Added 30 December 2008. Last updated 1 January 2009: updated Introduction and Bibliography and added details for L. bowringii, L. koratense and L. quadrupes.

The Scincidae



The genus Lygosoma is distributed across subsaharan African (mainly the east), India and SE Asia. The common name of "Writhing Skinks" arises from their behaviour if seized. In many ways they are typical skinks, with smooth shiny bodies, small eyes and pointed snouts, and living in sand, soil or leaf litter.

Cogger gives some of the characteristics of the genus as follows: postorbital bone present; supranasal scales present; subequal preanal scales; moveable, scaly lower eyelid; closed Meckelian groove.

The exact nature and relationships of the genus Lygosoma are still under debate, with a few species being variously assigned to Lygosoma, Riopa or Mochlus. We have followed here the scheme followed by the TIGR database, courtesy of the J Craig Venter Institute. This scheme places the Fire Skink (formerly Lygosoma fernandi) in the genus Mochlus but retains Lygosoma bowringii (sometimes referred to the genus Riopa).

In the herpetocultural hobby Lygosoma, like many skink genera, is very underrepresented, especially since the Fire Skink has been assigned to Mochlus instead. Rogner (Echsen/Lizards Vol 2) gives care details for Riopa koratense, which is here considered a Lygosoma species.

L. afrum, Peters' Writhing Skink L. albopunctatus, White-Spotted Supple Skink L. angeli, Angel's Writhing Skink
L. anguinum L. ashwahmedhi L. boehmei
L. bowringii L. carinatum L. corpulentum
L. frontoparietale, Taylor's Writhing Skink L. goaensis L. grandisonianum, Lanza's Writhing Skink
L. guentheri, Guenther's Writhing Skink L. haroldyoungi L. isodactylum, Siamese Writhing Skink
L. koratense, Koraten Writhing Skink L. laeviceps, Common Writhing Skink L. lanceolatum, Broadley's Writhing Skink
L. lineata L. lineolatum, Striped Writhing Skink L. mabuiiforme, Mabuya-like Writhing Skink
L. mafianum, Mafia Writhing Skink L. melanopogon L. mocquardi, Mocquard's Writhing Skink
L. muelleri L. paedocarinatum, Abyssinian Writhing Skink L. pembanum, Pemba Island Writhing Skink
L. popae, Pope's Writhing Skink L. productum, Boulenger's Writhing Skink L. pruthi
L. punctata L. quadrupes, Linnaeus' Writhing Skink L. simonettai, Simonetta's Writhing Skink
L. singha L. somalicum, Somali Writhing Skink L. tanae, Loveridge's Writhing Skink
L. tersum, Nakhon Si-Thammarat Forest Skink L. vinciguerrae, Vinciguerra's Writhing Skink L. vosmaeri, Vosmer's Writhing Skink

Scientific Name Common Name Distribution Size Notes
L. afrum Peters' Eyelid Skink, Peter's Writhing Skink Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, E Zambia, Dem. Rep. Congo, Central African Republic Max TL 23cm (m), 22cm (f); avg TL 15-20cm Laurent et al found this species in sandy country, where they dug specimens up from under logs and the roots of grasses. Elsewhere it occupies varied habitats including various savannas, semi-desert and woodland at medium to high altitude, and is found from sea level to 2,300m. It burrows and is crepuscular. Scalation details: rostral separated from the frontonasal; nostril falls between 3 shields; 2 superposed preoculars; dorsal scales smooth, in 26-28 rows at midbody. Other: snout short; eye small; ear opening very small and deeply sunken. Coloration: very variable, see Spawls et al; d usually dorsally plae to dark brown or grey, with regular dark brown and white speckles; ventrum creamy white, blue-white or bright yellow, in the latter case often extending up the sides. Reproduction: 4-7 eggs are laid. [SOURCE: Gans et al, Spawls et al]
L. albopunctatus White-Spotted Supple Skink Sunda, W Malaysia, Vietnam, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Maldives    
L. angeli Angel's Writhing Skink Vietnam    
L. anguinum   Myanmar (Pegu)    
L. ashwahmedhi   India    
L. boehmei   Vietnam    
L. bowringii   India (Andaman Islands), Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, China (Hong Kong), Vietnam, West Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines (Sulu Archipelago), Indonesia (Borneo, Java, Sulawesi, poss. Sumatra), Australia (Cook Islands) SVL 4½cm Introduced recently to Christmas Island. In the Philippines, found under rotting logs and leaves. Scalation details: supranasals narrowly separated or in contact; prefrontals well developed and widely separated; 4 supraoculars; 6-7 labials; scales smooth or tristriate in 24-28 rows at midbody. Other: ear opening small, round and lacking lobules; 10-13 subdigital lamellae on 4th toe. Coloration: [Cogger] dorsally bronze brown; individual scales dark edges and often with dark brown streak on centre, creating fine longitudinal dark brown dorsal lines in some individuals; black dorsolateral strip from behind eye to tail base, may be narrowly edged above with cream; white stripe on upper lip merges with white on throat and side of neck, the whole often spotted heavily with black; flanks same colour as dorsum but often heavily flecked or spotted with black; pale lemon yellow or white area behind forelimb; tail brown, sometimes with dark lateral stripe; mature males often have deep reddish-brown tail base. Alcala cites the coloration as dorsally yellowish to dark brown, with the ventral area orange to pink and a pinkish groin, but agrees in other details with Cogger. Reproduction: no details available. [SOURCE: Alcala, Cogger]
L. carinatum   Vietnam    
L. corpulentum Fat Skink Vietnam    
L. frontoparietale Taylor's Writhing Skink, Pygmy Supple Skink Thailand    
L. goaensis   India (inc. Goa)    
L. grandisonianum Lanza's Writhing Skink Somalia    
L. guentheri Günther's Writhing Skink India (inc. Bombay area and N Karnala)    
L. haroldyoungi   Thailand    
L. isodactylum Siamese Writhing Skink, Even-Toed Supple Skink C Thailand, Cambodia    
L. koratense Koraten Writhing Skink Thailand 20cm SVL Very small ear opening. Coloration: dorsally brownish, reddish-brown to reddish-violet; flanks often yellow-green; ventrum yellowish white, with dark speckling confined to the wide tail base. [SOURCE: Rogner]
L. laeviceps Common Writhing Skink Somalia, Ethiopia   Laurent et al found this species in sandy country, under thorn bush debris but also often in discrete tunnels: some individuals were also in tree stumps. Snout is depressed and wedge-shaped. Scalation details: rostral separated from the frontonasal; nostril falls between 2 shields; 2 superposed preoculars; 4 labials anterior to subocular; frontal very narrow posteriorly. Dorsal scalation: dorsal scales tricarinate. [SOURCE: Gans et al].
L. lanceolatum Broadley's Writhing Skink Mozambique (Bazaruto Archipelago)    
L. lineata   India (Bombay District)    
L. lineolatum Striped Writhing Skink Myanmar    
L. mabuiiforme Mabuya-Like (Writhing) Skink Somalia, Kenya Max TL 36¼cm (m) Long-tailed diurnal species. In Somalia Laurent found this hard to collect as individuals would dwell under the shade and protection of various thorn bushes. Apparently a slow mover. Spawls et al cite its habitat as dry thornbush. Scalation details: pair of supranasals separate the rostral from the frontonasal. 26-30 scale rows at midbody; preanals with median pair slightly enlarged. Other: snout moderate; ear opening large with 2 anterior lobules; limbs well developed. Coloration: (adults)overall faintly striped or grey; each scale is lighter at the base, the light area increasing in size toward the tail so that scales on the tail appear to be light with dark edges; supralabials and infralabials white, each barred posteriorly with brown or black; likewise lateral scales are white, each barred posteriorly with black; ventrum white. (juveniles) black crown of head mottled with pale brown; occipital scale white with dark centre; pale brown vertebral line 1 scale wide runs from behind occipital to tail base, flanked on either side by dorsolateral line of same colour but 2 scales in width and running from last supraocular; limbs black; tip of tail red, each scale edged with brown; ventrally white except for tail, which is coral pink. Gans et al cited their specimens as having 2 dark vertebral stripes and a pair of similar lateral stripes. [SOURCES: Gans et al, Spawls et al]
L. mafianum Mafia Writhing Skink Tanzania (Mafia and Kisuju Islands off the coast) TL 12¼cm  Found in coastal woodland and savanna. Scalation details: rostral projects onto snout along broad, slightly curved posterior edge; dosal scales three-keeled at midbody but smooth elsewhere; 26-28 rows at midbody. Other: head dorsally rather flat; 8 subdigital lamellae on 3rd and 4th fingers, 11-14 subdigital lamellae on 4th toe, 6-7 on 5th toe; scales on palms and soles juxtaposed and domed. Coloration: dorsally grey-brown, paler on sides; adults also irregularly streaked with dark brown; ventrally white. Each dorsal scale may have a large dark median streak; flanks may have numerous dark and light streaks. [SOURCE: Spawls et al].
L. melanopogon   Indonesia (Borneo), New Guinea    
L. mocquardi Mocquard's Writhing Skink Sudan    
L. muelleri   W Australia    
L. paedocarinatum Abyssinian Writhing Skink Ethiopia, Somalia    
L. pembanum Pemba Island Writhing Skink Kenya, Pemba Island TL 12cm  Found in coastal regions of mainland as well as Pemba Island. Habitat is woodland at sea level. Scalation details: 22-24 rows at midbody. Other: snout depressed and wedge-shaped; eye small, with scaly lower eyelid. Coloration: adults yellow brown, often speckled, juveniles sandy yellow. [SOURCE: Spawls et al]
L. popae Pope's Writhing Skink ??    
L. productum Boulenger's Writhing Skink Somalia    
L. pruthi   India (Tamil Nadu)    
L. punctata   Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Vietnam    
L. quadrupes Short-Limbed Supple Skink, Linnaeus' Writhing Skink, Oriental Slender or Supple Skink S China (inc. Hong Kong), Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, W Malaysia, Indonesia (Java, Sumatra), Philippines (Palawan, Calamian Islands) SVL 6¼cm  Found under rotting logs and other rotting vegetation in forest and cultivated areas at low level to sea level. Scalation details: supranasals absent; frontal shield neither constricted nor medially divided; parietal shields present. Other: eardrum sunk. Coloration: dorsally overall reddish brown. [SOURCE: Alcala].
L. simonettai Simonetta's Writhing Skink Somalia SVL <9cm  The specimens found by Lanza were in an area of red sandy soil, suurounded by remnants of xerophilous open woodland. Lanza noted that the species is generally cryptic, moving slowly on all fours but when hurrying sometimes using just forelimbs, with the hindlimbs pressed along the tail. He described it as proceeding like a snake. Stomach remains indicated insectivorous diet. Scalation details: frontoparietals paired; supranasal completely separate from nasal; supranasals meet medially; 6-7 supraciliaries; 7 supralabials; 6-7 infralabials; 24-26 (usually 26) scale rows at midbody; 80-85 transverse dorsal rows (between nuchals and tail base); 81-86 ventral transverse rows (between 1st pair mentals and precloacal scales). Other: pentadactyle limbs; 13-16 subdigital lamellae on 4th toe. Coloration: black head; neck whitish to hazel; body and tail dorsally very dark with close whitish dots in regular longitudinal rows in life (in alcohol, brown with dark and light dots). [SOURCE: Lanza 1979].
L. singha   Sri Lanka    
L. somalicum Somali Writhing Skink Somalia TL 15cm Laurent et al found this species in sandy country, where they dug up individuals from depths of up to 50cm beneath thorn bush debris. Scalation details: rostral separated from the frontonasal; nostril falls between 2 shields; 2 superposed preoculars; 3 labials anterior to subocular; frontal moderately broad. Dorsal scalation: dorsal scales smooth; 26-28 rows at midbody. Other: snout is wedge-shaped and depressed; eye small with scaly lower eyelid. Coloration: dorsally brown, golden brown or grey brown, with series of fine longitudinal black stripes; head flecked with black; broad dark lateral stripe; tail, usually bright orange-red, pink or pinkish-brown; ventrally cream or white. [SOURCES: Gans et al, Spawls et al]
L. tanae Loveridge's Writhing Skink, Tana River Writhing Skink Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania TL 15cm Found in coastal and dry savanna at low altitude: little known of natural history, presumed similar to other species. Scalation details: 22-24 rows at midbody. Other: eye small, with transparent brille in lower eyelid; snout slightly depressed; legs very small; tail up to half TL. Coloration: dorsally overall brown or grey; lighter brown flecks on supralabials and side of neck; throat and infralabials white with heavy dark brown spotting. [SOURCE: Spawls et al].
L. tersum Nakhon Si-Thammarat Forest Skink Thailand, Malaysia    
L. vinciguerrae Vinciguerra's Writhing Skink Ethiopia, Somalia   Wedge-shaped snout. Scalation details: rostral separated from frontonasal; nostril lays in a nasal; 1 preocular. Coloration: 2 narrow dorsal and 2 wider lateral dark stripes. 
L. vosmaeri Vosmer's Writhing Skink India    


Notes on a herpetological collection from the Somali Republic, Carl Gans, Raymond F Laurent and Hemchandra Pandit, Royal Museum of Central Africa, Terveuven, Belgium 1965.

A Field Guide to the Reptiles of East Africa, Stephen Spawls, Kim Howell, Robert Drewes, James Ashe, Academic Press 2002.

A Photographic Guide to Snakes and Other Reptiles of Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, Merel J Cox, Peter Paul van Dijk, Jarujin Nabhitabhata and Kumthorn Thirakhupt, New Holland Publishers, 2006.

Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia, Harold Cogger, 6th edition, Reed New Holland, Sydney 2000.

Guide to Philippine Flora and Fauna, Volume X: Amphibians and Reptiles, Angel C Alcala, University of Philippines, 1986.

"Lygosoma simonettai, a new black-headed skink from Somalia (Reptilia: Scincidae)", Benedetto Lanza, Monitore zoologico italiano (Italian Journal of Zoology), N. S. Supplemento XII, 15.5.79, No 4: 25-32.

Echsen 2 [Lizards Vol 2], Manfred Rogner, Eugen Ulmer, 1994.



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