This is not a snake: Bali media misidentifies lizards on multiple occasions, why that’s dangerous according to a resident reptile expert

See the animal pictured above? It is a skink, not a snake. We repeat, to set the record straight, it’s a SKINK, not a SNAKE. 

For some reason, local media in Bali has seemed to have trouble making the distinction. And truth be told, this misidentification could be to the animal’s detriment. 

Tribun Bali, one of Bali’s leading local newspapers, ran a story in October 2016 about a skink found in a west Bali police commissioner’s home. The newspaper called the animal a “strange” snake.

Skink in Bali news
Pictured is actually a skink called Lygosoma quadrupes. It has a long cylindrical body and very short legs. 

Nusa Bali ran a similar story, explaining that the police commissioner believed there must be some sort of connection between the animal’s appearance and his new Ganesha statue—thus making the critter seem a bit creepy and mystical. 

Skink in Bali news

The next story playing up the “strangeness” of the animal was published by Tribun Bali in November 2016. The newspaper posted a photo of a skink and claimed in its headline that the lizard was as venomous as a cobra and a bite would be deadly—this fear-mongering article was of course shared across social media. 

Skink in Bali news
Pictured is actually skink, Takydromus sexlineatus.

While at least the second story correctly identified the skink as a lizard and not a snake, you should know that the animal actually is “harmless,” says resident Bali reptile expert, Ron Lilley. 

We showed pictures from both news reports to Lilley, who decisively told us both animals pictured are skinks, not snakes.

And what exactly are skinks (to those following along at home that are just as confused as Bali media)?

“Skinks are characterized by their long bodies and relatively short legs. Some skinks have very tiny legs, and in other areas of the world, they have lost one or both sets altogether, making people think they are snakes,” Lilley explained to Coconuts Bali in an email. 

Lygosoma bowringii. Photo: Ron Lilley
tiliqua merauke
Tiliqua merauke. Photo: Ron Lilley

There are many types of them and skinks in Bali are often “seen in the rice fields, plantations, and people’s gardens” Lilley also wrote.

“All skinks are completely harmless. Being so common and abundant, skinks form an important part of the diet of many snakes (such as venomous krait), birds, and mammals.”

No skinks that occur in the wild in Bali are under protection, according to Lilley. 

A Takydromus hatchling. Photo: Ron Lilley
Eutropis multifasciata. Photo: Ron Lilley

It’s easy to see why they are commonly confused with snakes, but why should it matter that Bali media misidentified them?

Other than the blatant disregard for fact checking, saying an animal is dangerous, when it’s not could very well endanger it (i.e. people fearing it could make them more inclined to simply kill instead of capture and relocate). And not speaking of conservation related to the species is very careless, says Lillley.

“I find any sort of media reporting of animals that sensationalize them without giving a conservation note (e.g. they might be rare, or even protected, and their collection does no good to the environment) completely unnecessary these days,” Lilley told us. 

“Education is the answer, but this aspect of reportage seems to be considered as boring by many of the media. 

“TV shows here and elsewhere that portray animal encounters as sensational to showing how ‘daring’ someone is when provoking an animal to strike or bite, are in my opinion, unnecessary at best and dangerous for the both people and animals at worst.”

So, what should you do if you encounter one of these creatures? Whether it’s a harmless skink or a snake that could be dangerous, Lilley wants you to take the same advice.

Lilley says, simply, “Leave them alone!”

“Snakes and lizards do not want to be near humans, as people are a potentially giant threat to them. Unfortunately people tend to kill or maim those things they do not understand.

“People can often do ‘self-help’ and gently coax an unknown animal back into the garden out of their lives rather than killing it.”

And when in doubt, get in touch with Lilley himself or like organizations such as Bali Reptile Rescue. Lilley says he tries to always be ready to help. 

“A photo to someone like me will quickly determine how dangerous (or not) it is, and then someone with the necessary skills can come and safely remove it if it is actually dangerous, or just making people afraid,” says Lilley. 

Lilley, 62, has been living in Bali for the past 14 years. While it was wild and captive komodo dragons that first brought the conservation biologist and EFL licensed teacher to Indonesia in 1987, Lilley has been busy working with a number of international conservation NGOS since, including WWF, TNC, CI, FFI, and MAC. He is currently still doing some language testing and teaching for Indonesians and is cooperating with the local nature conservation NGO, LINI

But in Bali, he is arguably best known locally for his “reptile patrol” work, which includes captures and relocations of snakes and other animals, talks to schools and the public, as well as publishing articles on the wildlife, herpetological info for Bali and Indonesia as a whole, and snake proofing advice. 

His big projects at the moment is a photo record of bali reptiles and other wildlife and working with local doctors to promote safe practices for treating snake bites. 

Get in touch with Ron Lilley here:

Mobile (Indonesia) and WhatsApp: (+62) 0813 3849 6700


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