If you’re a nature lover in North Carolina, you’ve likely encountered some interesting reptiles during outdoor adventures. But have you ever stopped to appreciate the diverse range of lizards that call this Tar Heel State home?
From the speedy and sleek Anoles to the fascinating and fearless Fence Lizards, North Carolina is teeming with these captivating creatures.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some of the most common lizards you might encounter in North Carolina and explore what makes them so unique and fascinating. So, grab your binoculars, put on your hiking boots, and get ready to discover the world of lizards in North Carolina!
11 Lizards in North Carolina
North Carolina has over 30 species of lizards, including well-known favorites like the Green Anole and Five-lined Skink. Most of these species can be found throughout the state, preferring diverse habitats such as woodlands, forest edges, grassy fields, and more.
Below are some of the most common lizards in North Carolina, along with some brief information about each species:
1. Green Anole
- Scientific Name: Anolis carolinensis
- Size: Adult green anoles can reach up to 5-8 inches.
- Diet: Arthropods and other small insects such as flies, butterflies, tiny grasshoppers, and crickets.
- Habitat: Often seen on vines and shrubs, around old abandoned buildings, fences, and basking on trees.
- Fun Fact: Green anoles can change their color from their natural bright-green coloration to yellow, gray, brown, or even a color in-between.
The Green Anole lizard is easily identifiable by its bright green and green-brown coloration and long toes. They may also have a pattern resembling dark-gray slate streaks or spots.
On the other hand, When these lizards have a brown coloration, they often have a lighter streak running down their back.
These tiny diurnal lizards are found throughout the state, often seen around the Southern piedmont and the coastal plain of North Carolina. Thanks to their adhesive toe pads, they are excellent climbers and are often seen running along the ground or perched atop a tree branch.
2. Fence Lizard
- Scientific Name: Sceloporus undulatus
- Size: Adults range from 4- 7.5 inches in length.
- Diet: A variety of insects, such as beetles, ants, spiders, ladybugs, moths, grasshoppers, and stick bugs.
- Habitat: Can be found on grasslands, near mountains, rocky areas, forests, and shrublands with a temperate climate.
- Fun Fact: A protein in the fence lizard’s blood can kill the bacterium that causes Lyme disease.
The Fence Lizard, also known as the Eastern Fence Lizard, can be found throughout North Carolina in habitats such as forests, mountains, and rocky areas. They have flattened bodies with long tails, which they can shed if threatened. Their coloration ranges from gray to brown, with distinctive spiny scales on their back.
Fence Lizards have a unique defense mechanism. When threatened, they puff up their bodies and do push-ups to intimidate their attacker. They can also change their color slightly to blend in with their surroundings.
3. Texas Horned Lizard
- Scientific Name: Phrynosoma cornutum
- Size: Adults range between 3.5 to 5 inches
- Diet: They are mostly insectivorous, feeding on termites, ants, grasshoppers, and beetles.
- Habitat: They prefer arid and semi-arid areas with scattered vegetation and large open grounds.
- Fun Fact: When threatened, Texas Horned Lizards can squirt a stream of blood up to five feet away from their eyes! This not only startles potential predators but also helps them escape danger.
Initially found throughout the western United States, the Texas horned lizard was brought to the southeastern Coastal Plain through pet trading. As a result, members of this species are only found in a few areas across the country.
The Texas Horned Lizard stands out among other lizards in North Carolina because of its fiery-looking appearance. These harmless creatures have a few prominent horns, two on their side and a few on the side of its head. They also have rows of spiky scales on their sides, which resemble an armadillo.
These lizards come in various colors, including gray, brown, and red, with darker markings along its side and back which help them blend in with their surroundings. This is great when they are trying to hide from predators or ambush their prey.
4. Coal Skink
- Scientific Name: Plestiodon anthracinus
- Size: Adults are 3.5-6 inches long, with the females slightly larger than the males.
- Diet: Arthropods such as termites and earthworms.
- Habitat: Often found near springs, rocky areas, wooded hillsides, and humid regions.
- Fun Fact: This lizard can detach its tail as a defense mechanism, allowing it to escape from predators, leaving the tail behind as a distraction.
The Coal Skink, also known as the Coal Blue-tailed Skink, is a small lizard found in the eastern United States, primarily in the Appalachian Mountains.
This relatively small lizard has a slender body and long, thin tail, making up almost half its total length. Its legs are short, and its toes are long and slender, which allows it to climb trees and other surfaces with ease.
The Coal Skink is named for its dark coal-like coloration. Its body is typically dark gray or black, and it may have lighter gray or white speckles or bands on its sides. Its tail is a bright blue color, a distinguishing characteristic of this species.
5. Southeastern Five-Lined Skink
- Scientific Name: Plestiodon inexpectatus
- Size: An adult’s average size ranges from 5.5 to 8.5 inches.
- Diet: Eats insects, different species of spiders, and other invertebrates.
- Habitat: They prefer sandy, dry, and arid regions, as well as wooded environments.
- Fun fact: As juveniles, these lizards have a bright, metallic deep blue tail that fades as they mature.
Distinguishable by its five light stripes and a thin central stripe, the southeastern five-lined skink is one of few species that can be found in North Carolina, throughout the eastern and central parts of the state. You can often see them basking on rocks, old abandoned buildings, boardwalks, road cuts, bridge foundations, and stonewalls.
During the breeding season, the males often develop a deep orange-brown color on their heads for a period of time. This is a sign that they are ready to mate and will often result in aggressive behavior between male skinks.
The southeastern five-lined skink’s lifespan is up to 10 years in captivity if well cared for and six years living freely in the wild. And just like other lizards in North Carolina, it guards its eggs fiercely and remains attentive until they hatch.
6. Six-lined Racerunner
- Scientific Name: Aspidoscelis sexlineatus
- Size: Adults can grow up to 9.5 inches long.
- Diet: Feeds on insects and spiders.
- Habitat: Prefer dry open lands with loose soil and a little vegetation, often hiding under rocks, pools, and creeks.
- Fun fact: This species is among the fastest-moving lizards in the world. It can run up to 6 ft in a second, about 18 mph!
The six-lined racerunner lizard is the most remarkable of all North Carolina Lizards. That’s because it has six bright-colored stripes on its back and can reach impressive speeds of 18 mph if threatened by predators, which are mainly snakes.
It’s also one of the most common lizards in the state, often spotted in most of Piedmont and the central and southern Coastal Plain. It features a slim stripped body and a long tail for balance and speed.
The six-lined racerunner comes in a variety of colors ranging from brown to black and olive with beautiful velvety skin. They are active during the day and sleep at night, often burying themselves in the sand.
7. Eastern Slender Glass Lizard
- Scientific Name: Ophisaurus attenuatus longicaudus
- Size: Adults can measure up to 42 inches.
- Diet: They feed on anything that can fit in their mouth, such as crickets, insects, beetles, grasshoppers, and other small lizards.
- Habitat: Inhabits prairies with tall grasses, oak and pine tree barrens, and sandy or dry,well-drained soils.
- Fun fact: These lizards can autotomize, meaning they can break off their tail to escape predators. And while the tail will grow back, but won’t look the same as the original one.
The slender glass lizard is the longest-known lizard of all North Carolina’s species, with adults measuring up to 42 inches! It is characterized by its long, slender body and a long tail, and it’s often mistaken for a snake by people because it’s legless. But unlike snakes, these beautiful lizards propel themselves forward, laterally pushing their bodies against vegetation; they do not use only their bellies when moving like snakes.
They can be found in the Coastal Plain and southern Piedmont of North Carolina, mostly living in open areas with tall grasses and some trees. Their lifespan in the wild is up to 30 years, often depending on the availability of food and water.
8. Little Brown Skink
- Scientific Name: Scincella lateralis
- Size: Measures an average of 3 inches long.
- Diet: They feed on spiders, insects, and isopods.
- Habitat: Reside in areas with loose soil and abundant leaf critter.
- Fun Fact: The little brown skinks have clear scales at the lower eyelids, which helps them see with their eyes closed.
As their name suggests, these are the smallest lizard species in North Carolina, together with the Texas horned lizard. Measuring only 3 inches in length, this tiny but lively skink has a dark-colored stripe running down the center of its back and a lighter-colored stripe on each side.
Their coloration ranges from coppery brown and golden brown to black, with a white or yellow underside. The color difference is based on its habitat, changing from light to dark according to the amount of sunlight and vegetation.
These little critters, also known as ground skins, are not arboreal- meaning they don’t climb trees- but instead love to hide in the cracks and crevices of rocks, logs, and leaf litter. Their predators include wolf spiders, birds, cats, shrews, skunks, armadillos, and larger spiders.
9. Broad-headed Skink
- Scientific Name: Plestiodon laticeps
- Size: Can grow up to 13 inches in length
- Diet: Feeds on grasshoppers, beetles, earthworms, and cockroaches.
- Habitat: Easily found in and around forests, swamps, and abandoned buildings.
- Fun Fact: The male’s heads increase in size and become a reddish-orange color during the mating season to increase their chances of being picked by the females.
The Broad-headed Skink is one of the largest lizards in North Carolina, with its large size and specialized labial scales distinguishing it from other skinks living in the area. The adult skink species can vary in coloring, ranging from olive-brown to gray, black, brown, and more. These reptiles are found throughout North Carolina, except in the northern mountains.
These skinks have a life cycle of up to four years in the wild and eight years in captivity. During this time, they lay eggs, usually found underneath logs and sawdust piles.
Unfortunately, these lizards are often hunted by cats, birds, and larger reptiles as prey. Despite their size and coloring, they still face risks of predation in their natural habitat.
10. Eastern Glass Lizard
- Scientific Name: Ophisaurus ventralis
- Size: Adults can grow up to 42 inches
- Diet: Feeds on spiders, insects, snails, small snakes, small rodents, and other smaller lizards.
- Habitat: You can find them in pine forests and open woodlands in southern coastal plains.
- Fun Fact: When threatened, these lizards often bite their predators as a defense mechanism.
The broad-headed skink is one of the largest species of lizards found in North Carolina. And just like their brothers, the slender glass lizard, these large reptiles resemble snakes because they don’t have legs. They have external ear openings, moveable eyelids, and inflexible jaws for capturing prey.
The broad-headed skink displays unique coloration, which includes light brown, yellowish, and greenish tones. However, they usually lack the dark dorsal stripe on their back, often seen in other North Carolina species. These lizards are diurnal, with males generally being more active.
11. Mimic glass lizard
- Scientific Name: Ophisaurus mimicus
- Size: They grow between 15- 26 inches in length.
- Diet: They feed on snails, insects, small snakes, raccoons, and other small lizards.
- Habitat: They live in pine forests and open woodlands.
- Fun Fact: The name Mimic Glass lizards comes from the fact that these lizards can detach their tails from their bodies which break into several pieces just like glass does.
The mimic glass lizard is a species native to North Carolina, sporting a unique color pattern in shades of browns and blacks. Most notably, the lizard has three to four dark stripes above the lateral groove along its back that are sometimes highlighted with a black or dark brown mid-dorsal stripe running down its length.
These lizards can be found in woodlands, wetlands, grassy meadows, and even coastal areas throughout North Carolina. They usually bask in the sun during the day but will take cover and hide when they sense predators such as raccoons, snakes, birds of prey, or opossums nearby.
Mimic glass lizards reproduce by laying eggs and have an average lifespan of 10 years in the wild. Males tend to be more active than females due to higher testosterone levels, which also gives them brighter colors. The mimic glass lizard is adapted for life in North Carolina’s various habitats, where it typically finds vegetation along streams or rivers for cover and protection from predators.