Ground Skinks Are Out and About
by Ro Wauer
As our spring weather warms up, a number of wildflowers appear, and our resident birds begin to sing more enthusiastically. But there is yet another sure sign of spring: the appearance of our little ground skinks. They have been in semi-hibernation since late fall, appearing only occasionally on warm days. But now they are active and one of our most abundant reptiles, in spite of being hardly noticed. One reason for this is their secretive behavior, moving about amid leaf litter, only occasionally spending much time in the open. And their generally brown coloration provides them with excellent camouflage. Unless one is actively searching for one of these little skinks, they usually go undetected except if one happens to sees movement among the litter.
Adult ground skinks (scientifically known as Scinella lateralis) are 3 to 5.5 inches in length, are rather plump with a long thin tail, very short legs, gold-brown to blackish-brown back, pale belly, and a close look will reveal a dark stripe along each side. Ground skinks are widespread across the southeastern quarter of the United States. In Texas they occur west through the Hill Country and southward almost to the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Eight other skinks, all of the genus Eumeces, also are found in Texas: southern prairie, five-lined, broadhead, northern many-lined, Great Plains, southern coal, short-lined, and four-lined.
All skinks are smooth and shiny in appearance, and they normally are active and swift and difficult to capture. Although they are considered to be lizards, they belong to a separate family, Scinidae. The majority of skinks are terrestrial, although a few live in trees. Our ground skink very rarely is found anywhere other than on the ground among leaf litter. They can climb, however, but rarely do. Most observations are of lone individuals moving through the liter, snake-like, foraging for small invertebrates that are rapidly consumed. They serve as prey for many larger predators; their numbers offer a ready but difficult food base for a wide variety of species.
Several clutches are often produced each season. Females lay one to seven tiny eggs in the humus, in rotting wood, or under rocks. Unlike other skinks, ground skinks do not protect their nest. Newly hatched babies are less than two inches in length. But almost immediately they are out and about, foraging for even smaller food.
For anyone who does not spend time in the outdoors, you may not be aware of these little creatures. But once one begins to pay attention, you will find them commonplace, whether in open fields, woodlands, and even in yards. Get acquainted with our only skink.