|Florida Lizards: Skinks|
Smooth, sleek, and shiny are the adjectives used to describe the healthy
skink. All the species of skinks found in Florida prowl on the ground
for small insects, although the larger species also climb trees and
wooden structures. The skink family is a large group and this lizard is
found on all continents. Skinks are not easy to catch! Larger skinks may
try to bite but a skink will rarely break the skin. Many skinks have
blue tails. This may be part of a defense strategy called defective
coloration. The blue color is supposed to serve as a warning to
predators that the skink is poisonous and there is some actual evidence
that the blue tails are poisonous if eaten.
Southeastern Five-lined Skink- Southeastern five-lined skinks are moderately large lizards with short legs and a streamlined body. The body is generally gray, brown, or black, in background color with five white or yellowish stripes (two on each side and one down the center of the back). Young have a bright blue tail while adult males' stripes may fade and a reddish or orange coloration may develop on the head. Southeastern five-lined skinks may be found on the ground or in trees, but are generally less arboreal (tree dwelling) than broadhead skinks. Although sometimes seen in the open, these lizards are most often found beneath logs or under tree bark. When pursued, these lizards generally run for the nearest tree or log and can be quite difficult to capture. Like many other lizards, southeastern five-lined skinks will break off their tails when restrained, distracting the predator and allowing the lizard to escape.
Ground Skink- Ground skinks are small, slender lizards with long tails and short legs. They range from golden brown to almost black in coloration but are most often coppery brown with a darker stripe running along each side of the body. The belly is white or yellowish. Unlike many other lizards in our region, ground skinks virtually never climb. Rather than running on their tiny legs, ground skinks use their slender bodies to wriggle or "swim" through leaf litter or loose soil, often disappearing in a flash as soon as they are discovered. Ground skinks prey on tiny insects, spiders, and other invertebrates. Female ground skinks lay clutches of several eggs in moist soil or rotten logs during the summer. It is suspected that ground skinks may lay several clutches per season.
Mole Skinks- Mole skinks are small, slender lizards with long tails and short legs. They range from grayish to brown in background color with two light stripes running along each side of their body and a red or orange tail that does not fade with age. This is the only lizard in Florida with a red tail and this character easily distinguishes them from the similar ground skink. True to their name, these lizards are adept at burrowing and prefer areas of loose sandy soil. They generally prefer hotter and drier habitats than the similar ground skink and are often found beneath leaf litter, logs, boards, and other cover objects. Mole skinks are perhaps most common in sandy scrub and coastal dune habitats and often inhabit offshore islands. Rather than running on their tiny legs, mole skinks use their slender bodies to wriggle or "swim" through sand or loose soil, often disappearing in a flash as soon as they are discovered. Mole skinks are so secretive that much remains to be learned about their habits and behavior. The Key West Mole Skink is currently endangered.
Broad Headed Skink- Broadheaded skinks have long been called scorpions by uninformed rural southerners who believe that they are venomous. Males during the breeding season have bright orange head coloration, and the heads of large males are proportionally much bigger than those of females. It stays red throughout the breeding period in May and June, but then fades by July. Broadheaded skinks are active foragers that move through the habitat looking for small animal prey although they occasionally eat fruit such as blackberries and grapes. While foraging they flick their tongues out frequently to locate scents of prey. They eat a wide range of small invertebrates, especially insects, many of which are found hidden in or under logs or surface litter on the forest floor. The lizards also tongue-flick to detect the presence of predators and to gather information about other members of their own species. From the scent of another lizard, broadheaded skinks can tell whether the other lizard belongs to the same species, its sex, its reproductive condition, and whether or not it is a familiar individual.
Florida Sand Skink- One of the most highly adapted scrub creatures, the 4" sand skink occurs nowhere in the world except six counties in central Florida. Like most members of the skink family, the sand skink is a smooth-scaled, shiny lizard that likes to stay out of sight. The sand skink is on the U.S. list of Threatened species. They are vulnerable to extinction because of habitat loss as more and more of the Florida scrub is cleared for development. A unique lizard adapted to an underground existence, the sand skink measures 4 to 5 inches in length and has a gray to tan color. The sand skink has a wedge-shaped head, a partially countersunk lower jaw, body grooves into which the forelegs can be folded, and small eyes which have transparent windows in the lower lids. These features enable the lizard to swim beneath the surface of loose sand. The diet of the Florida Mole Skink consists of surface-dwelling invertebrates, including beetle larvae, and termites.
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