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Skinks in Louisiana

There are 6 different types of skinks in Louisiana. While it is not immediately obvious to many people, skinks are lizards.

These small reptiles have smooth skins, streamlined bodies, and tails longer than their trunks. They enjoy moist environments with abundant vegetation. However, you may find that some skinks in Louisiana prefer slightly different habitats.

Skinks are vital in regulating the ecosystem. They consume large numbers of insects and arthropods, preventing these species from overpopulating their habitats.

Even if you do not keep a skink in-house, having one or two roaming around your garden undisturbed can help you control pests naturally. Fortunately, some species live close to residential areas.

Many skinks in Louisiana are shy creatures. They spend a lot of time in or close to their shelters to avoid predators. These skinks typically run when faced with a potential predator, but they may bite if they cannot escape.

Skink bites are harmless. The bites are only effective on smaller animals, so you do not have to worry about getting bit by one.

If you have ever wondered about the types of skinks in Louisiana, this guide will teach you all you need to know.

1. Ground Skink

Ground Skink (Scincella lateralis) on a piece of wood at Hilltop Arboretum, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA
A Ground Skink (Scincella lateralis) on a piece of wood at Hilltop Arboretum, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 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, or little brown skinks, are among the most widely distributed skinks in Louisiana. These skinks live in moist forests with loose soil, plenty of leaf litter, and rotting logs. However, you can find them in other places.

As their name suggests, little brown skinks are generally brown. Their skin color can range from golden brown to dark brown, but most are copper brown. They also have a broad, dark stripe that runs the body’s length.

Little brown skinks are unique among the skinks in Louisiana for two chief reasons. The first is that these lizards never climb. Other species sometimes climb trees to forage or bask in the sun.

In contrast, little brown skinks do all their foraging and basking on the ground. This trait is why they are called ground skinks.

The second reason is that ground skinks have clear scales in their lower eyelids, helping them see even with closed eyes. These lizards almost always travel under the leaves in their habitats, so having transparent eyelids makes it easy.

Of all the skinks in Louisiana, ground skinks are the only species that do not exhibit dramatic coloration during development. Juveniles have similar patterns to adults, and males and females look alike.

Sadly, little brown skinks do not make great pets. Due to their minute size and short lifespan, only experienced keepers typically collect ground skinks. Unfortunately, most little brown skinks in captivity become feeder lizards for juvenile snakes and other reptiles.

You can feed these lizards with various kinds of arthropods. They enjoy eating beetles, spiders, and roaches. However, these lizards also eat other invertebrates like worms.

In the wild, various animals prey on ground skinks, from snakes to bluebirds.

2. Southern Prairie Skink

Southern Prairie Skink (Plestiodon septentrionalis obtusirotris) in dry dirt against an orange wall in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA
A Southern Prairie Skink (Plestiodon septentrionalis obtusirotris) in dry dirt against an orange wall in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA. – Source
  • Experience Level: Advanced
  • Family: Scincidae
  • Scientific Name: Plestiodon septentrionalis obtusirotris
  • Other Names: Prairie Skink
  • Adult Size: 4 to 8 inches
  • Lifespan: Up to 7 years
  • Average Price Range: N/A

Southern prairie skinks are the only subspecies of prairie skinks in Louisiana. However, some scientists classify them as a separate species from northern prairie skinks.

These shy skinks inhabit the prairies and grassy plains in the northeastern parts of the state. Sadly, the reduction in prairies due to urbanization contributes to the decline of these lizards.

Prairie skinks typically stay out of sight, so it is hard to find these lizards even within their natural ranges. They tend to hide under rocks providing plenty of moisture. So you are more likely to encounter them in prairies near streams or ponds.

Juvenile prairie skinks have black skins sporting light lines that extend to the tail. They also have blue tails that fade with maturity. In adults, the ground color becomes brown to tan.

Adult southern prairie skinks have several poorly defined alternating light and dark stripes on their backs. However, a prominent dark stripe runs from the eyes to the tail of this skink.

Unlike northern prairie skinks, this lizard’s stripes rarely reach the tail tip. Some older southern prairie skinks retain only traces of these stripes on almost uniform skins.

Female adults are typically darker than males. However, they both have whitish or yellowish bellies free of lines.

During breeding seasons, adult males develop red-orange markings on their heads. However, this coloration fades once the season is over.

Prairie skinks chiefly eat various kinds of insects and spiders. However, these reptiles will also eat other invertebrates like waxworms when available.

If you come across prairie skinks in Louisiana, do not take them out of the wild. These lizards are extremely rare in the state, with sparsely distributed populations.

3. Common Five-lined Skink

Common Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) on a mossy wooden trunk near Lockport Elevated Wetlands Board Walk, Lcokport, Louisiana, USA
A Common Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) on a mossy wooden trunk near Lockport Elevated Wetlands Board Walk, Lcokport, Louisiana, USA. – Source
  • Experience Level: Beginner to Intermediate
  • Family: Scincidae
  • Scientific Name: Plestiodon fasciatus
  • Other Names: American 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 all over Louisiana. These ubiquitous lizards are the most common skinks in the state and most of North America.

Five-lined skinks are born black with five light lines running down their backs and sides. Juveniles have bright blue or purplish tails, but this coloration disappears as the lizard matures.

Female adult five-lined skinks retain a darker shade of their juvenile lines, but their skin changes from black to dark brown. On the other hand, most male adults bear only a hint of their juvenile stripes and become light brown to bronze.

Although you can find five-lined skinks in various habitats, most species prefer moist zones with plenty of vegetation. Usually, these places are forests with abundant leaf litter and rotting logs under which females lay eggs.

Five-lined skinks are good climbers that enjoy spending time on the ground. However, they often climb trees to search for food or bask in the sun when the floor temperature is not optimal.

These lizards are reasonably easy to keep because of their simple dietary requirements. You can feed them with spiders, roaches, crickets, ants, and other arthropods. They also eat other invertebrates like worms.

If you intend to keep a five-lined skink, make sure its enclosure is comfortable. Keep the place well-wooded and include hiding and basking spots for the lizard. In addition, installing a UV light helps substitute for sunlight when you keep it indoors.

Sadly, five-lined skinks may be the wrong lizard pet for you if you prefer cuddly animals. These skinks do not enjoy being touched or handled frequently. While you can tame them, they will often try to bite if they cannot run away from you.

Fortunately, these bites will not harm you.

4. Southeastern Five-lined Skink

Southeastern Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon inexpectatus) on a wood plank near Little Natalbany River, Independence, Louisiana, USA
A Southeastern Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon inexpectatus) on a wood plank near Little Natalbany River, Independence, Louisiana, USA. – Source
  • Experience Level: Beginner to Intermediate
  • Family: Scincidae
  • Scientific Name: Plestiodon inexpectatus
  • Other Names: Five-lined Skink, Scorpion
  • Size:  5.5 to 8.5 inches
  • Lifespan: 6 to 10 years
  • Average Price Range: N/A

Southeastern five-lined skinks are identical to American five-lined skinks in many ways. In fact, taxonomists did not know the difference for more than a hundred years, so you may have difficulty differentiating them, too.

The “inexpectatus” in the skink’s name gives this fact away. The discovery of this species was unexpected.

Like common five-lined skinks, these lizards have brown bodies, with adult females darker than males. Females retain their juvenile stripes in a darker shade while males do not.

Juveniles have bright blue tails and black backs marked with five light lines. Unfortunately, both adult sexes lose this beautiful tail coloration.

When distinguishing this species from American five-lined skinks, compare the scales instead of the body patterns. For instance, Southeastern five-lined skinks have scales of uniform sizes under their tails. In contrast, common five-lined skinks have an uneven scale.

Southeastern five-lined skinks may occur in moist forest habitats similar to those of common five-lined skinks. However, Southeastern five-lined skinks are much more comfortable in arid areas than the common species.

Southeastern five-lined skinks are comfortable on the ground. However, these lizards also often climb trees to forage or bask in the sun. They eat a variety of insects and small invertebrates.

You can care for these lizards the same way you do for common five-lined skinks. Ensure their habitat is well-wooded, include basking spots, and install UV lighting to make the lizards comfortable.

Like American five-lined skinks, Southeastern five-lined skinks do not fancy being petted or touched. So you are probably better off with other skink species if you like cuddly pets.

5. Broadhead Skink

Broad-headed Skink (Plestiodon laticeps) on wood BREC'S Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA
A Broad-headed Skink (Plestiodon laticeps) on wood BREC’S Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA. – Source
  • Experience Level: Advanced
  • Family: Scincidae
  • Scientific Name: Plestiodon laticeps
  • Other Names: Broadhead Scorpion, Five-lined Skink
  • Adult Size: 6 to 13 inches
  • Lifespan: 6 to 10 years
  • Average Price Range: N/A

Broadhead skinks are similar to the other five-lined skinks in Louisiana. Juveniles have black skin with five light lines and bright blue tails. Sadly, this tail coloration disappears in adulthood.

Female adults have dark brown skin but retain their juvenile stripes. Like juveniles, adult female skinks are often mistaken for the other five-lined species. However, adult males are easier to distinguish.

While all adult male five-lined species have brown skins and almost no light stripes, male broadheads have wide, triangular jaws. This distinguishing feature is how broadhead skinks get their name.

To distinguish for sure between broadheads and other five-lined skinks, examine their labial scales. Broadhead skinks have 5 supralabial scales in front of their eyes on one or both sides of their faces.

You can find broadhead skinks across Louisiana in forests abundant in hollow trees and rotting logs. While these lizards sometimes spend time on the floor, they vastly prefer basking and foraging on high tree branches.

These lizards are the largest and most arboreal skinks in Louisiana. Unfortunately, they are also quite aggressive.

Adult male broadheads are highly territorial, so they often fight other adult males for encroaching on their territory or over mating rights. Females, however, are exempt from their aggressiveness.

During breeding seasons, the heads of adult males become deep red-orange. However, the intensity dulls once the breeding season has passed.

You can keep broadhead skinks in a terrarium to display their visually pleasing patterns. Sadly, these lizards are unlikely to warm up to you. Since they dislike handling, they will run or attempt to bite you if you touch them.

If you decide to keep a broadhead skink, ensure its enclosure is well-wooded with high basking spots. Include UV lighting to make the lizard comfortable. You can feed it with arthropods and small invertebrates.

6. Coal Skink

Coal Skink (Plestiodon anthracinus) on a rock in Ware, Missouri, USA
A Coal Skink (Plestiodon anthracinus) on a rock in Ware, Missouri, 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 similar to prairie skinks in their shyness. You can hardly find coal skinks even within their natural ranges in Louisiana because they stay hidden most of the time.

These lizards live in areas with plenty of moisture and floor debris. Therefore, they tend to favor forests with abundant leaf litter near streams and ponds. In these habitats, the skinks spend most time foraging under the cover of leaves and rarely surface.

It is uncommon to find these skinks in the open. When out, they typically stay close to their shelters. They often dive into streams or under debris to seek shelter when approached by humans or predators.

The evasive behavior of these skinks is one reason many gaps remain in our understanding of their life history. Their tiny populations also contribute to this gap. Sadly, coal skinks are endangered species in virtually every state they occur.

Coal skinks are born coal-black, which is how they get their name. Hatchlings have uniform black skin, white or reddish spots on their heads, and bright blue tails. Some possess hints of thin light lines on their sides, but most do not.

The blue tail fades with age, and the black skin lightens to brown in adults. The thin lines become more pronounced with a pair on each side. Each pair of light lines has a broad, dark stripe in the middle.

You may mistake this four-lined skink for adult female five-lined skinks that have lost their middorsal line. Count the postmental scales to differentiate both species. Coal skinks have 1, while five-lined skinks have 2 postmental scales.

These shy lizards subsist on a diet high in insects and arachnids, such as crickets, spiders, and termites. Many also eat crustaceans from the streams in their habitats.

Frequently Asked Questions

You probably have many questions about the skinks in Louisiana 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?

Skinks differ from most lizards by having smooth scales, reduced limbs, streamlined bodies, usually indistinct heads, and long tails. While legless species exist, all the skinks in Louisiana have legs. These reptiles travel fast and resemble snakes if you only catch a glimpse of them.

How rare are skinks in Louisiana?

Skinks are not rare in Louisiana. Some species, such as coal skinks and prairie skinks, are rare. However, most species have broad distributions across the state. For instance, you can find five-lined skinks in most parts of Louisiana, including residential areas.

What do skinks in Louisiana eat?

Skinks in Louisiana mainly eat arthropods, such as spiders, beetles, beetle larvae, termites, and more. However, they also eat other invertebrates like waxworms and mealworms.

It is common to find skinks that prey on other lizards. Many species, such as broadheads, are cannibalistic. Mature broadheads sometimes consume their immature young.

If you keep a skink, it is okay to occasionally feed it fruits and vegetables. Many keepers do so to spice up the lizard’s diet. However, you should not overdo it.

Are skinks in Louisiana poisonous?

No. The skinks in Louisiana are not poisonous. It is a myth that any type of skink anywhere is poisonous or unsafe to be around. Of course, these lizards bite. However, the pain from this bite is minimal and nonvenomous.

The false belief that skinks are poisonous is likely due to some species’ juvenile blue tail coloration or the close resemblance of others to snakes.

Where are skinks found in Louisiana?

You can find skinks all over Louisiana. Some species are easier to find. For instance, five-lined skinks are easy to encounter throughout the state due to their broad distribution. However, species like coal and prairie skinks have more restricted ranges and are hard to find.

If you want to locate a specific skink species in Louisiana, research its geographical range first.

Can you own a pet skink in Louisiana?

Yes. There is no regulation prohibiting the possession of these lizards in Louisiana. However, you need a permit to hold, purchase, or collect endangered animals in the state.

Always opt for captive-bred skinks when deciding on a pet skink to buy. Since laws sometimes change, ensure you research existing animal laws before getting a pet skink. Contact the state’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries if you need clarification.

Wrapping up

Louisiana is home to different types of skinks. Fortunately, you can easily identify most species by their scales, pattern, color, and behavior. Knowing how these lizards’ behaviors and habitat requirements differ helps you decide which to adopt.

The skinks in Louisiana are excellent fits for home terrariums. They make great pets as long as you are not trying to cuddle them. Fortunately, they are also generally low-maintenance.

While there are many benefits to owning a skink, collecting them from the wild is not advisable. These lizards dislike handling and may drop their tails while trying to escape you. The tails regenerate, but growing a new one impacts their health.

Captive-bred skinks are often better pets. They have fewer parasites and are easier to tame. When getting one, ensure your dealer is authorized.

Fortunately, you do not need to own a skink to enjoy the benefits of having these reptiles around. Species living close to you can help you control pests effectively. They are also fun to observe in nature.

Whether you are interested in owning a skink or are just curious about the skinks in Louisiana, we hope this guide has been valuable to you.

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