Visit Missouri and you’ll see rolling hills, swampy river bottoms, prairies, and miles of forest and ancient mountains. Here in this mid-southern state there are 11 species of lizards that make themselves at home. They live under rocks, in grassy fields, and woodlands.
Continue reading to learn more about the 11 species of lizards in Missouri. You’ll discover facts about their appearance, habitat, and behavior. You’ll also learn where to find them in the wild.
11 Lizard Species of Missouri
1. Prairie Lizard
Scientific name: Sceloporus consobrinus
The Prairie Lizard is a smallish terrestrial lizard that grows to be about 5 inches long. They are muscular and quick runners thanks to their strong front and back legs. Males are very territorial during the breeding season.
They bob their heads up and down and do a push-up dance to attract the opposite sex. Identify a male based on the blue patches on his throat and belly. Prairie Lizards live in the transition zone between grasslands and the woodlands in Missouri.
They are most active during the day and are often spotted basking on rocks or sun-drenched logs. Spiders and insects, including ants and beetles, make up most of this lizard’s diet.
If threatened by a predator, it can reject its tail and scurry away. The tail continues to twitch, a move that usually distracts the predator.
2. Slender Glass Lizard
Scientific name: Ophisaurus attenuatus
The Slender Glass Lizard might look more like a snake than a lizard at first glance. This is because glass lizards have no legs. They’re more closely related to lizards than snakes, however, because of several other traits.
Slender Glass Lizards have earholes, limited jaw movement, and moveable eyelids, all physical traits snakes lack.
Identify Slender Glass Lizards by way of their coloration. They are light in color, usually orange or yellow, with black stripes running vertically along the sides from the head to the end of the tail. This legless lizard is the only one of its kind in Missouri.
It eats small insects, bird eggs, and any small prey it can swallow. They can drop their tails if they feel threatened. It’s no small feat.
The Slender Glass Lizard’s tail can be up to 2/3 of their body length! They grow up to 26 inches long.
3. Eastern Collared Lizard
Scientific name: Crotaphytus collaris
The Eastern Collared Lizard is a medium-sized lizard that averages between 8 and 14 inches long. They are covered in colorful patches and stripes that help them stand out from their environment. Males have a light blue and yellow body, a gray head, and a clearly defined black and white collar around the neck.
Females look similar but are less vibrant. They are most common in the rocky glades and hillsides in southern Missouri. Eastern Collared Lizards are active during the day and can be spotted basking on rocks and watching for prey.
They eat large insects, spiders, and occasionally other lizards. Their population declined dramatically as a result of fire suppression policies in the state, but recent changes have reversed that trend. Now that fire has been reintroduced, problematic plants that prevent Eastern Collared Lizards from thriving have died off.
4. Texas Horned Lizard
Scientific name: Phrynosoma cornutum
You might know the Texas Horned Lizard as the “horny toad,” but it’s definitely not a toad. This flat-bodied lizard has a short tail that may cause some observers to confuse it with an amphibian. It lives on rocky hillsides and sunny, open glades.
They nestle down into small rocks or substrate to camouflage themselves while waiting for prey to pass by. They’re called “horned lizards” because of the hornlike protrusions around its head that give it a dragon-like appearance. They come in shades of gray, brown, and tan. Colors depend on what kind of environment they live in.
Ants are their favorite food and the Texas Horned Lizard’s preferred hunting strategy is to follow a trail of ants and pick them off one by one. If they are threatened by a predator, they’ll puff themselves up with air in order to look bigger. If that isn’t met with success, they can squirt droplets of blood from their eyes.
5. Great Plains Skink
Scientific name: Plestiodon obsoletus
The Great Plains Skink is a flat, large lizard that grows up to 11 inches long. They live in far western Missouri and are under a watch because they may be vulnerable to risks of extinction. Agriculture and prairie destruction pose a risk to this lizard’s habitat.
Recognize both males and females based on their sleek, smooth body, triangle-shaped head, and interesting scale pattern. The body is tan or light brown and each scale is edged in dark black or dark brown. Young lizards have bright blue tails and yellow spots on their head.
It eats common prairie insects like grasshoppers and beetles. They are somewhat reclusive and prefer to live underneath grass thatch and in thickets or piles of brush.
6. Coal Skink
Scientific name: Plestiodon anthracinus
Coal Skinks are not jet-black as their name suggests. Instead, they are dark brown or tan. Black stripes run the length of each side of its body. Males and females look the same except during breeding season, when the scales on males’ heads turn orange.
They rely on the moist conditions of the forests and open woodlands. It’s very rare because it spends most of its life underneath the leaf litter on the forest floor. Coal Skinks have small arms and legs so most of their locomotion comes from moving their tails.
If the skink is threatened, this skink’s tail will drop off and twitch, distracting the predator. Wildlife biologists estimate that the Coal Skink’s territory extends throughout southern Missouri. Next to nothing is known about their breeding habits because of just how rare they are.
7. Six-lined Racerunner
Scientific name: Aspidoscelis sexlineatus
It’s called the Six-lined Racerunner for a reason. This lightning-fast lizard is just 8 inches long, but it runs up to 18 mph! Identify one by way of its dark gray coloring and the six yellow stripes that stretch from its head down to its tail.
Like most small lizards, the Six-lined Racerunner can drop its tail if it feels threatened by a predator. It also can grow the tail back. Its belly color depends on if it’s a male or a female.
Males’ bellies are blue-gray, while females’ bellies are white or pink. They zoom between shallow burrows, basking rocks, and will even run directly into streams to escape predators.
The Six-lined Racerunner is divided into two subspecies that live throughout most of Missouri. Eastern Six-lined Racerunners are more common in the southeast and east, while Prairie Racerunners live everywhere but northern Missouri.
8. Broad-headed Skink
Scientific name: Plestiodon laticeps
Those just beginning to learn lizard identification will enjoy searching for the Broad-headed Skink. Males have a bright orange triangular head and a robust tan body, and females are tan all over with vertical stripes from head to tail. Both sexes have smaller limbs and are somewhat ‘flat.’
Since they average 10.5 inches long, they’re easier to spot than other small lizards in Missouri. They are aggressive outside of the breeding season, but females nest together. Their shared nests can contain over a dozen eggs.
Broad-headed Skinks’ favorite habitats are forests. They thrive while scurrying underneath leaf litter to find insects, worms, and spiders. Trees are game too; this lizard has been spotted hanging out high in trees while hunting for its next meal.
9. Little Brown Skink
Scientific name: Scincella lateralis
The Little Brown Skink is aptly named. It’s just 4 inches long and has scales in multiple shades of brown. The back and head are chestnut, while the underside is light tan or white.
There is a dark brown lateral stripe on each side that runs from the nose to the tail. Little Brown Skinks are the only non-climbing skink species in Missouri. It prefers to stay on the ground where it roots around under thickets, leaf litter, and dead trees.
They eat small insects and worms. Almost any animal larger than them eats them as a meal; some birds grab Little Brown Skinks instead of worms!
10. Prairie Skink
Scientific name: Plestiodon septentrionalis
Prairie Skinks are native to the wide-open prairies and grasslands of western Missouri. They thrive in the sunny open landscape there. Identify one based on its lithe, thin body, dark gray and black striping, and stubby legs.
They are at risk from human development of the prairies for agriculture and residential housing. In the wild, they live under rocks for most of the time but are active at dawn and dusk, a habit called being “crepuscular.” Spiders and small insects make up most of their diet.
They can eat crickets and mid-sized beetles since they average about 6 inches long. In Missouri, there are two subspecies. Northern Prairie Skinks are bigger and more darkly colored.
They live in the northwest corner of Missouri. Southern Prairie Skinks are more solidly colored and live in southern Missouri.
11. Five-lined Skink
Scientific name: Plestiodon fasciatus
Five-lined Skinks are similar to the Broad-headed Skink, but there are a few differences. First, their heads are less triangle-shaped. They are much smaller, measuring just over 6 inches long.
They’re more common and have very defined stripes on their head and back. Their short stubby legs are an indicator that you’ve discovered a skink. Look for a Five-lined Skink during a spring or summer walk through the woods.
They eat insects and spiders. They’re the most common lizard in Missouri and can be found statewide except in the extreme north of the state.