uluru) and within Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, increasing tourism development has resulted in skinks abandoning burrows and also being killed on roads, and there are concerns over the effects of water extraction and fire management programs in the area (3).


Great desert skink conservation

In 1999, a recovery team of scientists, community groups and Aboriginal organisations was set up to help coordinate conservation efforts for the great desert skink (3) (4), and in 2001 a recovery plan for the species was adopted (3). The great desert skink occurs in a number of protected areas (7) (8), including Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, a World Heritage Site (10), where a long-term monitoring program is underway (4) (8). Further research into the species’ range, populations, ecology and biology has also been recommended. Control of introduced predators is likely to be needed to protect the remaining skink populations, and the development of an appropriate fire management strategy, involving the regular burning of small patches to create a habitat mosaic and to prevent destructive large fires, will also be critical (3) (4) (6) (8), and should additionally benefit many other species (3). Finally, it is likely that the involvement of local communities will be important in the recovery efforts for this large desert skink (3) (6) (8).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

To find out more about the conservation of the great desert skink see:

For more information on conservation in Australia see:



This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:


Hibernation is a winter survival strategy in which an animal’s metabolic rate slows down and a state of deep sleep is attained. Whilst hibernating, animals survive on stored reserves of fat that they have accumulated in summer.
Snout-vent length
A standard measurement of body length of reptiles. The measurement is from the tip of the nose (snout) to the anus (vent), and excludes the tail.


  1. IUCN Red List (October, 2009)
  2. Cogger, H.G. (1996) Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia. Fifth Edition. Reed International, Chatswood, New South Wales.
  3. McAlpin, S. (2001) The Recovery Plan for the Great Desert Skink (Egernia kintorei) 2001-2011. Arid Lands Environment Centre, Alice Springs. Available at:
  4. Australian Government: Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts - Australian Threatened Species: Great Desert Skink Egernia kintorei (October, 2009)
  5. Halliday, T. and Adler, K. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  6. WWF-Australia: National Threatened Species Day 2006 Factsheet - Great desert skink and changing fire patterns (October, 2009)
  7. Department of Natural Resources, Environment and the Arts, Northern Territory Government: Threatened Species of the Northern Territory - Great Desert Skink, Tjakura, Egernia kintorei (October, 2009)
  8. Cogger, H.G., Cameron, E.E., Sadlier, R.A. and Eggler, P. (1993) The Action Plan for Australian Reptiles. Australian Nature Conservation Agency, Canberra. Available at:
  9. Chapple, D.G. (2003) Ecology, life-history, and behavior in the Australian scincid genus Egernia, with comments on the evolution of complex sociality in lizards. Herpetological Monographs, 17: 145 - 180.
  10. UNEP-WCMC: Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory, Australia (October, 2009)

Image credit

Great desert skink  
Great desert skink

© Greg Harold /

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