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Common Five-Lined Skink ((Plestiodon fasciatus)

The Common Five-Lined Skink is the only lizard native to Connecticut and, sadly, it is currently a state-threatened species. According to the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, “Five-lined skinks have been documented on bluffs bordering the Housatonic River in southwestern Litchfield County; on ledges bordering the Housatonic River in northwestern New Haven County and the Naugatuck River; and along ledges in southwestern Hartford County. The Five-Lined Skink is rare and localized in southwestern New England. The small size and fragmented nature of skink populations leaves them vulnerable to ecological catastrophes.”

Description:
Five-lined skinks are reptiles and have a smooth, shiny body with rows of tiny scales around the center of the body. They have claws on their feet and external ear openings. They grow to a length of 5 to 8.5 inches long, including the tail. The coloration is variable, depending on the age and gender of the individual skink. The five lines for which they are named are most prominent in the young. They will have five white or yellowish stripes on a blackish body and a bright blue tail.

As a Five-line Skink grows older and larger, the pattern becomes less conspicuous as the stripes darken, the body lightens, and the tail turns gray. Adult females usually retain some of the striped pattern; a broad dark band along the side of the body remains prominent.

Adult males usually show slight traces of stripes, but tend to become almost completely brown or olive in color. Males are territorial during the breeding season and develop orange-red coloration on the head and jaws as a display of aggression.

Both adult and juvenile Five-lined Skinks can detach most of their tails if grasped by a predator. There are cleavage points along the tail vertebrae that facilitate the breakage, much like perforations on a piece of paper that make tearing the paper easier. The detached tail thrashes on the ground for a moment to distract the predator. The Five-lined Skink will grow a new tail that is shorter than the original and gray in color.

Habitat:
Steep, rocky areas with open ledges, patchy tree and shrub cover, and an abundance of rotten logs and loose rock slabs. These habitats are usually adjacent to moist deciduous forests.

Range:
The Five-lined Skink range is closely linked to the eastern deciduous forest. It is found throughout much of the eastern United States, from New York west to Wisconsin and Illinois, and south to Texas and Florida. It is also found as far north as southern Canada in the Great Lakes region of Ontario.

Diet:
Carnivores and Insectivores. Active foragers feeding on insects, crickets, flies, grasshoppers, grubs, beetles, ants, and spiders. Adult males have strong jaws and can eat smaller lizards or mice.

Family Life:
Five-lined Skink females dig a small nest cavity in a rotting log, loose soil or leaf litter, and then deposit 4 to 20 eggs. She will guard the nest during the month-long incubation. The eggs hatch in August or September and about two days after they hatch the mother departs and leaves the young on their own. The Five-lined Skinks will then hibernate from October to April underground below the frost line, in a decaying log or even under large rocks.

Life Span:
Up to six years in the wild.

Status:
State-Threatened in Connecticut but Least Concern in other areas.