“What kinds of skinks are there in Missouri?”
There’s no question that skinks are one of the most misunderstood animals in Missouri! 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 6 kinds of skinks in Missouri!
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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 western Missouri 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. 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 southern Missouri!
They are hard to find because they spend so 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.
#3. 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 Missouri 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 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!
#4. 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 southern Missouri 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.
#5. Northern Prairie Skink
- Plestiodon septentrionalis
- 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 northwestern Missouri. 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.
#6. 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 Missouri, Little Brown Skinks are 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 Snakes 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 Missouri. 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!
Do you need additional help identifying skinks?
Try this field guide!
Which of these skinks have you seen in Missouri?
Leave a comment below!