Show-off Ernie hisses and pokes

Last updated 07:24 21/06/2013
ernie stand
An eastern blue tongue skink, similar to two recently moved to Brooklands Zoo, shows off the blue tongue that gives it its name.

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Brooklands Zoo's latest arrivals have borrowed more than their names from Sesame Street's resident odd couple, Bert and Ernie.

Just like Bert, who's famous for his bad temper, these Australian skinks behave badly when upset - poking out their iridescent blue tongues and hissing.

Assistant zoo curator Eve Cozzi said the behaviour was a defensive mechanism for the eastern blue tongue skinks, which arrived from Hamilton Zoo last month.

"When they feel like they need to defend themselves they will hiss or they will poke their dark blue tongue out," she said.

Head keeper Louise McKenna said the tongue was quite a sight but it was not there just for show.

"It's a nice blue colour. They don't have teeth as such but they have a very strong jaw with bony ridges in their mouths in place of teeth and they can give you a good nip." They can grow up to 60cm long and weigh up to 500g and visitors are often quite surprised at how big they are.

Ms Cozzi said the two males, both 23 years old, were settling in well at Brooklands but were quite shy. In the wild they were solitary creatures. Only Ernie is currently on display."

Depending on their personalities, either Bert or Ernie will play a more public role.

"The long-term aim is to develop one blue tongue that is used to being handled so that we can bring him out from time to time and let the public get a closer interaction with him," she said.

Mrs McKenna said even though they came with dietary information from Hamilton, Brooklands staff were trialling different foods to see what the skinks' favourites were. "We have just discovered that Ernie loves mushrooms."

And Ms Cozzi was suspicious they might be backing the French. "They love eating snails."

Sharyn Smart is a Witt journalism student

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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