What kinds of skinks are there in Iowa?”

common skinks in Iowa

There’s no question that skinks are one of the most misunderstood animals in Iowa! 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 3 kinds of skinks in Iowa!

 


#1. Great Plains Skink

  • Plestiodon obsoletus

types of skinks in Iowa

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 southwestern Iowa 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. Common Five-Lined Skink

  • Plestiodon fasciatus

species of skinks in Iowa

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 northeastern Iowa 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.

Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society

Females attend to their eggs throughout their incubation period.

 

They spend almost all 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!

 


#3. Northern Prairie Skink

  • Plestiodon septentrionalis

common skinks in Iowa

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are up to 9 inches long.
  • Their coloring is olive-brown with multiple light stripes bordered with dark brown.
  • Some individuals have a single stripe in the middle of the back, while others have a pair of stripes.
  • The belly is generally a lighter brown than the back and uniform in color.

 

You’re likely to find Northern Prairie Skinks in open plains and along streambeds in Iowa. They are one of the hardiest species of skinks and can survive extremely cold temperatures.

 

Northern Prairie Skinks have a fascinating way of staying alive during winter. They can burrow below the frost line to stay warm enough not to freeze!

 

Some scientists consider the Northern Prairie Skink and the Southern Prairie Skink to be subspecies. However, they don’t live in the same area, and their appearance is so different that most references give both full species status.


Do you need additional help identifying skinks?

Try this field guide!

 


Which of these skinks have you seen in Iowa?

 

Leave a comment below!