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Art Lander’s Outdoors: The distinctive Five-lined skink, a harmless, beneficial lizard found statewide


They are reptiles, with long tails, distinctive coloration as juveniles, and a carnivorous appetite.

Hint: it’s not a snake.

The Five-Lined Skink (Eumeces fasciatus) is a lizard, one of five species of skinks found in Kentucky. Secretive, like most reptiles, the Fine-Lined Skink spends most of its time crawling under rocks, leaf debris or woodpiles, but on a warm spring day, the distinctively-marked reptile may be observed sunning itself. (Photo by John B. Lander)

The Five-Lined Skink (Eumeces fasciatus) is a lizard, one of five species of skinks found in Kentucky.

Secretive, like most reptiles, the Fine-Lined Skink spends most of its time crawling under rocks, leaf debris or woodpiles, but on a warm spring day, the distinctively-marked reptile may be observed sunning itself.

Their preferred habitat is moist woodlands, but the Five-Lined Skink is sometimes found in suburban flower gardens and around the foundations of old garages, outbuildings or sheds.

Five-lined skinks hibernate underground during the winter and are active April through October.

Skinks are members of family Scincidae.

The Five-Lined Skink is the most common skink in the eastern U.S., and found statewide in Kentucky.

Skink fossils date to the Miocene geologic period, some 23 million years ago.

Size and Description

The Five-Lined Skink is 4 1/2 to 8 1/2 inches long, with smooth, shiny scales, and small legs with five toes.

Its body is brown, with tan-colored stripes from nose to base of the tail. Juveniles have bright blue tails. Males are generally larger than females.

The Five-Lined Skink is similar to the Southeastern Five-Lined skink (Eumeces inexpectatus).

The range of the Southeastern Five-Lined Skink extends from Virginia to Mississippi and south throughout all of Florida. Since this species in uncommon to rare in Kentucky, and found only in the southern reaches of the state, it is a species of greatest conservation need under Kentucky’s Wildlife Action Plan.

Food Habits

The Five-Lined Skink flicks its tongue to smell other skinks and food.

This carnivorous lizard eats spiders, earthworms, crustaceans, millipedes, as well as smaller lizards and frogs, and sometimes baby mice.

Reproduction

Able to reproduce at two years of age, the Five-Lined Skink makes its nest in hollowed out loose soil, leaf litter, rotting logs or under rocks.

The Five-Lined Skink is similar to the Southeastern Five-Lined skink (Eumeces inexpectatus), a species uncommon to rare in Kentucky, and found only in the southern reaches of the state. (Photo provided)

During breeding season, the head and cheeks of males changes to bright orange.

The male chases away other males if they enter the breeding zone, which may be only two to three yards in diameter. The male courts the female by scratching and bobbing his head.

If the female accepts his courtship, he will wrap his tail around hers in a mating embrace that lasts five to 10 minutes.

In May or June females lay about a dozen half-inch long whitish eggs.

She protects the eggs during the incubation period, rolling them over several times before they hatch in 28 to 49 days. Soon afterward, in just a few days, the female leaves the young to fend for themselves.

Predation

As can be easily imagined, the small lizards fall prey to fury varmints — raccoons and opossums — as well as hawks, red foxes, and rat snakes.

A unique adaptation often saves them from death. Five-Lined Skinks are able to drop their tails. The portion of the tail that falls off quivers and thrashes about, catching the attention of the predator while the skink heads for cover. A new tail grows back quickly.

Have you seen a Five-Lined Skink?

They are beneficial creatures, consuming large amounts of insects and spiders, and pose no threat to humans or pets.

 Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

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One Comment

  1. Philip Kluesener says:

    we have these little guys all around our cabin in the lake cumberland area and were curious to exactly what they were. Thanks for the info now we know their name. PS we think they are cute and eating spiders is defiantly a plus

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