The five-lined skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) is a common lizard in eastern North America. It is a smooth-scaled lizard that typically grows to between 5 and 8.5 inches. Their color can vary as they age and between the sexes; but as the name implies, these lizards exhibit five parallel lines that extend from snout to tail.
The distinct line pattern can become diminished in males as they appear to be a more uniform color, but during breeding season they show bright orange-red coloration on the head that makes them easy to identify. Juveniles are the most colorful, with dark bodies, white to yellow stripes, and a bright blue tail. As they mature, they lose the blue color in their tails, and their bodies become a brown to olive color (females can sometimes retain small amounts of the blue coloration). Five-lined skinks can also be distinguished from other skink species by counting their labial scales: they only have four, whereas other species have five.
Diet/Feeding: Five-lined skinks feed on small invertebrates, including crickets, spiders, centipedes, and beetle larvae.
Habitat/Range: The five-lined skink can be found throughout the eastern United States and north into Ontario, Canada. These skinks are diurnal ectotherms and can commonly be spotted on the ground, on rocks, or in trees, basking in the sun. When they are not basking, they are found under logs, rocks, and other debris.
Reproduction: Breeding season occurs in the spring months. Mating takes place in April and May, and the female will then lay eggs six weeks later, as late as mid-July. She finds a nest cavity in rotten logs, leaf litter, and other damp forest debris and lays approximately ten amniotic eggs, which increase in size during the incubation period as they absorb moisture from the soil. The female will guard this nest until the eggs hatch. If the eggs do not absorb enough water from their surroundings, the female will urinate on the eggs to keep them hydrated. Females will also bask in the sun, then immediately return to the nest to warm the eggs. Five-lined skink females often form communities for the purpose of nest-guarding. Once the eggs are hatched, all forms of parental care cease.
Herping Tips/Fun Facts: The bright blue coloring of this skink’s tail causes people to mistakenly believe they are a venomous lizard. They are sometimes referred to as “scorpions”, as people falsely think their tails can be used to sting predators.
Five-lined skinks exhibit caudal autotomy as a defense mechanism. They have a fracture zone between two vertebrae in the tail, and store fat in their tails. If they are facing capture by a predator, they can release their tail. The tail continues to move for some time, distracting the predator and providing it with a meal while the skink can escape to safety. Because of this, extreme care should be taking when herping for skinks if tail-dropping is to be avoided. Skinks will regrow a lost tail, but it is duller in appearance and lacks the full functionality of the original tail.