Little Brown Skink (Scincella lateralis)

While hiking in the woods of my college, I started at the sound of rustling leaves on the edge of the trail. My mind immediately thought “herp.” I scrutinized the leaf litter until I saw a small copper-colored skink partly concealed under a leaf. When I tried to get a better look, it dove deeper into the ground. This was my first personal encounter with a little brown skink (Scincella lateralis). I have found them many times now that I live in their range, but getting a picture of them is really hard. To get a photo for this post, I held a photography contest at my college. Congratulations to the winner, Trevor Sleight! His photo is shown below.

S. lateralis photographed by Trevor Sleight
S. lateralis photographed by Trevor Sleight

S. lateralis ranges from mid-Texas to the Atlantic and as far north as southern Ohio. They grow to be five inches in length and are found predominately in leaf litter. Unlike some other species of skink, brown skinks are not arboreal. Instead, they stay amongst the forest debris. When chased, they run underneath leaves or into decaying logs. There have been some recorded instances of brown skinks escaping into stagnant pools of water with only their head above the surface.

The easiest field mark is the brown to copper coloration running from the snout to the base of the tail along the back. These skinks share similar characteristics to the coal and mole skinks. Coal skinks have yellow striping on their sides, which the brown skink lacks, and mole skinks have a red tail which is also not present in the brown skink. Another cool feature of Scincella lateralis is its  clear membrane, often referred to as a “window,” in the lower eyelid  which allows them to see even when their eyes are closed.

The little brown skink’s diet includes invertebrates such as spiders, millipedes, termites, and isopods. Their predators are wolf spiders, a number of snakes, and several species of birds. They are also preyed upon by domestic dogs and cats.

This species is readily found in a variety of habitats across their range. The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) lists them as a species of least concern and marks their population as stable. There are no conservation concerns for this species.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this article, follow my twitter where I post all of my writings! I used Lizards & Crocodilians of The Southeast by Whit Gibbons, Judy Greene, and Tony Mills for research. Matthew Anthony edited this article.

Brown Anole (Anolis sagrei)

Brown Anole

Anolis sagrei


The brown anole, Anolis sagrei, is an invasive species in the United States, originating from the West Indies. They have become established all throughout Florida and in neighboring states – even in Texas and Hawaii.

When I was in Florida, I saw A. sagrei absolutely everywhere. The first picture at the bottom of this article is one of many brown anoles along City Walk in Orlando. I saw them with at least one green anole at Osceola Schools Environmental Study Center and I managed to catch one at a putt-putt course.

Most populations of brown anoles are observed in heavily populated areas and around road sides, leading some to think they are spread by traveling vehicles. Other causes of the distribution of this species are thought to be shipments of lumber, plants, and building products.

Brown anoles occupy the same niche as our native anole, the green anole, and are therefore competing for food and habitat. It has been observed that green anoles retreat to habitat with more vegetation while A. sagrei stick to densely populated areas. Research done by Todd Campbell, a biology professor at University of Tampa, said that brown anoles can displace green anoles by preying on their young and out-competing them for food sources.

An anole behavior I’ve really wanted to see was performed for me by a brown anole at Ready Creek Swamp. It had zoomed out of reach when it looked me in the eye and displayed its dewlap. The dewlap display can be to attract mates and to declare territory. When this was preformed to me, I took it to be the anole saying, “Come at me bro,” but I couldn’t scale a tree to come at my anole bro, as it well knew!

Thank you for reading! I used “Lizards and Crocodilians of the Southeast” by Whitt Gibbons, Judy Greene, and Tony Mills and “Endangered and Threatened Animals of Florida and Their Habitats” by Chris Scott for this article. Edited by Matthew Anthony.

Anolis sagrei on City Walk
Anolis sagrei on City Walk

 

Brown anole at a putt putt course
Brown anole at a putt putt course

 

Five-Lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus)

Five-Lined Skink

Plestiodon fasciatus


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.

Juvenile five-lined skink By:  Phillip Laxton
Juvenile five-lined skink
By: Phillip Laxton

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.

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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.

Green Anole, Anolis Carolinensis

Green Anole

Anolis carolinensis


Green Anole Claiming His Territory By: Jason Hellender Instagram: @fireteguguy
Green Anole Claiming His Territory By: Jason Hellender
Instagram: @fireteguguy
Green Anole By Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53
Green Anole By Phillip Laxton
Instagram: @plaxton53

The Green Anole, also known as the “American Anole” or the “Carolina Anole” is a small little lizard, maxing out around 7-8″ long.  There are a few documented cases of these guys reaching 9″ in some of the large males.  They are the only species of Anole native to the United States.  A few invasive species are taking hold in the USA, threatening the Green Anole.  These little lizards are diurnal, or day time active.  They can be found green, brown and green, or brown and some have a stripe going down their back.  They are able to change color based on temperature and activity.  Some specimen have a stripe only when in the brown form and some have the stripe in both their brown and green form.  This species has a dewlap used in mating and territory guarding.

Green Anole By Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53
Green Anole By Phillip Laxton
Instagram: @plaxton53

This species is sexually dimorphic with the males being larger in overall size and girth.  Males typically will have a slightly larger head to body ratio.  The “dewlap” in males are larger and more brightly colored.  Females have rarely been observed using the dewlap in any kind of demonstration.    In the populations I have personally studied, the stripe on the back is found to be strongly correlated to the female sex.  Juveniles look just like miniature versions of the parents.

Feeding/Diet:

Anoles feed on insects and spiders.  They can easily be observed scouting for meals on porch railings, fences, sides of buildings, and trees.  Moths, butterflies, and grasshoppers seem to be a favorite.

General Activity/Behavior:

Green Anole By Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53
Green Anole By Phillip Laxton
Instagram: @plaxton53

The Green Anole is a feisty little lizard.  Males are very territorial and will display a claim of breeding spots with head-bobbing and presenting the dewlap.  If demonstration does not scare off a challenging male, fight will break out.  I have watched two males fight for 20-30 minutes, to the point of exhaustion, just to have a well rested male come in and chase off both tired males.  Fights typically involve biting and wrestling.  Many males have tossed challengers off of trees.  The fallen lizard will many times run back up the tree and try to avenge his honor.  Many males, during a heightened state of arousal, have even demonstrated a claim of territory to other lizard species, other animals, and even passing Herpers.  I must admit, I find it entertaining when an Anole is attempting to scare me off with a head-bob and a dewlap.

Habitat/Range:

The range of the Green Anole is the southeastern USA.  They can be found throughout Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina.  The coastal plains of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. Coastal Plains and Piedmont of North Carolina, and southeastern Virginia also have a healthy population.

Green Anole By: Drew Simmons, Wyatt Elder, & Wyatt Joachim Instagram: @xtremeherper12
Green Anole By: Drew Simmons, Wyatt Elder, & Wyatt Joachim
Instagram: @xtremeherper12

The Anole has successfully adapted to a variety of habitat.  Being able to scale buildings with adhesive toe-pads have allowed them to take up residency in suburbs and even towns.  The Anole has gotten very good at living in backyards all over the southeast USA.

Green Anole By Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53
Green Anole By Phillip Laxton
Instagram: @plaxton53

Anoles can regularly be seen basking in the sun on the side of buildings.  They can be found on the side of barns and outbuildings, fences, porch railings, and wood piles.  Naturally, they prefer trees and shrubs.  They are good jumpers and can easily move from one tree to another without ever leaving the tree tops.  They can be found on the ground as well.  Many sightings on the ground are lizards that are in transit to a new perch.

Reproduction:

Green Anole By Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53
Green Anole By Phillip Laxton
Instagram: @plaxton53

Anoles begin mating early spring and females will lay a single egg every few weeks until late summer to early fall.  Females lay the egg in moist locations such as mulch, rotten logs, or the inside of hollow spots in trees.  Young will hatch within a few weeks of being laid.  There is no parental care for the eggs or the young.  As mentioned before, males are highly territorial and will defend prime breeding ground.

Neat Fact:

I love to use these guys as a gauge when looking for other herps.  They are a primary food source for reptile eating snakes such as kings, racers, and pigmy rattlers.  They are the first to become active when spring arrives and the last to leave when fall sets in.  Many times, I have observed them active on occasional warm days during winter.

Herping Tips:

  • Look for them along the side of buildings such as barns.

    Green Anole By Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53
    Green Anole By Phillip Laxton
    Instagram: @plaxton53
  • They love to run along fences and fallen trees.
  • They are regularly found on porches and step railings.
  • Anoles love to get behind vinyl siding.
  • They are a guide to lead you to other reptiles as they are on the menu of many other reptiles.
  • One of the first Herps of spring and last to go in late fall.
  • Extra care should be taken not to grab the Anole by the tail.  It will regularly drop it’s tail in an attempt to get away.  Although it will grow back, you should be careful not to injure it.
  • When attempting to catch one, it may be helpful to slowly wave one hand in front of the lizard to distract it while you catch it with the other hand.

The Santa Cruz Mountains- A Herper’s Delight

Dark gray, lichen covered rocks come into view as we trek up a dusty, old trail. Having earlier retreated to a local diner to escape the midday heat, the now cool, spring air was a welcomed relief. As we reached the afternoon sunlit rock outcropping, thoughts of which snake species we would encounter first began to form. Would it be a Racer? Would a juvenile NorPac be taking in the mid-afternoon sun? Fence lizards watched us cautiously as we began flipping, making sure to replace each rock as we found them. Reaching a flat rock resting by the larger outcrop, I firmly placed my fingers around the sun soaked stone and lifted it up from the green grass. A flash of red, black and white appeared against the dark brown soil. Making a quick grab, I yelled “Zonata!” Luke Talltree uttered an obscene word of shock, while Jared Heald looked in disbelief as I presented the prize. In my hand was a snake that is often regarded as the “gem” of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

zonatarocks

 

All photographs by the author. http://www.zacharge.tumblr.com . Instagram: @zacharge

202187-262964

 (Coast Mountain Kingsnake- San Mateo County, CA)

The Mountains

Considered a part of the Pacific Coast Range, the Santa Cruz Mountain Range is situated along the western coast of Northern California. Beginning just south of San Francisco, the mountain range spans through San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz counties. Due to levels of varying elevation and a micro-climate that is greatly affected by the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Santa Cruz Mountain Range boasts a variety of different habitat types.  Drought resistant plant life, such as the coast sage scrub, characterizes the chaparral.  Brown colored needles and bark of evergreens litter the forest floor of coastal redwoods. Often studded with rock outcroppings, rolling grasslands and pine-oak clearings offer sun loving plant life a place to thrive. It is within these various areas that reptiles and amphibians flourish.

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rocksgrass

Snakes

The diversity of snakes within the mountain range is nothing short of expansive. Various species inhabit the different habitat types within the mountains, with many of their ranges overlapping. Generally preferring open breaks from the extensive stretches of coastal redwoods, it is not uncommon to find multiple species coexisting within the same area. This is especially true with species that inhabit chaparral, pine-oak, and grassland habitats. During months of optimal temperature and weather, one can easily find Northern Pacific Rattlesnakes (Crotalus oreganus oreganus), Western Yellow-bellied Racers (Coluber constrictor mormon), Pacific Gopher Snakes (Pituophis catenifer catenifer) and Coast Mountain Kingsnakes (Lampropeltis zonata multifasciata) all within the same rock outcropping. During the moister, cooler portions of the year, one may easily uncover smaller, more fossorial serpents, such as Ringnecked Snakes (Diadophis punctatus), Sharp-tailed Snakes (both the Forest and Common species of Contia), Nightsnakes (Hypsiglena) and the extremely docile Rubber Boa (Charina bottae) under both natural and artificial cover. The various ponds, creeks, and bodies of water that span throughout the range offer refuge for garter snakes, such as the highly variable Coast Garter Snake (Thamnophis elegans terrestris) and the large bodied Santa Cruz Garter Snake (Thamnophis atratus atratus). Other snake species, such as the California Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula californiae) and the lightning fast Striped Racer (Coluber lateralis) also call the Santa Cruz Mountain Range home.

scarredboa

 (Northern Rubber Boa- San Mateo County, CA)

articlerattler

(Northern Pacific Rattlesnake- San Mateo County, CA)

articlelateralis

 (California Striped Racer- Santa Cruz County, CA)

articlegetula

 (California Kingsnake- San Mateo County, CA)

articlescgs1

 (Santa Cruz Garter Snake- Santa Cruz County, CA)

articleracer

 (Western Yellow-bellied Racer- San Mateo County, CA)

greenring

 (Pacific Ring-necked Snake- San Mateo County, CA)

articlecontia

(Sharp-tailed Snake- San Mateo County, CA)

articlenight

(California Nightsnake- Santa Cruz County, CA)

Lizards

Lizards are found in every habitat type that exists within the mountain range. Fence Lizards (Sceloporous occidentalis) are a common sight for anyone trekking along sun exposed trails and rock piles. Two endemic species of Alligator Lizard, the live-bearing San Francisco Alligator Lizard (Elgaria coerulea coerulea) and the often colorful California Alligator Lizard (E.multicarinata) can easily be found under rocks and logs in areas that may prove too cold for other  species, such as the temperate redwood forest. One may spy the bright blue tails of juvenile Western Skinks (Plestiodon skiltonianus) slipping through oak leaf litter during the earlier mornings and midafternoons as they search for arthropod prey. Horned lizards (Phrynosoma blainvillii), as well as California Whiptails (Aspidoscelis tigris munda) are also found within the Santa Cruz Mountain Range, often favoring chaparral in varying elevations.

articlegator

(California Alligator Lizard- San Mateo County, CA)

articleskink

(Western Skink- San Mateo County, CA)

Salamanders and Newts

The majority of the Santa Cruz Mountain Range lies within a temperature rainforest. Characterized by evergreens such as Coastal Redwoods and Douglas fir that thrive on the moisture generated by the Pacific coast, the generally cool and moist forests provide prime Caudata habitat. Year round streams and creeks that bleed into pools are home to the California Giant Salamander (Dicamptodon ensatus). Slender salamanders (Batrachoseps) and Ensatina are easily found under fallen evergreen bark and logs. The mountain range is also home to two species of Aneides– the large, yellow spotted Arboreal Salamander (A.lugubris) and the striking Santa Cruz Black Salamander (A.flavipunctatus niger). During the winter and early spring, it is very common to see mass congregations of both the California Newt (Taricha torosa) and the Rough-skinned Newt (T.granulosa) as they move to ponds and other bodies of water to breed. It should be noted that the aforementioned species are not restricted to the temperate forest. The more adaptable salamanders can be found during the cooler, wetter months within the grasslands, pine-oak clearings, and chaparral.

articlecreek

articletina(Yellow-eyed Ensatina- Santa Clara County, CA)

articledicamp

(California Giant Salamander- Santa Clara County, CA)

scblack(Santa Cruz Black Salamander- Santa Clara County, CA)

Frogs and Toads

Four species of native frog and toad are found within the mountain range. When the chaparral, grasslands, and pine oak forests are lush during the wetter seasons, the large bodied California Toad (Anaxyrus boreas halophilus) can be found under both natural and artificial cover. Sierran Tree Frogs (Pseudacris sierra) can often be seen jumping from reed to reed in almost any riparian area. Two spectacular species of Rana reside within the waterways of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The beautiful California Red-legged Frog (R.draytonii) can be found in many of the accessible ponds that exist within the grasslands, often favoring areas with thick aquatic plant life. Preferring rocky, sun exposed streams, the Foothill Yellow-legged Frog (R.boylii) can be found in certain locations within the range. While searching for these Anurans, one may spy the only native aquatic turtle that exists within the Santa Cruz Mountain Range, the Western Pond Turtle (Actinemys marmorata).

articlefrog

 (California Red-legged Frog- San Mateo County, CA)

articletreef

(Sierran Tree Frog- San Mateo County, CA)

Conclusion

The Santa Cruz Mountain Range offers an excellent representation of the biodiversity found within coastal Northern California. Any enthusiast of the outdoors will find the sheer diversity of fauna and scenic habitat simply breathtaking. The vast expansion of undeveloped natural land is certainly a welcome change to the busy cities that lie waiting just outside the Range. Field herpers will enjoy knowing that such a large amount of different reptiles and amphibians call this region home. One must simply pay a visit to the mountains to truly understand the sheer wonder and amazement.

santacruz