2012 has been proclaimed the Year of the Lizard by Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC) to raise awareness for lizard conservation. The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), a member of PARC since 1999, is participating in this outreach effort by shining a spotlight on Connecticut’s only native lizard, the five-lined skink. Also found in Vermont and historically in Massachusetts, the five-lined skink is at its northeastern range limit in southwestern New England.
The five-lined skink’s range corresponds closely with the eastern deciduous forest. The skink is so uncommon in Connecticut that it is considered a threatened species on our state’s Threatened and Endangered Species List. “Skink populations are found in four widely separated areas in western Connecticut,” said Jenny Dickson, DEEP Wildlife Division Supervising Wildlife Biologist. “They occur in steep, rocky areas with open ledge, patchy tree and shrub cover, and an abundance of rotten logs and loose rock slabs.”
If you are ever fortunate enough to observe one of these smooth, shiny lizards, look at the rows of tiny scales around the center of the body and the color of its tail. Young skinks have a bright blue tail and five white or yellowish stripes on a blackish body. As skinks grow older and larger, the pattern becomes less conspicuous; the stripes darken, the body lightens, and the tail turns gray. Males are territorial during the breeding season, and develop orange-red coloration on the head and jaws as a display of aggression. Five-lined skinks measure from 5 to 8.5 inches long, including the tail.
Although five-lined skinks spend much of their time under rocks and other shelter, they will bask in sunny spots on logs or rocks. Rock climbers at several sites in Connecticut often see them running along cliffs. Skinks feed on various insects (crickets, flies, grasshoppers, grubs, beetles, ants) and spiders.
“When grasped by a predator, both adult and juvenile skinks will readily lose most of their tails,” added Dickson. “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 to distract the predator, generally allowing the lizard to escape. The five-lined skink will grow a new tail that is somewhat shorter than the original and somewhat gray in coloration.
Why Focus on Lizards and Why Now? Lizard populations in North America and throughout the world are being impacted by the expansion of human communities. Threats faced by lizards include habitat loss and fragmentation, invasive species, predation, over-exploitation, and climate change. You can make a difference for Connecticut’s only native lizard by observing skinks from a distance and leaving them alone. Report any possible sightings of five-lined skinks to the DEEP Wildlife Division at 860-675-8130.
Wild skinks should NOT be kept as pets. Those sold in pet stores should NOT be released to the wild as they can introduce diseases to wild and genetically distinct populations.
One of the best ways to learn more about the Year of the Lizard and the five-lined skink is to subscribe to DEEP’s Connecticut Wildlife magazine (www.ct.gov/deep/wildlifemagazine). You also can visit PARCs Web site at www.yearofthelizard.org, as well as the wildlife section of the DEEP’s Web site (www.ct.gov/deep/yearofthelizard).
What Is PARC? Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC) is an inclusive partnership dedicated to the conservation of the herpetofauna–reptiles and amphibians–and their habitats. Membership comes from all walks of life and includes individuals from state and federal agencies, conservation organizations, museums, pet trade industry, nature centers, zoos, energy industry, universities, herpetological organizations, research laboratories, forest industries, and environmental consultants. The diversity of its membership makes PARC the most comprehensive conservation effort ever undertaken for amphibians and reptiles. PARC is habitat focused, and centers on endangered and threatened species and keeping common native species common.