A RARE crocodile skink that was seized by Customs at Heathrow Airport has given birth at Blue Planet Aquarium, Cheshire Oaks.
The bizarre-looking reptile was part of a consignment of illegally imported reptiles that were intercepted by Customs officials earlier this year.
As it was impossible to return them to the wild, officials decided to rehome the female skink along with a male at the award-winning aquarium.
Originally from New Guinea, the reptiles get their name from their similarity to their much larger crocodilian cousins.
Skinks lay a single egg which is then guarded by both parents for up to 60 days before hatching. Babies use a special “egg tooth” to emerge from their shells and are born with a reddish orange head.
As they mature they develop the distinctive bright orange colouration around the eyes of the adults.
Blue Planet Aquarium herpetologist Jo Chattell said he was delighted with the birth but concerned about the ongoing problem of illegally imported reptiles.
“The baby is doing extremely well and growing quickly and we’re all extremely pleased with his progress.
“However the fact that he’s here at all is due to the illegal transportation of rare and exotic animals and is a major cause for concern.
“Fortunately we have been able to provide the skinks with a purpose-built enclosure which closely mimics their wild habitat. If they had not been seized by Customs then there is the real chance that they simply would not have survived,” he added.
Normally extremely shy, relatively little is known about the species although their conservation status is described as “vulnerable”. However captive individuals have lived for 15 years or more.
They are the only known lizards – other than geckos – that can vocalise and they make a loud squawking sound when startled or restrained.
Skinks also “play dead” when threatened, in some cases so realistically that captive individuals have apparently been removed from their displays only to suddenly “come back to life”!