Special Concern in Canada since 2007, Special Concern in Ontario since 2009.
The five-lined skink is the only lizard endemic (found no where else in Canada) to Ontario. This small lizard (usually around 5-8.6 cm snout to vent) has five cream coloured lines running lengthwise down its body. Their characteristic blue tail is actually only present in juveniles or mature young females and is used to attract predators away from their heads in cases of attack. When threatened, the skink will drop its tail which is can later regenerate. As the five-lined skink matures, its colours tend to fade into a duller brown/light brown (including those of its tail).
The five-lined skink is an active hunter which eats mostly invertebrates primarily targeting arachnids and crickets. Five-lined skinks hunt their prey using their eyesight as well as a sense of “smell”. These lizards, like many reptiles “smell” by flicking their tongue in and out of their mouth which allows them to picks up chemical signals similar to the way a mammal nose works.
Habitat: Where do they live?
The five-lined skink is widespread in eastern North America, being found from Florida and Texas in the south to Minnesota and Ontario in the north. Within Ontario Skinks have two population ranges: Carolinian forests in Southwestern Ontario (around Lakes Erie, St. Clair, and Huron) and the Canadian Shield (around the Great Lakes-St.Lawrence) where they are found in the Land Between. The five-lined skink typically resides in habitats with rocky outcrops, sand dunes, prairies (less than 10% tree cover), savannas (less than 30% tree cover) or open canopy forests that contain early successional vegetation. These little beauties are usually seen on open rock barrens or outcrops that have cover rocks present; however they spend most of their time hidden relaxing under wood or rocks. Having access to woody debris is very important for species presence and is negatively correlated with human disturbance. Such debris and rock cover is very important in allowing skinks to maintain healthy body temperatures (in all seasons). If such characteristics of microhabitats are removed it is very hard for skinks to find new suitable habitat because they only travel a maximum of 100 meters are year, with average distance traveled being much lower than that.
Behaviour and life cycle:
Five-lined skinks in the Georgian Bay population emerge from hibernation in early May and are active until late September-October (depending on seasonal temperatures). Breeding generally occurs in spring with females often breeding with multiple males which together father separate eggs in one clutch. Females then lay 9-10 eggs under a thin layer of soil/lichen, logs or rocks. They will stay with these eggs and protect the nest until eggs hatch in 4-6 weeks. Juvenile skinks reach sexual maturity during their second spring and typically live about 5 years in the wild, but have been reported to reach ages up to 10 years.
Habitat loss is the greatest threat to skink populations as they require very specific ecosystem characteristics to survive. Increased predation due to proximity to humans is also an issue which leads to subsidized predation by wild animals (like raccoons and skunks who have higher populations around human settlements) and predation by domesticated animals like dogs and cats. Additional threats include:
- Illegal collecting
- Road Mortality
Want Five-Lined Skinks on your property?
Consider providing habitat by leaving woody debris and allowing it to decay on site rather than collecting and removing it. In addition, do not allow your cat or dog outside without a leash or tether.
Interested in teaching your class or children about skinks? Check out this awesome activity by the Frontenac Arch Bioreserve!