Five-Lined Skink

Plestiodon fasciatus
Family

Scincidae (skinks) in the order Squamata (lizards and snakes)

Description

Often called the "blue-tailed" skink, this is Missouri's most common skink. It has shiny scales and a dark ground color with light stripes. Color varies with sex and age. Adult males are uniform olive or tan with a faint dark side stripe and a few light stripes, but during breeding season, the male's head is bright red orange. Adult females are normally brown with a dark brown side stripe, five tan stripes that are more pronounced than in males, and a blue or blue-gray tail. Juveniles are black with five yellow stripes running from head to base of tail, and they have a brilliant, cobalt-blue tail.

Similar species: Broad-headed skinks are very similar, but they lack postlabial scales, or only have one. The five-lined skink, however, has two postlabial scales: these are the scales positioned, one on top of the other, in the space between the lip scales and the ear hole.

Size

Total length: 6½ inches (average).

five-lined_skink_eggs_10-14-2010.jpg

photo of a Five-Lined Skink Guarding Eggs
Five-Lined Skink Guarding Eggs
A female five-lined skink guards her eggs.

Juvenile Five Lined Skink

juvenile skink with bright blue tail
Juvenile Five Lined Skink near Columbia, MO
Habitat and conservation

These skinks live in open woods, near wooded bluffs, and on rocky, south-facing hillsides. They require shelters such as rocks, downed logs, stumps, and standing dead trees. They occasionally climb trees, especially when searching for insects. They can also live around farm buildings, rock gardens, and patios. Active, in our state, from April to October. As with other skinks, the tail breaks off easily, allowing them to escape predators. A new tail grows back later.

Foods

Five-lined skinks eat a variety of insects and spiders.

image of Five-Lined Skink Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide, except for some far northern counties.

Life cycle

In Missouri, egg-laying takes place from late April through June. Females nest in leaf litter or under rotten logs, tree stumps, or rocks, laying 4-14 eggs. She stays with her eggs until they hatch, eating any bad eggs to remove them from the nest. The eggs hatch in 1-2 months. 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 five-lined 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

Lizards are predators that help keep populations of insects and other small animals in balance. They, and their vulnerable eggs and hatchlings, fall prey to hawks, opossums, armadillos, skunks, moles, shrews, snakes, and larger lizards.