Glass Bottles Can Be Lethal To Wildlife & Skinks

January 3, 2022

Discarded empty bottles “can be lethal to wildlife,” Senior Biodiversity Officer Dr Mark Outerbridge said, explaining that liquid at the bottom of a bottle can result in lizards and skinks entering the bottle, and once inside they often cannot get back out, and subsequently die.

In a recent edition of the Envirotalk newsletter, Dr. Outerbridge said, “Not only is litter an eyesore but discarded empty bottles, especially glass bottles, can be lethal to wildlife. This is particularly true for Bermuda’s endemic skinks. Bottles which are left lying on the ground are capable of catching insects and small animals, particularly if the opening is facing uphill so that the top is in a higher position than the bottom.

“Residual liquid at the bottom of a bottle [i.e. soda or beer] attracts insects, which in turn attracts lizards and skinks to feed upon them. Once inside a bottle, the trapped animals find it difficult, if not impossible, to climb out and will quickly die from heat exposure.

“Reptiles are ectothermic [‘cold-blooded’] which means that they find it much harder to regulate their body temperatures than we can as endothermic [‘warm-blooded’] organisms. This makes them especially vulnerable to lethal litter.

“The Bermuda skink [or rock lizard] is one of our island endemics, a unique creature found here and nowhere else on earth. Research indicates they may have been living here for two million years , yet sadly this reptile is so rare now that it has been listed as Critically Endangered under the Bermuda Protected Species Act [2003].

“These days skinks are only found living in rocky coastal areas, mostly along our southern shoreline. The majority of the known sub-populations are small in size and isolated from each other.

“Our skinks are secretive creatures and hide under rocky ledges and inside thickets of coastal vegetation. Unfortunately, what I am finding is that this natural vegetation is also where many of the empty glass bottles are being deliberately hidden. Perhaps this is done to make the litter less unsightly but, whatever the reason, it increases the chances of skinks encountering the bottles.

“This past August I visited West Whale Bay Park in Southampton, an area where skinks have been reported in the past, to see if I could find empty bottles along the coastline. An intern and a volunteer [Miguel Mejias and Luke Foster] helped me to survey a small area of land overlooking the ocean. The vegetation consisted of dense clumps of sea ox-eye with scattered prickly pear cacti, and the total area measured approximately 10 meters by 17 meters.

“After a relatively brief period we managed to collect 127 empty beverage containers [122 glass bottles, three plastic bottles, and two aluminum cans]. Only six had caps in place; the rest were uncapped. Some of the bottles looked as if they had been recently left there; others had clearly been lying in the undergrowth for many years.

“The contents of these containers were closely examined and we discovered that seven bottles contained the remains of wildlife including at least nine skinks, two anole lizards, one mouse, and one land crab. We also found dead pill bugs [aka roly-polys], cockroaches, and the dry pupal cases of flies.

“Two bottles each contained the skeletons of three skinks, which illustrates something local conservationists have suspected for years, that a decomposing skink acts as bait attracting additional skinks into the bottle. Bermuda skinks are opportunistic feeders and will scavenge upon dead animals such as fish and longtail chicks that die in their nests, so a rotting skink will certainly catch the attention of another skink.

“What really troubled me the most about this exercise was the fact that the place superficially looked pristine, but hidden in the undergrowth were so many silent killers. Another worrisome aspect was how many bottles we found in such a small area; nearly one bottle per square meter. Unfortunately this is not the first time that bottles have been found with skink bones inside them.

“Bermuda’s skinks are affected by a number of threats, but the most preventable is death from litter. Please be a part of the solution, not the pollution. You can help by turning empty bottles upside down, and flatten empty aluminum cans by stomping on them, when you find them discarded in the environment [or better yet, take them away and put them in a trash can!] Encourage others to do the same.”

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