“What kinds of lizards can you find in Tennessee?”
I was amazed by the number of lizards in the United States – well over 150 species! Some species live only in a small area, and some are widespread over hundreds of miles.
Today, you’ll learn about 9 different kinds of lizards in Tennessee.
#1. Six-Lined Racerunner
- Aspidoscelis sexlineata
- 2.25 to 3.75 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
- “Dark fields,” or broad stripes in between lighter stripes on whiptails, are brown to black.
- 6-8 light stripes vary in color from white or yellow to gray-blue.
- In males, coloring is much brighter, with greens on the back and light turquoise on the belly.
The Six-Lined Racerunner has the widest range of all lizards in Tennessee.
They thrive in varied habitats, including grassland, rocky terrain, wooded areas, and even floodplains. So, you have a good chance of seeing one as long as you’re within their range!
Six-Lined Racerunners are insectivores, and their primary food source is termites. However, they also eat beetles, ants, and spiders, so these small whiptails can be handy to have around if you have a pest problem.
The Six-Lined Racerunner lives up to its name, clocking speeds at up to 18 miles per hour! They have no problem outmaneuvering predators and curious humans!
#2. Eastern Fence Lizard
- Sceloporus undulatus
- 1.5 to 3.5 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
- Coloration is highly varied – grayish-white, brown, reddish, and nearly black are all common.
- Females have dark, wavy lines across the back. Males have two patches of blue on the throat.
You’ll likely find the Eastern Fence Lizard in Tennessee in open forests with plenty of fallen logs and debris to hide in. They’re most active during the early morning before it gets too hot.
Eastern Fence Lizards eat twice per day, and their diet is made up of insects like ants, beetles, and grasshoppers. They are foragers, which means they’ll leave their homes searching for food but often return to the same general area at night.
In Tennessee, the Eastern Fence Lizard has adapted to a small but dangerous threat – imported fire ants!
Bites from fire ants can kill an Eastern Fence Lizard in less than an hour. To combat these non-native insects, these spiny lizards have adapted longer arms and legs, thicker skin, as well as new behaviors like climbing trees to stay out of harm’s way.
#3. Coal Skink
- Plestiodon anthracinus
- Adults are up to 7 inches long.
- Four light stripes run the length of the body and a portion of the tail.
- Juveniles are sometimes all black with no markings.
- During the breeding season, some males develop reddish blotches on the sides of the head.
Coal Skinks are one of the most secretive, shy skinks in Tennessee!
They are hard to find because they spend much of their time under rocks, leaf litter, or fallen logs. Coal Skinks prefer moist, humid areas and live on hillsides with nearby streams.
If you spot a Coal Skink, you can identify it by the lack of a middle stripe on its back.
Two subspecies, the Northern Coal Skink (P.a. anthracinus) and the Southern Coal Skink (P.a. pluvialis), are scattered throughout the US.
#4. Common Five-Lined Skink
- Plestiodon fasciatus
- Adults are up to 8.75 inches long.
- 5 stripes are most apparent in hatchlings and fade as the skinks grow.
- Males have orange-red coloring on the jaw during the breeding season.
- Hatchlings are black with light stripes. The black coloring often fades to gray, and the lighter stripes darken.
Look for Common Five-Lined Skinks in Tennessee in wooded areas near rotting stumps, outcrops of rock, and sometimes piles of boards or sawdust. Its diet consists of spiders, beetles, crickets, and other insects.
Females attend to their eggs throughout the incubation period.
They spend almost all of their time defending and caring for the eggs until they hatch!
If you happen to come across a nest, you may notice the mother curled up on top of or around the eggs. She also rolls the eggs to maintain their humidity, moves them back to the nest if they become disturbed, and even eats eggs that aren’t viable!
#5. Southeastern Five-Lined Skink
- Plestiodon inexpectatus
- Adults are up to 8.5 inches long.
- 5 light stripes on the body; the overall pattern is most prominent in hatchlings and young individuals.
- The head is brown striped with orange-red, and the tail is purplish, even in adults.
- The stripe pattern consists of one thin stripe in the middle of the back with two dark stripes outlined in white along the sides.
These skinks have scattered populations in Tennessee in dry, forested areas.
You may also find them on islands with little vegetation. Southeastern Five-Lined Skinks prefer large insects like grasshoppers as prey.
Some people consider Southeastern Five-Lined Skinks venomous and often refer to them as scorpions.
However, they are harmless to humans and deliver a non-venomous bite only if they feel threatened.
Rest assured that if you find a Southeastern Five-Lined Skink, the only danger is that you might be nipped on the finger!
#6. Broad-Headed Skink
- Plestiodon laticeps
- Adults are up to 12.75 inches long.
- Coloring in males is uniform brown or olive. Females often keep some form of stripes that are more apparent in hatchlings.
- The tail is gray in adults and blue in young.
- Males develop orange-red coloring on the jawline during the breeding season. Sometimes the entire head turns bright orange.
Look for Broad-Headed Skinks in western Tennessee in swamp forests, woodlands, or vacant lots with debris.
You can easily recognize this species by its triangular head!
Broad-Headed Skinks are one of the few skink species at home among trees! They will often climb trees for cover and protection from predators. They forage on the ground for their food, searching leaf litter and debris for insects and spiders.
#7. Little Brown Skink
- Scincella lateralis
- Adults are up to 5.75 inches long.
- Coloring is golden-brown to almost black with dark stripes that usually blend in with the main body color.
- The belly is white, sometimes with a yellowish cast.
In Tennessee, they’re often called Ground Skinks because they live on the forest floor.
They can also be found in gardens and urban areas with lots of debris or litter to hide in.
Believe it or not, Little Brown Skinks have the interesting talent of seeing with their eyes closed! But honestly, it just looks like their eyes are closed. Technically, they have a window in their lower eyelids that allows them to see at all times.
That’s a very handy adaptation for one of the smallest reptiles in Tennessee. The Little Brown Skink has many predators, including snakes, larger lizards, and birds of prey. When they try to sneak up on a “sleeping” Little Brown Skink, often the skink can run away using the element of surprise!
#8. Slender Glass Lizard
- Ophisaurus attenuatus
- 22 to 47 inches long.
- Coloring is generally brown to black, with whitish markings in the middle of the scales.
- Younger individuals have dark stripes along the back and sides, and older individuals develop faint crossbands.
Slender Glass Lizards live in dry grasslands and open forests in Tennessee.
They eat insects, spiders, small rodents, and small lizards. However, unlike snakes, they do not have flexible jaws, which means they can only eat prey smaller than their head!
Glass lizards are named for their extremely fragile tails, which can break off even without being touched. Slender Glass Lizards are rarely found with their original tail intact because they break so often! If you notice that the end of its tail is tan with no stripes, you can be sure the lizard lost its original tail.
You’re likely to find a Slender Glass Lizard in animal burrows or piles of debris.
There are two subspecies:
- Western Slender Glass Lizards (O. attenuatus attenuatus) have shorter tails.
- Eastern Slender Glass Lizards (O. attenuatus longicaudus) have longer tails.
#9. Green Anole
- Anolis carolinensis
- 5 to 9 inches long.
- This species has an elongated head, pointed snout, and round tail.
- The coloring ranges from all green to mottled green and brown to all brown with a white belly and lips.
- The dewlap, or extendable throat fan, is usually pink but ranges in color: white, light gray, magenta, blue, and purple are common.
Green Anoles are the ONLY species of anole native to Tennessee.
They primarily live in trees and are excellent climbers. Look for them high in trees and shrubs in forested areas or on buildings and fences in urban settings. The introduction of the Brown Anole has altered their behavior, making them almost exclusively arboreal.
An invasive species, the Cuban Green Anole (Anolis porcatus), is so similar to our native Green Anole that DNA testing is the only way to distinguish between them! The two species interbreed in areas where they both occur. Cuban Green Anoles in Tennessee have a limited range, so if you find a Green Anole, it’s most likely native!
Anoles are sometimes called American Chameleons because of their ability to change color. Although they aren’t in the same family as chameleons, they adjust their coloring in response to many factors, including emotion, activity level, temperature, and humidity.
Green Anoles and other species of anoles have dewlaps, which are colorful throat fans they can extend to communicate. This feature makes them look a bit like tiny dinosaurs! =)
Do you need additional help identifying lizards?
Try this field guide!
Which of these lizards have you seen in Tennessee?
Leave a comment below!
Also, if you enjoy this article, make sure to check out these other guides!