Built for success: Distribution, morphology, ecology and life history of the world's skinks

David G. Chapple, Alex Slavenko, Reid Tingley, Jules E. Farquhar, Marco Camaiti, Uri Roll, Shai Meiri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


In animals, the success of particular lineages can be measured in terms of their number of species, the extent of their geographic range, the breadth of their habitats and ecological niches, and the diversity of their morphological and life-history traits. Here, we review the distribution, ecology, morphology and life history of skinks, a diverse lineage of terrestrial vertebrates. We compared key traits between the three subfamilies of skinks, and between skinks and non-scincid lizards. There are currently 1743 described species of skink, which represent 24% of global lizard diversity. Since 2010, 16% of lizard descriptions have been of skinks. The centres of skink diversity are in Australia, New Guinea, southeast Asia, Oceania, Madagascar and central Africa. Compared with non-scincid lizards, skinks have larger distributional ranges, but smaller body sizes. Sexual size dimorphism is rare in skinks. Almost a quarter (23%) of skinks exhibit limb reduction or loss, compared with just 3% of non-scincid lizards. Skinks are more likely to be viviparous (34% of species) compared with non-scincids (13%), and have higher clutch/litter sizes than non-scincids. Although skinks mature later than non-scincids, their longevity is similar to that exhibited by other lizard groups. Most skinks (88%) are active foragers, and they are more likely to be carnivorous than non-scincids. Skinks are more likely to be diurnal or cathemeral than other lizard groups, but they generally have lower field body temperatures compared with non-scincids. The success of skinks appears to be both a result of them hitting upon a winning body plan and ecology, and their capacity to regularly deviate from this body plan and adapt their ecology and life history (e.g. repeated limb reduction and loss, transitions to viviparity) to prevailing conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere10791
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number12
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2023


  • Scincidae
  • ecology
  • geographic range
  • life history
  • lizard
  • reproduction
  • thermal biology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Ecology


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