“What kinds of skinks are there in Tennessee?”
There’s no question that skinks are one of the most misunderstood animals in Tennessee! 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 Tennessee!
RELATED: The 28 Types of SNAKES That Live in Tennessee! (ID Guide)
RELATED: The 9 Types of Lizards in Tennessee! (With Photos)
#1. 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 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.
#2. 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 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. 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 is 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 only deliver a non-venomous bite 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!
#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 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.
#5. 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, 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 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!
Do you need additional help identifying skinks?
Try this field guide!
Which of these skinks have you seen in Tennessee?
Leave a comment below!