skink femaleskink maleskink immature
 skink female                      skink male                       skink immature


Typically, skinks have smooth, shiny, overlapping scales and elongate, cylindrical bodies. Their heads are cone shaped. Femoral pores are absent. The pupil is round, and many species have a large, transparent scale on the lower eyelid that enables them to see even when the lid is closed. In most species the tapering tail is easily broken but can be regenerated. Skinks are generally alert and active diurnal lizards but tend to be secretive, spending much time foraging under leaf litter.

Most skinks are small, usually not exceeding 200 mm (8 in) in total length, but a few species are larger, and the Solomon Islands giant skink, Corucia zebrata, may exceed 600 mm (24 in). This species is unusual in that it is arboreal and has a prehensile tail. Skinks are most frequently striped but may be banded, spotted, or uniformly colored. Males of many species develop broad heads, presumably used in fighting during the breeding season.

The skinks, with about 75 genera and 600 species, are one of the two largest lizard families. They are widespread and are particularly abundant in the great forests of Africa and Indoaustralia. The five-lined skink is a small striped lizard found in the wooded areas of the southeastern United States.

Lizards break their tails (autotomy) when they are confronted by an enemy or roughly handled. This break does not occur between the vertebrae (tail bones) but rather in a zone of weakness in a vertebra itself. These specialized vertebrae can be voluntarily split by muscular contraction; sphincter muscles in the tail stump close off the caudal artery to prevent excessive bleeding. Five-lined skinks have a bright blue tail, at least as juveniles, which serves to draw attention away from more vulnerable parts of the body. If attacked, the bright blue tail wriggles when broken off, catching an enemy's eye as the skink escapes. Although tail autotomy may seem like a drastic measure, in actuality it does the lizard little harm, for a new tail is soon regenerated. The new tail, however, is not identical to the original. Its skeletal support consists of a fibrocartilaginous rod instead of vertebrae; its musculature is nonsegmental; its scales are different in size and form; and its color is usually subdued or otherwise altered. Five lined skinks prefer sheltered areas near woods. They are very secretive and are usually found beneath rocks or logs and underneath tree bark. They rarely bask and burrow readily and rapidly.

Most skinks feed primarily on insects and other arthropods, but some of the larger forms are partially or completely herbivorous (genus Corucia; the Cape Verde skink, Macroscincus cocteay; and the Australian genera Egernia and Tiliqua). Herbivorous skinks have blunter teeth than insectivorous ones, and some species have broad-crowned grinding teeth.

Skinks may be either oviparous or viviparous. Some skinks are notable because the female remains with her eggs for up to 6 weeks, until they hatch.Babies are black with yellow stripes and a bright blue tail. The stripes and tail color fade with age, with adults becoming a dark brown and males having a bright red head resemblign the broad-headed skink.

back to animals                  next animal