“What kinds of skinks are there in Arizona?”
There’s no question that skinks are one of the most misunderstood animals in Arizona! Are they snakes, or lizards, or some sort of combination?
Interestingly, these creatures are considered lizards, but it’s easy to misidentify them as snakes. They have short limbs, move with a zig-zag pattern, and like to hide under debris just like snakes!
Today, you’ll learn the 5 kinds of skinks in Arizona!
RELATED: The 21 Types of SNAKES That Live in Arizona! (ID Guide)
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#1. Great Plains Skink
- Plestiodon obsoletus
- Adults are up to 13 inches long.
- Coloring ranges from light gray or olive to tan, with darker brown markings.
- The tail and feet are usually pale yellow or orange, and the belly is often marked with salmon.
- Young individuals are black with an iridescent blue tail and gold spots on the head.
Great Plains Skinks in Arizona are frequently found in prairie grassland with open, low-growing plants. However, they occasionally also live in woodland or semi-arid desert areas.
Great Plains Skinks are very aggressive if threatened!
They hide under rocks, shrubs, or logs but are very likely to bite if they are disturbed or handled. So, if you happen to find one, observe with caution!
In addition, they’re aggressive hunters and will eat insects, snails, spiders, and even other lizards.
#2. Western Skink
- Plestiodon skiltonianus
- Adults are up to 8.5 inches long.
- This species has a broad brown stripe with black edges on the back, bordered in white on each side.
- The tail is normally pale blue or gray, but the throat and underside of the tail turn red-orange during the breeding season.
- Young Western Skink’s tails are brilliant blue.
The Western Skink prefers to live in grassland or pine-oak forests near rocky streams and hillsides. This species primarily eats insects and spiders.
You might have trouble finding Western Skinks in Arizona!
They are uncommon and very secretive! They spend most of their time under rocks or in burrows.
Like some other lizard species, the Western Skink is capable of autotomy, which is the severing of its own tail when it’s under threat. Once the tail detaches, it continues to move and wriggle, distracting the predator so the skink can escape. Now THAT is a unique way of dealing with stress!
WARNING: If you’re squeamish, this video might not be for you. Please remember the skink does this as a defensive measure and isn’t harmed.
There are three subspecies of the Western Skink.
- Skilton’s Skink, P.s. skiltonianus, is the most widespread subspecies.
- Great Basin Skink, P.s. utahensis, tends to live in more rocky areas.
- Coronado Skink, P.s. interparietalis is only found in the southern half of San Diego County in the US.
#3. Many-Lined Skink
- Plestiodon multivirgatus
- Adults are up to 7.5 inches long.
- The tail is much longer than the body compared to other skinks: roughly 1 to 1.5 times as long.
- Light and dark stripes run the length of the body.
- During the breeding season, many males develop orange or red lips.
Many-Lined Skinks in Arizona prefer areas with water or moist soil.
They live in various habitats, from mountain areas to vacant lots and even city dumps! Their primary food source is ant larvae and other insects.
Young Many-Lined Skinks have bright blue tails. A uniquely colored tail is a defensive strategy that helps attract predators away from the skink’s body! If a predator tries to bite or grab the skink, it can drop its tail and escape!
There are two subspecies of this skink.
- Northern Many-Lined Skink (P.m. multivirgatus) generally has more well-defined stripes and is almost always gray and black.
- Variable Skink (P.m. epipleurotus) comes in a variety of colors and patterns. The subspecies’ ranges don’t overlap, and some scientists consider them two separate species!
#4. Mountain Skink
- Plestiodon callicephalus
- Adults are up to 2.75 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
- Coloring in adults is olive to tan, with a muddy blue tail.
- The young of this species have a bright blue tail and much more defined lines.
- Adults have a white or light orange Y-shaped mark on the head.
Mountain Skinks are found in southeastern Arizona in pine and oak forests in mountain regions. They eat beetles, flies, cockroaches, and spiders.
You can easily tell the difference between Mountain Skinks and other species because this skink keeps its blue tail into adulthood most of the time! Usually, the color is not as bright.
Mountain Skinks in Arizona can give birth to live young!
But weirdly, they can lay eggs too. It just depends on their specific habitat and other conditions. When they do lay eggs, the female skink will tend to them until they hatch.
#5. Gilbert’s Skink
- Plestiodon gilberti
- Adults are up to 4.5 inches long.
- Coloring is olive or brown, sometimes with dark spotting but most often plain.
- As this species ages, the tail becomes brick red to orange, and the head is often red.
- Young Gilbert’s Skinks have more pronounced light stripes on the sides and a wide olive stripe on the back.
These skinks are habitat generalists and live in many environments in northwestern Arizona.
You can find them in grassland, desert areas, salt flats, and open woodland. But generally, they prefer rocky areas near streams, where they eat insects and spiders.
There are currently FOUR recognized subspecies of Gilbert’s Skink! However, this may change in the future because scientists are currently studying these subspecies to determine if they are all valid.
- Greater Brown Skink (P.g. gilberti): The young of this subspecies have a brighter blue tail, and the females are smaller than the males.
- Northern Brown Skink (P.g. placerensis): The striping that the young exhibit lasts longer into adulthood in this subspecies
- Variegated Skink (P.g. cancellosus): The young of this subspecies have a pink tail tinged with blue.
- Western Red-Tailed Skink (P.g. rubricaudatus): The young of this subspecies have a pink tail with no blue. This is the ONLY subspecies of Gilbert’s Skink found outside of California!
Do you need additional help identifying skinks?
Try this field guide!
Which of these skinks have you seen in Arizona?
Leave a comment below!