Five-Lined Skinks

Five-lined skinks are native to Frederick County. Often seen darting to a hiding place when disturbed, the American five-lined skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) likes to sun itself. Adults are about six to nine inches long, with five light colored or gold lengthwise stripes on a dark body. Males are slightly larger than females.

Adults develop reddish heads, with males having more brilliant red heads or jaws during the spring mating season. Younger animals and juveniles have blue tails. Although they are sometimes referred to as "Blue-Tailed Skinks," that name is inaccurate for the local species, since another smaller lizard native to Christmas Island is the blue-tailed skink. Older males often lose their stripes and have dark brown or black bodies.

Skinks prefer habitat with nearby cover, including wooded areas with leaf litter, rocky areas, and dense foliage. After mating in spring, the females lay about a dozen half-inch eggs in a hole, often under a fallen log or buried in a damp, secluded spot. Males are territorial, driving off other adult males, with pheromones playing a part in distinguishing adult males from females and juveniles.

Females guard their eggs until they hatch one to two months later in late spring to summer, with the hatch taking longer when temperatures are low. Warmth absorbed by females basking in the sun is brought back to the nest. After hatching, the young lizards are left to fend for themselves. Skinks feed on insects and spiders, and may also eat earthworms, slugs, and snails. Predators in the wild include foxes, opossums, snakes, and hawks.

Many kids, pets, and predators will find that catching a skink by the tail causes the lizard to lose its tail and escape, while the would-be captor is occupied with the decoy tail left wriggling. The blue color of the tail is thought to help capture the attention of a potential predator. The lizard will grow a new tail.

Five-lined skinks are not poisonous or aggressive towards humans. They can, however, bite when handled, although rarely hard enough to break the skin. Skinks are beneficial by helping to control insects and spiders. Research has also shown the five-lined skink possesses a digestive protein that kills the Lyme disease bacterium when it eats a deer tick carrier.

Article by Tom Anderson, FCFCDB Board member

Pager header photo credit: frederick.forestryboard.org - Tom Anderson

Nature note for 5/15/2021