Friday, July 11, 2008


Walk slowly through the forest and you’ll perceive scurrying along the floor. If you’re eyes are quick enough, you’ll catch a glimpse of a reptile tail as it disappears beneath the leaf litter. Sometimes that slither you detect, and the slender tail you catch sight of is a little snake, but more often than not, it’s a lizard called a skink.

There’s a reason these sleek, smooth-scaled herps get mistaken for snakes: the two groups have some similarities. Other than having ear holes, the skink’s head looks just like a snake’s head. The skink’s body is streamlined and – at first glance – you might overlook those telltale legs and feet.

There are six species of skinks in Louisiana. One is found in southeastern parts of the state. Another prefers open fields. That leaves four kinds of skinks scurrying through the forests of Northwest Louisiana: coal, ground, broad-headed, and five-lined.

With an electric-blue tail, the young five-lined skink is by far the most visually stunning lizard in the forest. Obviously designed to make a predator think twice, that shockingly colored tail appears to be a bluff. After a few years the bright blue fades. The five lines fade, too, and an older individual can be mistaken for its broad-headed cousin.

Five-lined skinks are nesting now. To see them in action, scan the forest floor for fallen trees, roll a few logs back, and have a peak. You may discover a mother skink guarding a clutch of a dozen or more eggs. She will stay with them for the next few weeks until they hatch, and then she’ll eat the ones that don’t.

It’s hard out there for a skink. Raccoons, possums, foxes, snakes, and birds are all looking to make a meal out of her and her babies. So, after you've found her, please be kind and roll the log back into place.

Here are a few interesting web resources to explore:

The digital morphology library allows you to examine the animal’s skull inside and out.

Brandon’s Herb Adventure is a series of You Tube videos showcasing reptiles and amphibians found in the Pensacola, Florida area. Brandon is a 15-year-old, walking, talking reptile and amphibian field guide.

If you want a list of all the herps in Louisiana, this one from the Louisiana Gulf Coast Herpetelogical Society, is in a nice portable format, and includes both scientific and common names.

If you're old school like me and want a book to flip through, this one is the most complete resource available for the state (although it's out of print and in limited supply, and old enough that some of the scientific names have changed since its publication).