15 Skinks Found in The United States! (ID Guide)

What kinds of skinks are there in the United States?”

There’s no question that skinks are one of the most misunderstood animals in the United States! 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 15 kinds of skinks in the United States!

 


#1. Great Plains Skink

  • Plestiodon obsoletus


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 the United States 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

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 the United States!

 

Even though they are common, they are 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

By Joefarah – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 the United States 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. Coal Skink

  • Plestiodon anthracinus

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 the United States!

 

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.

 


#5. Common Five-Lined Skink

  • Plestiodon fasciatus

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 the United States 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!

 


#6. Southeastern Five-Lined Skink

  • Plestiodon inexpectatus

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 live in the United States 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.

 

Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society

 

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!

 


#7. Broad-Headed Skink

  • Plestiodon laticeps

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 the United States in swamp forests, woodlands, or vacant lots with debris.

 

You can easily recognize this species by its triangular head!

Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society

 

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.

 

 


#8. Southern Prairie Skink

  • Plestiodon obtusirostris

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are up to 8 inches long.
  • Coloring is brown to tan with a dark stripe bordered in white along each side.
  • The stripes usually fade with age, and older, larger individuals may be almost uniformly brown.
  • Hatchlings and young have blue tails.

 

The Southern Prairie Skink prefers streambeds for its habitat, and you can generally find them near clumps of prickly pear cactus. They are quick to hide from predators and eat small insects. Because of their skittish nature, it can be hard to find this species in the wild.

 

Some scientists consider the Southern Prairie Skink and the Northern Prairie Skink to be subspecies. But their ranges don’t overlap, and they’re different enough in appearance that full species status is generally given to both.

 


#9. Northern Prairie Skink

  • Plestiodon septentrionalis

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 the United States. 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.

 


#10. Little Brown Skink

  • Scincella lateralis

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 the United States, they 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.

Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society

 

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 the United States. 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!

 


#11. Mountain Skink

  • Plestiodon callicephalus

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 the United States 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 the United States 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.

 


#12. Gilbert’s Skink

  • Plestiodon gilberti

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 the United States.

 

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!

 


#13. Mole Skink

  • Plestiodon egregius

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are up to 6.5 inches long.
  • Noticeably shorter legs than other skink species.
  • Light stripes are variable in length, sometimes ending at the shoulders and sometimes continue through the tail.
  • The tail can be varied in color, including red, orange, yellow, pink, brown, and even lavender.

 

The Mole Skink has FIVE Subspecies, the most of all skinks in the United States!

 

They all prefer rocky areas with piles of debris, including driftwood, shrubbery, and tidal wrack. They eat cockroaches, spiders, and crickets.

  • Northern Mole Skink (P. e. similis): The only subspecies found outside of Florida. The tail is red, orange, or reddish-brown.
  • Florida Keys Mole Skink (P. e. egregius): Reddish-brown tail and, on males, belly.
  • Cedar Key Mole Skink (P. e. insularis): Hatchlings are almost all black with no markings.
  • Bluetail Mole Skink (P. e. lividus): Occasionally, the tail fades to salmon but most often remains blue through adulthood. This species is threatened.
  • Peninsula Mole Skink (P. e. onocrepis): Tail color is variable; orange, yellow, pink, brown, and lavender are all common.

 


#14. Florida Sand Skink

  • Plestiodon reynoldsi

By USGS - USGS, Public Domain

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are up to 5.25 inches long.
  • Limbs are small and reduced to one toe on the front and two on the back.
  • Small eyes, a wedge-shaped snout, and an overbite differentiate this sink from others.
  • Coloring is white to dark tan, sand-colored.

 

The Florida Sand Skink is a vulnerable species in the United States.

 

It ONLY lives in sandy areas of Central Florida.

 

The Florida Sand Skink’s most fascinating talent is its ability to “swim” through sand! It shimmies with an undulating, burrowing motion.

 

That’s important for Florida Sand Skinks because their legs are so small they are almost useless for walking!

 


#15. Four-Lined Skink

  • Plestiodon tetragrammus

By William L. Farr – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are up to 8 inches long.
  • Four light stripes run the length of the back but stop before the tail.
  • Coloring is light brown in adults. Juveniles are black with an orange head.
  • Males have reddish blotches on the sides of their throats.

 

The Four-Lined Skink is ONLY found in Texas.

 

It prefers brush and grasslands with sandy soil and is usually found under debris piles.

 

There are two subspecies of Four-Lined Skinks in the United States.

  • The Long-Lined Skink (P.t. tetragrammus) is dark gray or brown with broad, dark bands on the sides.
  • The Short-Lined Skink (P.t. brevilineatus) is brown to olive green, and its light stripes stop at the shoulders.


Do you need additional help identifying skinks?

Try this field guide!

 


Which of these skinks have you seen in the United States?

 

Leave a comment below!

 

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