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Skinks in Georgia

There are 6 different types of skinks in Georgia. These lizards live in diverse habitats and locations throughout the state.

The first time you glimpse a skink in a place like your home garden, you may feel tempted to chase and kill it if you do not know what it is. That is because they have long, slender bodies with smooth scales and move in the undulating manner of snakes.

However, skinks are entirely safe to have around and do not have all the downsides associated with some snakes.

Letting one or two forage freely in your garden may even be good for you. That is because skinks eat a large number of insects, so they can help you control pests.

If you are interested in learning more about the types of skinks in Georgia, keep reading this article. This guide will cover all the species of skinks you can find while herping in the state.

Whether you are a total newbie or have lots of experience with skinks, you are sure to leave here with new and exciting information.

Skinks in Georgia

1. Ground Skink

Ground Skink (Scincella lateralis) on white sand with pebbles found next to the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm, Savannah, Georgia, USA
A Ground Skink (Scincella lateralis) on white sand with pebbles found next to the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm, Savannah, Georgia, USA. – Source
  • Experience Level: Advanced
  • Family: Scincidae
  • Scientific Name: Scincella lateralis
  • Other Names: Little Brown Skink
  • Adult Size: 3 to 5.75 inches
  • Lifespan: 2 to 4 years
  • Average Price Range: N/A

Ground skinks get their name from their affinity for staying on the ground. Many skinks alternate between foraging on the ground and climbing trees to bask in the sun. Some species like broadhead skinks are even primarily arboreal.

Ground skinks, however, never climb trees. They do all their foraging and basking on the ground. They favor moist habitats like forests with lots of leaf litter and rotting logs. They prefer when these forests are close to streams and ponds.

True to their name, most little brown skinks you will encounter are copper brown with white or yellow bellies. However, it is not uncommon to come across some lizards of this species with black or golden brown skins.

Of all the skinks in Georgia, this species has the least dramatic change in coloration as it matures. As a result, adults and juvenile ground skinks have virtually the same color pattern.

You can identify this lizard by the presence of a broad, dark lateral stripe running from snout to tail on either side.

Its transparent lower eyelids are another feature that distinguishes it from other skinks in Georgia. This adaptation allows it to see even when its eyes are closed, helping it move with ease under debris.

While ground skinks are not rare, catching one will likely be challenging for novice keepers. This is because the lizards spend a lot of time traveling under leaf litter and debris. In addition, they are tiny and move fast when they sight potential predators, so you might not even see them before they escape.

Little brown skinks are not ideal pets, and only advanced keepers tend to hold them in captivity. You can feed them with diets high on insects and other arthropods.

2. Common five-lined Skink

Common Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) on a wooden fence surrounded by leaves at Kennesaw Mountain High School, Kennesaw, Georgia, USA
A Common Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) on a wooden fence surrounded by leaves at Kennesaw Mountain High School, Kennesaw, Georgia, USA. – Source
  • Experience Level: Beginner to Intermediate
  • Family: Scincidae
  • Scientific Name: Plestiodon fasciatus
  • Other Names: Five-lined Skink, American Five-lined Skink
  • Adult Size:  5 to 8.5 inches
  • Lifespan: 6 to 10 years
  • Average Price Range: N/A

You can find the American five-lined skink in almost any part of Georgia. This species is possibly the most widely distributed of all the skinks in Georgia.

The color and pattern of this lizard vary with age and sex. Juveniles have black skin with five prominent white or yellow lines running down their bodies. Their tails are bright blue, but this tail coloration disappears in adulthood. The skin also lightens to olive-brown in adult males.

While female adults retain their thin stripes, they darken to gray or tan. In male adults, only a hint of these lines usually remains. Older males may lose the stripes completely and develop uniform bronze skins.

Male American five-lined skinks have reddish-orange heads that become more brightly colored during breeding seasons. However, the intensity fades once the breeding season is over.

You can find these skinks in moist, wooded habitats throughout Georgia. However, you may also find them in rocky areas or around residential buildings. Those that live near residential buildings are more common in rural parts of the state.

American five-lined skinks spend most of their time foraging on the ground. But they also climb structures to find food or bask in the sun when the temperature on the floor becomes too uncomfortable.

These skinks are easy to care for if you keep them, but they are not the best lizard pets. Five-lined skinks are not fond of handling, so this could be a problem if you prefer touch-loving pets.

Other than that, you may enjoy keeping a five-lined skink in your home terrarium for display since it does not require much.

You can feed this lizard with crickets, spiders, beetles, and mealworms. If inclined, throw in some fruits and veggies to make its diet more nutritious.

3. Southeastern Five-lined Skink

Southeastern Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon inexpectatus) on white concrete surrounded by long green leaves at Jekyll Island, Georgia, USA
A Southeastern Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon inexpectatus) on white concrete surrounded by long green leaves at Jekyll Island, Georgia, USA. – Source
  • Experience Level: Beginner to Intermediate
  • Family: Scincidae
  • Scientific Name: Plestiodon inexpectatus
  • Other Names: Five-lined Skink, Scorpion
  • Adult Size: 5.5 to 8.5 inches
  • Lifespan: 6 to 10 years
  • Average Price Range: N/A

There are 3 distinct species of five-lined skinks in Georgia: Southeastern five-lined skinks, American five-lined skinks, and broadhead skinks.

While male adults of these species are relatively easier to distinguish, females and juveniles are not. No wonder taxonomists spent years believing the Southeastern five-lined skink and the American five-lined skink were the same species.

You are equally likely to mistake both species if they are placed in your hands. That is because they look so alike that it is hard—but not impossible—to tell the difference.

Like common five-lined skinks, juveniles of this species possess bright blue tails and five thin light stripes on their black bodies. Adult females turn brown and retain a darker form of these stripes, while males typically lose them.

Adult male Southeastern five-lined skinks also develop bright reddish-orange markings on their heads during breeding seasons.

To distinguish between American and Southeastern five-lined skinks, you need to look at the scales under their tails. Southeastern five-lined skinks have scales of virtually uniform sizes.

Like common five-lined skinks, lizards of this species enjoy living in wooded habitats. However, Southeastern five-lined skinks differ by tending towards slightly drier places. So you can find them in arid areas with little water and vegetation.

Southeastern five-lined skinks share similar care requirements with the common species. You can feed them high-arthropod diets containing lots of spiders, crickets, and beetles. These lizards also enjoy eating small non-arthropod invertebrates and vertebrates.

4. Broad-headed Skink

Broad-headed Skink (Plestiodon laticeps) on an overgrown log near Briscoe Park, Snellville, Georgia, USA
A Broad-headed Skink (Plestiodon laticeps) on an overgrown log near Briscoe Park, Snellville, Georgia, USA. – Source
  • Experience Level: Advanced
  • Family: Scincidae
  • Scientific Name: Plestiodon laticeps
  • Other Names: Broadhead Scorpion, Broadhead Skink
  • Adult Size: 6 to 13 inches
  • Lifespan: 6 to 10 years
  • Average Price Range: N/A

Broadheads are the largest skinks in Georgia. They get their name from the characteristically huge, triangular heads of adult males. This feature makes full-grown males of this species unmistakably different from the other five-lined skinks in the state.

In addition to their large heads, you can identify adult male broadhead skinks by their red-orange heads. This color brightens during breeding seasons but is present all the time.

Young broadhead skinks and adult females are more difficult to distinguish from other five-lined skinks. Juvenile broadheads have black skin, five thin white or yellow stripes, and blue tails.

Adult broadheads generally have brown skins. The skin is dark in females but light in males. Females also retain juvenile stripes but in a relatively dark brown shade. Males may or may not have traces of these lines. In some older male skinks, no hint of the stripes remains.

Broadhead skinks are active climbers. They spend time on the ground but love to climb trees and elevated structures to bask in the sun and hunt for food. You can find them in forests with lots of logs and fallen trees.

Broadhead skinks do well in captivity and are suitable for display in home terrariums. However, they hate touching and will often run or bite you when you handle them. If you keep one, make sure its enclosure is spacious and well-lit.

Include elevated basking spots and UV lighting in this lizard’s enclosure. This species loves moist environments, so make sure its enclosure never gets too dry.

You can feed broadhead skinks with arthropods like spiders and beetles. It is also good to supplement this skink’s diet with foods rich in vitamin D. This species sometimes eats immature lizards.

Adult male broadheads are territorial against other males but welcome females into their spaces.

5. Coal Skink

Coal Skink (Plestiodon anthracinus) on forest debri near Soap Creek at Weatherby Park, Georgia, USA
A Coal Skink (Plestiodon anthracinus) on forest debri near Soap Creek at Weatherby Park, Georgia, USA. – Source
  • Experience Level: Advanced
  • Family: Scincidae
  • Scientific Name: Plestiodon anthracinus
  • Other Names: Coal Skink
  • Adult Size: 5 to 7 inches
  • Lifespan: 6+ years
  • Average Price Range: N/A

Coal skinks spend much time evading interactions with humans and potential predators. These small lizards have limited natural ranges and are difficult to find even within those ranges.

You can find coal skinks in wooded hillsides and rocky areas near ponds and streams. They may dive into streams or rock crevices when you approach them if they feel threatened by your presence.

These lizards are born jet-black with shiny blue tails and white marks on their heads. Their skins are usually plain, but some possess faint lines. As they grow older, their black skins gradually fade to brown.

Their sides remain dark, with two thin white lines bordering the dark lateral stripes. This pattern is why adult coal skinks are considered four-lined skinks.

You can distinguish coal skinks from other four-lined skinks because their dark lateral stripes extend into their snouts, and their thin white lines extend to their tails. However, if you have experience with skinks, counting the scales is a more objective way to differentiate four-lined skinks.

Like other skinks of their genus, adult male coal skinks develop orange marks on their heads during breeding seasons. This color fades once the breeding season has passed.

You can feed coal skinks with insects and arachnids like spiders. You may also find this animal eating crustaceans along the rivers near its habitat.

When you encounter a coal skink, it is best to admire it and move on. These skinks have low populations and are best left alone in the wild.

6. Northern Mole Skink

Northern Mole Skink (Plestiodon egregius similis) in sane at Vision Ministries Church of God, Baldwin County, Alabama, USA
A Northern Mole Skink (Plestiodon egregius similis) in sane at Vision Ministries Church of God, Baldwin County, Alabama, USA. – Source
  • Experience Level: Advanced
  • Family: Scincidae
  • Scientific Name: Plestiodon egregius similis
  • Other Names: Mole Skink
  • Adult Size: 3.5 to 6 inches
  • Lifespan: N/A
  • Average Price Range: N/A

Northern mole skinks are designated a vulnerable species status in Georgia. Of all the 5 mole skink species in the US, this lizard is the only one found outside of Florida.

Northern mole skinks are just as secretive as coal skinks. So biologists only know little about their lives. They also have small populations, which makes finding them a challenge.

Juveniles usually have bright blue tails that are slightly longer than their bodies. Adults are gray or dark brown with long, orange, or reddish-brown tails. They have tiny limbs, which they only use in surface movement.

Northern mole skinks love to swim in loose sand, but they are not true sand swimmers. You can find these lizards in dry sandhills or rocky areas. They spend much time underground but also enjoy basking in the sun.

This lizard eats various insects, from beetle and beetle larvae to cockroaches and crickets. You can also feed them with worms and small vertebrates.

Frequently Asked Questions

If you have recently taken an interest in the skinks in Georgia, you may have many questions about them. You will find clear answers to those questions in this section.

How do you identify skinks?

You can tell a skink apart from other lizard species by looking at its body. Skinks have long, streamlined bodies and smooth, glossy scales. You can identify them by their lack of distinct heads. They also typically have small limbs, which they use for movement. Some species adapted to swimming in loose sand do not use these legs as often.

Are skinks rare in Georgia?

It depends on the species you are interested in. Some species like coal skinks and northern mole skinks are rare due to their small populations and shy nature. Other skinks like five-lined skinks are more ubiquitous and can be found throughout the state. However, you should know that even skinks with high populations may be difficult to find in Georgia. That is because the lizards often stay within their natural habitats and spend much time under debris and hiding spots.

What do skinks in Georgia eat?

Skinks in Georgia are primarily insectivorous. They eat many arthropods like crickets, ants, beetles, spiders, and termites. The specific composition of their diet depends on the arthropods available in their environment. In addition to arthropods, you can find these skinks feasting on tiny invertebrates like earthworms and snails or small vertebrates like immature lizards. Some skinks eat the young of their species.

Are skinks in Georgia poisonous?

No. Skinks in Georgia are not poisonous. No skink in the world is poisonous or venomous. While we do not recommend consuming skinks, they are safe to ingest. That is why animals like snakes prey on them.

Like many people, you may think skinks are dangerous due to their close resemblance to snakes. Older people even refer to juvenile blue-tailed species as scorpions because they are considered venomous. But this could not be further from the truth.

While skinks may bite you when provoked or threatened, their bite is entirely safe. However, it might hurt a bit.

Where are skinks found in Georgia?

You can find skinks almost anywhere in Georgia. It depends on the species you are looking for. For example, five-lined skinks are widely distributed throughout Georgia. However, you may have difficulty finding even one in the northern parts. Coal skinks, on the other hand, have more restricted ranges. If you want to see any of the skinks in Georgia, make sure you read about its natural habitats and geographical distribution. Doing so will help you know where to look.

Can you own a pet skink in Georgia?

No. You cannot legally keep skinks as pets in Georgia, regardless of the species. The Department of Natural Resources does not permit the collection of skinks without permits or licenses. While the state may issue licenses for legitimate collection purposes, you will not get one to keep a skink as a pet.

Wrapping up

Skinks are shiny, smooth-scaled lizards. These lizards are most beautiful when they are young, but they are also great to look at as adults. Luckily, you can find many types of skinks in Georgia.

While the species in Georgia are not the most ideal pets to handle, they are safe to keep, and you can benefit from having them around your home.

If you live in parts of Georgia where any of the skinks discussed in this article are abundant, we hope reading this guide has made you more confident in identifying them.

Remember not to take skinks out of the wild. Besides breaking the law and disrupting the ecosystem, you risk harming them.

Chasing skinks can cause them to detach their tails to distract you. They typically regenerate these tails, but it takes a toll on their health.

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