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Skinks in Kansas

There are 6 different types of skinks in Kansas. Some sources say 7, but this is because taxonomists are yet to agree on elevating one subspecies to full species status.

Skinks are fascinating lizards with long, streamlined bodies and smooth, glossy scales. At first glance, you can tell they are not your typical lizards. Many people even mistake them for snakes.

There are many myths about these lizards. For example, some believe they are venomous or eventually become snakes. While these beliefs are unfounded, people believe them because many species look like snakes if you only catch a brief glimpse of them.

The skinks in Kansas are pretty diverse, with many unique traits that make them easy to identify. While all the species in this state favor damp habitats, the specifics of their habitats differ.

They also have different behaviors and temperaments. So it is vital to know how each species differs if you plan to get a pet skink in Kansas. Fortunately, this guide covers all this.

This article will discuss all the skinks in Kansas and valuable facts about each. No matter your level of knowledge, you are bound to learn something new here today.

Table of Contents

  1. Skinks in Kansas
    1. Ground Skink
    2. Great Plains Skink
    3. American Five lined Skink
    4. Broad headed Skink
    5. Coal Skink
    6. Prairie Skink
  2. FAQ
  3. Conclusion

Skinks in Kansas

1. Ground Skink

Ground Skink (Scincella lateralis) in someone's hands at Schermerhorn Park, Garden, Kansas, USA
A Ground Skink (Scincella lateralis) in someone’s hands at Schermerhorn Park, Garden, Kansas, 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 are among the most common skinks in Kansas and most US states. In most states, their population is secure, and people rarely keep them as pets.

They have tiny bodies, which makes them a challenge to handle, and they also do not live long. While these factors prevent people from keeping them as pets, they do not stop these skinks’ collection. Many people collect little brown skinks and sell them as feeder lizards for young snakes.

As their name suggests, little brown skinks are generally brown, ranging from dark brown to gold. However, the majority of them have copper brown skins. They also have broad dark stripes that run from snout to tail on either side.

Unlike most skinks in Kansas, ground skinks show consistent pattern and coloration across all life stages and sexes.

These lizards live in moist forests with loose soil and plenty of leaf litter, rotting logs, and other debris. For the most part, these lizards stay under the leaf litter in their habitats. They hunt and forage under these leaves, occasionally surfacing to bask in the sun.

While other skinks climb trees to hunt or bask in the sun, ground skinks never climb. This habit is why the lizards are known as ground skinks.

Fortunately, these lizards are well-adapted for traveling and hunting under litter and debris. They have transparent scales in their lower eyelids to help. These clear scales enable them to see well under leaves, even with closed eyes.

Little brown skinks are fast lizards. By the time predators hear the rustle of the leaves under which the skinks were, the lizards are far gone.

Ground skinks eat various foods, but insects are their favorite snack. Additionally, these lizards eat small invertebrates like waxworms.

2. Great Plains Skink

Great Plains Skink (Plestiodon obsoletus) curled up on a rock in Piedmont, Kansas, USA
A Great Plains Skink (Plestiodon obsoletus) curled up on a rock in Piedmont, Kansas, USA. – Source
  • Experience Level: Advanced
  • Family: Scincidae
  • Scientific Name: Plestiodon obsoletus
  • Other Names: N/A
  • Adult Size: 6 to 14 inches
  • Lifespan: 3 to 8 years
  • Average Price Range: N/A

Great Plains skinks are the largest skinks in Kansas. You can find these lizards in open prairies in the wild. Being predominantly burrowing skinks, they scarcely climb trees or spend time outside basking in the sun.

The color of these lizards ranges from grey tan to grey. But they are easy to tell apart from other skinks in the state.

This reptile has a unique pattern and coloration absent in other Kansas skinks. First, its lateral scales are in oblique rows. Other skinks in Kansas all have horizontal rows.

Additionally, this lizard has a net-like pattern caused by the arrangement of cycloid scales with black, crescent-shaped outlines. The points where these scale outlines touch each other also form multiple broken black lines on the lizard’s back.

Great Plains skinks have pink traces on their backs. Also, most have a yellow wash on their tails and limbs. Hatchlings of this species are pitch-black with bright blue tails and white spots on the heads. However, they lose their colors and patterns as they mature.

These lizards have the most extreme pattern change you will find among skinks in Kansas. So much so that taxonomists believed juveniles and adults were entirely different species.

If you plan to keep this skink as a pet, know that it is not cuddly. It is beautiful and an excellent fit for display in terrariums. However, it might bite you if you try to pick it up. It has stronger jaws than most skinks in Kansas, so its bite will hurt.

Model its enclosure after its natural habitat as much as you can. So ensure its terrarium has open spaces and enough litter or soil it can burrow into for comfort.

You can feed Great Plains skinks with arthropods, including cockroaches, spiders, and crickets.

3. American Five-lined Skink

Common Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) on wooden planks in Douglas County, Kansas, USA
A Common Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) on wooden planks in Douglas County, Kansas, USA. – Source
  • Experience Level: Beginner to Intermediate
  • Family: Scincidae
  • Scientific Name: Plestiodon fasciatus
  • Other Names: Common Five-lined Skink, Five-lined Skink
  • Adult Size:  5 to 8.5 inches
  • Lifespan: 6 to 10 years
  • Average Price Range: N/A

You can find American five-lined skinks majorly in the eastern parts of Kansas. However, these lizards are the most common skinks in North America. They also show dramatic color change during development, but it is not as extreme as you will find in Great Plains skinks.

Juvenile common five-lined skinks are black with five narrow dorsolateral yellowish-white lines and a bright blue tail. The blue on their tail fades as the skinks mature, and the ground color becomes brown.

Adult females are generally darker than most males you will find. They also retain their juvenile narrow lines in a darker form. However, most adults males do not. You will only see a hint of this line in those still bearing it.

Five-lined skinks live in various habitats. However, you will find most in hardwood forests and damp woodlands. They prefer when these habitats are abundant in leaf litter, logs, and rocks. But you can also find them in gardens and trash piles near people’s homes.

These lizards are as at home on trees as on the ground. They mostly forage and bask on the forest floor. However, they may also climb trees to bask in the sun or hunt.

If you keep a five-lined skink as a pet, ensure its enclosure is optimal. Ensure the place is well-wooded and humid enough to provide moisture for the lizard. Also, install UV lighting and put in enough basking spots.

Sadly, if you like cuddling your pets, this skink is not the right fit for you. Five-lined skinks do not enjoy being handled. Usually, they run if you try petting them. But they might bite if they have no place to run.

You can feed these lizards with beetles, cockroaches, spiders, and other arthropods. They also eat worms and tiny vertebrates.

4. Broad headed Skink

Broad-headed Skink (Plestiodon laticeps) in rubble in Miami County, Kansas, USA
A Broad-headed Skink (Plestiodon laticeps) in rubble in Miami County, Kansas, USA. – Source
  • Experience Level: Advanced
  • Family: Scincidae
  • Scientific Name: Plestiodon laticeps
  • Other Names: Broadhead Scorpion, Five-lined Skink, Broad-headed Skink, Broadhead Skink
  • Adult Size: 6 to 13 inches
  • Lifespan: 6 to 10 years
  • Average Price Range: N/A

Broadheads are another five-lined skink species, but they are larger than American five-lined skinks. These lizards are the second-largest skinks in Kansas.

Broad headed skinks and common five-lined skinks are similar, so you may have difficulty telling them apart. Mature male broadhead skinks are easier to identify because of their expanded jaws and large, triangular heads. However, juveniles and adult females are not.

Like common-five-lined skinks, juveniles and adult female broadheads have five narrow dorsolateral light lines. Young broadhead skinks also have black skin and bright blue tails, which fade in adulthood.

If you encounter these lizards in the wild, count their facial scales to tell them apart. Broadheads have 5 supra-labial scales in front of their eyes on each side. They also lack enlarged post-labial scales, while common five-lined skinks have two post-labial scales.

You can find broadhead skinks in humid forests with lots of leaf litter, rotting logs, and trees with cavities. They favor oak forests and are the most arboreal skinks in Kansas. In the wild, you will often find them basking on high tree branches.

While these skinks forage on the ground, they run for the nearest tree when threatened by predators. Otherwise, they are skilled predators themselves. Insects are their primary food, but they often hunt other small vertebrates, including lizards.

If you keep this skink as a pet, be sure to install UV lighting and elevated basking spots. The environment should also be damp and abundant in leaf litter.

Sadly, these skinks are not cuddly. They dislike handling and scarcely warm up to their keepers. But this should not discourage you. Broadheads are beautiful, so you can display them in your terrariums. In addition, watching them hunt prey you feed them is fascinating.

5. Coal Skink

Coal Skink (Plestiodon anthracinus) on a log in Douglas County, Kansas, USA
A Coal Skink (Plestiodon anthracinus) on a log in Douglas County, Kansas, USA. – Source
  • Experience Level: Advanced
  • Family: Scincidae
  • Scientific Name: Plestiodon anthracinus
  • Other Names: Coal Skink, Black Skink
  • Adult Size:  5 to 7 inches
  • Lifespan: 6+ years
  • Average Price Range: N/A

Coal skinks are born pitch-black, which is where their name comes from. They have blue tails and white spots on their heads but usually lack stripes at birth. However, you may find some hatchlings with faint lines.

You can identify adult coal skinks by the presence of four narrow lateral light lines, two on either side. They also have a broad dark stripe that extends to the snout in the middle of each light line.

In contrast to young coal skinks, the skin of an adult is brown, and there is no blue coloration on its tail.

Coal skinks live in moist forests and hillsides close to streams and ponds. Their habitats have plenty of leaf litter, fallen logs, rocks, or floor debris they can hide under. Because these skinks are super secretive, they travel and forage under the litter and rarely surface.

The secretive nature of these skinks makes sightings rare. In addition, it prevents biologists from fully understanding the lives of these lizards.

They stay close to their shelter when basking openly, which they rarely do. These shy lizards also seem like the most water-friendly skinks in Kansas. They often dive into nearby streams or under debris to avoid predators.

Coal skinks are rare almost everywhere they occur. Therefore, when you see these lizards in the wild, try not to disturb them. You should never collect them from the wild without a permit.

These lizards mainly eat crickets, spiders, roaches, beetles, crustaceans, and other arthropods. However, they also eat other invertebrates like worms and small vertebrates.

6. Prairie Skink

Prairie Skink (Plestiodon septentrionalis) on concrete in Riley County, Kansas, USA
A Prairie Skink (Plestiodon septentrionalis) on concrete in Riley County, Kansas, USA. – Source
  • Experience Level: Advanced
  • Family: Scincidae
  • Scientific Name: Plestiodon septentrionalis
  • Other Names: Northern Prairies Skink, Southern Prairie Skink
  • Adult Size: 4 to 8 inches
  • Lifespan: Up to 7 years
  • Average Price Range: N/A

There are two subspecies of prairie skinks in Kansas: northern prairie skinks (P. s. septentrionalis) and southern prairie skinks (P. s. obtustirostris). Many taxonomists classify them as distinct species, but this is yet to officially change. As a result, most still list them as the same species.

Juveniles of both subspecies have dark skins with bright blue tails. However, this pattern changes significantly as the lizards mature into adults. Adults of both forms have milk-white to yellow bellies but differ in other ways.

Adult northern prairie skinks in Kansas range from whitish to light gray. They also have a prominent broad, dark lateral stripe that runs from behind each eye to the tip of their tails.

In addition, they have four stripes running from head to tail tip. These lines are not as well-defined as the lateral stripes. In addition, the middle lines often become washed or jagged.

Adult southern prairie skins are typically dark tan with light tan sides. Their lateral stripe extends from the eyes but ends just after the hindlimbs. Each dark lateral strip has a light line bordering it on both sides. Dorsal stripes are also usually absent or poorly defined.

Prairie skinks are just as secretive as coal skinks, so you will have difficulty finding them in Kansas. If you are determined, you will most likely see them in grasslands with plenty of loose soil.

These skinks love moist environments. As a result, they spend most of their time hiding under rocks, rotting logs, or other debris. They often burrow into the soil and hide there to avoid extreme temperatures.

Though sights are rare, prairie skinks are most active between March and July. These skinks mainly eat insects and other arthropods.

Frequently Asked Questions

You probably have many questions about the skinks in Kansas after reading this article. Or maybe you need clarifications about specific issues.

This section contains clear answers to all your questions.

How do you identify skinks?

You can identify a skink by its scales, color, and body pattern. These lizards have long, slender bodies, reduced limbs, and smooth, shiny scales. While some skinks are legless, none of those in Kansas are. Many species also have indistinct heads.

How rare are skinks in Kansas?

It depends on the species. Some skinks in Kansas occur all over the state, while others have declining or minute populations. For example, ground skinks are common in Kansas. Other species like coal skinks are rare. They have sparse distributions and a small number of sightings.

What do skinks in Kansas eat?

Skinks in Kansas mainly eat insects and other arthropods. In addition, most eat other invertebrates like waxworms or mealworms. It is also common to see them feasting on other small vertebrates.

Many adult skinks eat immature lizards, including members of their species. Broadhead skinks even sometimes go after small mammals.

Although skinks are generally carnivorous, many eat fruits like native grapes and blackberries in the wild. So you can include these into your pet skinks’ diet. But do not overdo it.

Are skinks in Kansas poisonous?

No. Skinks in Kansas are not poisonous. Sadly, many people think they are. You may even hear older people refer to juvenile blue-tailed skinks as scorpions in rural areas. This name comes from the erroneous assumption that the lizards are venomous.

Skinks are entirely safe to be around. While they bite when threatened or mishandled, the bite is harmless.

It is likely that some skinks have a bitter taste. That is because some predators spit them out after trying to eat them, but the lizards are not poisonous.

Where are skinks found in Kansas?

You can find skinks in most parts of Kansas. While not all species live within the same range, some like Great Plains skinks range throughout most of the state. Others like coal skinks have only been sighted in a few places.

Secretive skinks are usually more challenging to find than others, regardless of their distribution. So look up the parts of Kansas with the most sightings for the species you want to locate before going on your next adventure. These areas often vary widely between species.

Can you own a pet skink in Kansas?

Yes. You can own some skinks in Kansas. However, the rules differ depending on the species. The only skinks you can legally keep as pets are species approved for purchase or collection by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.

For threatened or endangered species, you need a special permit from the department. Sadly, you are unlikely to get a license to keep threatened species as pets due to conservation concerns.

Wrapping up

Kansas has a variety of skinks, each unique from the other. You can easily tell most apart, while others require close inspection to identify.

If you encounter these skinks on your next adventure, do not harm or take them out of their natural habitats after admiring them. Instead, it is best to purchase pet skinks from approved dealers.

You risk harming these skinks if you try catching them from the wild. You also risk disrupting the ecosystem you find them. These lizards consume many insects and arthropods, which helps control arthropod populations and maintain the natural ecosystem order.

We hope this guide helps you identify the skinks you encounter more accurately on your next adventure in Kansas.

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