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Wildlife Wonders

Today is Five-Lined Skink Day!

Five-lined skink, Eumeces (Plestiodon) fasciatus, the species is derived from the Latin word fascia meaning “stripe”.  The five-lined skink has one of the most extensive ranges of any North American lizard, but are rare and localized in the Northeast.  It is found south to northern Florida, west to Wisconsin and in eastern parts of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.  They are found in southwestern New England and in western Connecticut.  This is the only lizard found in Connecticut.  In CT, the five-lined skink is considered “threatened”.  “Threatened species means any native species documented by biological research and inventory to be likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range within the state and to have no more than nine occurrences in the state…”

A medium-sized lizard it grows to about 8″ in total length.  Often mistaken for a salamander, an amphibian, the five-lined skink is a reptile with scales, large claws on their toes and external ear openings.  The five cream-colored or light brown stripes on their bodies run from the neck to the tip of their tail.  As the males mature the stripes fade and the tail turns gray on their dark brown or blackish body.  Females retain their stripes.  An adult male also has an orange-red face and head.

Reptiles are not generally known for tending to their eggs, but the female skink is an exception.  After depositing typically 9-12 eggs in a small cavity under a rotting log, in leaf litter, moist soil  or beneath boards or rocks the female remains to guard the eggs.  Sometimes females form communal nests where together they alternate between guarding and foraging so the eggs are always protected from predators.  Depending on temperature the incubation period ranges from 24-55 days.  Their parchment-like eggs are thin and easily punctured.  Absorption of water from the soil leads to increased egg size.  The mother will bask in the sun to warm her body and then returning to the nest, circle around the eggs and use the warmth of her body to warm the eggs. (See video – Resources below)  She will also use her snout to roll the eggs.   A day or two after the eggs hatch the female leaves and does not return.  The young are capable of finding food for themselves.

Newly hatched five-lined skinks have vibrant, cream-colored stripes on a dark body and a brilliant blue tail.   The bright colored tail may direct a predator’s attention to that end of their body.  The tail readily breaks off, due to having cleavage points along the tail vertebrae, and thrashes around for several minutes.  This allows time for the skink to escape to safety.  Shortly after the tail is severed it grows back relatively quickly. This adaptation allows the juvenile to survive so they can live to become an adult.  In the wild they live up to 6 years. 

Five-lined skinks consume a wide variety of food, primarily insects and spiders; also snails, snails, small frogs and even young nestling mice.  They in turn are preyed upon by large birds, snakes, raccoons, foxes, opossums, skunks, shrews, moles and even domestic cats. 

During the breeding season males set-up and defend small territories, several yards in diameter, but as summer approaches and throughout the rest of the year home ranges overlay and many individuals can be found around the same location.  Skinks flick  their tongues and press their noses to the ground to detect the very subtle odor of other skinks.  This is especially helpful in the winter when it can lead them to locate and join others in their winter den sites.

Five-lined skinks are active during the day.  If you find a skink leave it alone and observe it from a distance.  In CT, if you see one record where and when it was seen and report it to the DEEP Wildlife Division. 

Resources

BBC’s YouTube Video – Five-Lined SkinkThe Five-Lined Skink
The Five-Lined SkinkThis is a video of the five-lined skink from the BBC’s Life in Cold Blood documentary series.

Stokes Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles by Thomas F. Tyning

Wildlife Fact Sheet – Common Five-Lined Skinkhttps://portal.ct.gov/-/media/DEEP/wildlife/pdf_files/outreach/fact_sheets/flskinkpdf.pdf?la=en

Animal Diversity WebPlestiodon fasciatus (Five-lined Skink)

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