Ask an expert: What's the difference between geckos and skinks?

We caught up with Ecologist, Rieke Behrens to ask her the age-old question - What's the difference between geckos and skinks? Here’s what she said.

Skinks and geckos are both lizards, but occupy different habitats. In the process of getting our sites ready for work, these differences help us to find them and make sure they are safely relocated.

Can you spot the gecko hiding on this tree?

Native lizards in New Zealand can be broken down into two categories:

· Geckos are mainly arboreal, meaning they prefer to reside on trees. If they have access to suitable food and shelter, they will often stay on the same tree or group of trees for their entire lives.

· Skinks, on the other hand, live on the ground and hide in small crevices provided by rocks, logs and in urban areas piles of debris, such as tyres and roof tiles. They can also be found in overgrown areas, such as unmown areas along streams.

All native skinks and geckos in New Zealand are endemic, meaning they only naturally occur in New Zealand. The only naturalised introduced lizard in New Zealand is the Plague Skink which are thought to be an accidental introduction from Australia.

Before we start any works, it’s important that assessments are done to find any lizards that may be inhabiting the area. Our ecology team starts by looking into historical records of lizards in the area as they often indicate if lizards have historically been present in the area, especially where the environment has hardly changed, such as remnant bush areas. Although the historical data may suggest no lizards in the area, the ecology team undertakes assessments to check if there are suitable habitats or 'hot spots'. Lizards are a cryptic animal group, which means they are not frequently seen, but that doesn’t mean they are not there. It's hard to know if it is a hot spot until we have actually investigated the area.

A skink captured from a Piritahi site to be relocated.

Where a possible lizard habitat has been identified, our workers are always cautious during site establishments and work closely with the ecology team throughout this process. Although skinks typically hide in ground vegetation, they also are found under old houses, sheds and any rubbish such as old building materials. In areas where vegetation is located next to properties, we also make sure to keep a look out especially during house removals. The construction team may also find a skink or gecko accidentally during site works in which case we contact the ecologist and then follow an accidental discovery protocol and any further instruction provided by the ecologist.

Any lizard caught within the works area will be relocated. The animals may be relocated into suitable habitat in adjacent open space areas or if required by resource consent, a relocation site is specified in agreement with Auckland Council. Such sites may require long term pest control and enhancement through plantings and habitat features, such as logs, which can be achieved in cooperation with community groups and mana whenua.