Broad-Headed Skink

Plestiodon laticeps
Family

Scincidae (skinks) in the order Squamata (lizards)

Description

Missouri's largest forest-dwelling skink. It is a large, smooth-scaled lizard with a large, wide head. Color varies with sex and age. Adult males are usually olive brown with few or no stripes along the side, but during breeding season they develop an orange-red swollen head. Adult females nearly always have light and dark stripes down the back and sides, with a wide, dark stripe down each side being particularly prominent. Hatchlings are jet black with five narrow yellow lines along the back and sides, with a bright blue tail.

Similar species: Five-lined skinks are very similar, but they have two postlabial scales (positioned, one on top of the other, in the space between the lip scales and the ear hole); postlabial scales are usually absent or only single on the broad-headed skink.

Size

Total length: 10½ inches (average).

broadheaded_skink.jpg

Photo of a broad-headed skink, a striped, brownish lizard, held in a hand
Broad-Headed Skink

broad-headed_skink_on_tree_1-2-15.jpg

Photo of a broad-headed skink on a tree trunk in Florida.
Broad-Headed Skink
Broad-headed skinks spend much of their time in large trees but will come to the ground to search for insects.

broad-headed_skink_in_hands_1-2-15.jpg

Photo of a female broad-headed skink held in a person's hands.
Broad-Headed Skink
Broad-headed skinks have been dubbed "scorpions" but are completely unrelated to real scorpions and are certainly not poisonous.

Broad-Headed Skink

Broad-Headed Skink in Maries County
Broad-Headed Skink
Broad-Headed Skink in Maries County

Broad-Headed Skink

Broad-Headed Skink with a reddish head.
Broad-Headed Skink
Habitat and conservation

This skink prefers edges of woodlots and forests. Broad-headed skinks spend much of their time in or near large trees, stumps, larger logs, or dilapidated farm buildings. They often reside in large dead trees, using abandoned woodpecker holes or other cavities. They come to the ground to search for insects. Active during the day from April to October. Like other skinks, the tail breaks off easily, allowing them to escape predators. A new tail grows back later.

Foods

Insects.

image of Broad-Headed Skink Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

The southern two-thirds of the state.

Life cycle

Courtship and mating apparently take place in late April and in May. There is reason to believe that this species creates communal nests, with nests containing more than 10 eggs holding the clutches of more than one female. Two different nests in Cole County were found to contain 22 eggs. The strikingly different coloration of juveniles is believed to be a way of protecting them from territorial males who, during breeding season, might attack them if they looked like adult broad-headed skinks.

Human connections

Some people have dubbed them "scorpions," but they are completely unrelated to those spider-like creatures and are certainly not poisonous. But that colorful nickname indicates that Missourians have long been intrigued by these fascinating and harmless lizards.

Ecosystem connections

Like most lizards, this species preys on insects and other small targets and is preyed upon by larger predators, including mammals and birds. This species often makes its home in abandoned woodpecker cavities, an example of the many interconnections in nature.