Skinks, with their elongated and slender bodies covered in smooth scales and sometimes adorned with brilliant hues, are a type of lizard that can be found in various habitats across the globe, from deserts and grasslands to forests and rocky terrain. In Texas, there are eight species of skinks that inhabit the state, each possessing its own distinguishing traits that set it apart from the others.
This article will provide insights into these lizards, including tips for identifying them in the wild.
Take a Look: 8 Skinks in Texas
Skinks are a diverse group of lizards with over 1,500 different species. Eight of these skink species live in Texas, including the five-lined skink, the Great Plains skink, the many-lined skink, the coal skink, the broad-headed skink, the Southern Prairie skink, the little brown skink, and the four-lined skink.
1. Five-Lined Skink
Scientific Name: Plestiodon fasciatus
The Five-lined skink is a common site in Eastern Texas. As the name suggests, these skinks have five white or yellow lines running along their backs.
These stripes are more prominent in juvenile skinks and gradually lighten as they mature, eventually disappearing altogether. One of the most distinguishing features of the five-lined skink is the middle stripe, which is typically wider than the other four.
In addition, juvenile skinks have a bright blue tail that fades as they grow older. Adult five-lined skinks typically grow to between 12.7 and 21.6 cm in length and are active during the day.
They can often be found basking in the sun on rocks or logs and are known for their quick movements, often darting into crevices or under objects when disturbed. These opportunistic feeders will eat a variety of insects and small invertebrates.
Breeding occurs in the spring and summer, with females laying between 15 and 18 eggs. Females will brood their eggs, guarding them against predators until they hatch 30-40 days later. After hatching, the young skinks are independent and must fend for themselves.
2. Great Plains Skink
Scientific Name: Plestiodon obsoletus
The Great Plains skink can be found in Central and Western Texas. On average, this skink grows to be around 9 inches long, but some adults can reach up to 14 inches. You can find these skinks in grasslands and other areas near a water source.
Hatchlings are black and have bright blue tails. Adults are golden-yellow or grayish-brown in color with brown or black edging on the scales, which gives them a speckled appearance. These skinks prefer to eat insects and other invertebrates like spiders, grasshoppers, crickets, and beetles.
The Great Plains skink breeds in May, and the female lays around 11 eggs. She guards her nest for one to two months until the hatchlings emerge, after which they are on their own.
3. Many-Lined Skink
Scientific Name: Plestiodon multivirgatus
The Many-linked skink, also known as the variable skink, can be found in Western Texas. They prefer to live in higher elevations in rocky areas. This is a medium-sized skink, measuring an average of 7.5 inches in length.
They are tan or light gray with around ten black stripes running down their backs, and like several other skinks, the juveniles have bright blue tails that fade over time. The females lay between 3 and 9 eggs after mating, choosing moist soil under rotting logs or rocks for a nest. Like other skinks, she keeps an eye on the nest until the babies hatch, then leaves the baby skinks alone.
4. Coal Skink
Scientific Name: Plestiodon anthracinus
The Coal skink, another skink species found in Texas, is known for its small size, measuring between 3 and 5 inches in length. These skinks have dark brown or black bodies with four light stripes that run down their backs, making them easy to identify. They have slender bodies, short legs, and long tails.
Coal skinks prefer rocky or forested habitats, where they can often be seen basking in the sun on rocks or logs. Like many skinks, coal skinks are diurnal, meaning they are more active during the day.
They feed primarily on small insects and other invertebrates. When threatened, they will retreat into crevices or under rocks or logs to hide. Breeding for coal skinks typically occurs in the spring, with females laying 2-5 eggs in a shallow nest. After 4-6 weeks, the hatchlings emerge to face the world.
5. Broad-headed Skink
Scientific Name: Plestiodon laticeps
The Broad-headed skink is easily identified by its stout body and large, broad head and is a skink species native to Eastern Texas. Adult males have bright orange heads, while females and juveniles have more muted brown or gray heads. These skinks can grow up to 12 inches in length and can be found in woodlands, forests, and rocky outcrops.
They feed on insects, spiders, and other small invertebrates and have been known to shake wasp’s nests to try and obtain pupae. The skink’s smooth, glossy scales protect them from the wasp’s stingers. Like other skink species, the broad-headed skink relies on tongue flicking to detect chemical signals in the air, especially during mating season.
6. Southern Prairie Skink
Scientific Name: Plestiodon obtusirostris
The Southern prairie skink can be found in Central and Northern Texas. They grow between 4-8 inches long and are tan with black stripes. This species looks a lot like the many-lined skink, but one way to tell them apart is to take a look at the black stripes on their backs.
The Southern prairie skink has two big, bold, black stripes separated by a thin white stripe that runs from behind both eyes down the tail. The many-lined skink does not have this physical characteristic.
Like other skinks, the Southern prairie skink can drop its tail, which will continue to wriggle for several minutes to distract predators while the skink escapes. They can regenerate these tails, but the new tail often looks different and is shorter than the old one.
7. Ground Skink
Scientific Name: Scincella lateralis
The Ground skink, also known as the little brown skink, is a small and slender skink species that can be found in Eastern and Southeastern Texas. These lizards have a smooth and glossy appearance and typically grow up to an average length of 4 inches, including their tails.
They have a light brown or grayish-brown body with darker stripes or spots on their backs, and their legs are short and thin, while their tails are long and easily breakable when grabbed by predators. Ground skinks can usually be found on the forest floor, hiding under dead leaves or rocks. Unlike other skink species that are common in forested areas, the little brown skink rarely climbs trees.
8. Four-lined Skink
Scientific Name: Plestiodon tetragrammus
The Four-lined skink is found in Central and Southwestern Texas. They have four yellow stripes on their backs, with a black stripe separating the two center stripes. The adult four-lined skink measures between 5 to 8 inches in length.
Juveniles have bright blue tails that fade with age. They are primarily found in wooded areas and forest edges. Four-lined skinks are active during the day and feed on insects and other small invertebrates.