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Skinks in North Carolina

There are 5 different types of skinks in North Carolina, out of the 1,500+ skink species worldwide.

Skinks are one of the most diverse lizard groups globally. Each skink species differs in several ways, from personality to appearance. For example, some skinks make good pets, while others do not.

If you have ever wondered how many species of skinks occur in North Carolina, then this guide is for you.

Skinks are lizards with reduced limbs and slender bodies. These lizards may look like snakes from a distance because of their long bodies and similar wave-like motion. They also have smooth, shiny scales that give them a glossy appearance.

Like some lizard species, skinks are capable of autotomy. When under attack or threatened, this lizard can detach its tail. The tail dances around for a few minutes, distracting the predator while the skink makes it escape.

Watching this detachment happen can be uncomfortable for people who easily get queasy. But that is one more reason you should not harm skinks.

These lizards are valuable members of the ecosystem you can learn to love. So read this guide to learn about the types of skinks in North Carolina.

1. Little Brown Skink

Little Brown Skink (Scincella lateralis) on dry dirt and rocks near Great Leak at Croatan National Forest, Craven County, North Carolina, USA
A Little Brown Skink (Scincella lateralis) on dry dirt and rocks near Great Leak at Croatan National Forest, Craven County, North Carolina, USA. – Source
  • Experience Level: Advanced
  • Family: Scincidae
  • Scientific Name: Scincella lateralis
  • Other Names: Ground Skink
  • Adult Size: 3 to 5.75 inches
  • Lifespan: 2 to 4 years
  • Average Price Range: N/A

Little brown skinks are small, gold or copper brown lizards. But they may come in other colors like gray or black. They have a broad dark stripe on each side and a white or yellow belly.

There is virtually no difference between the appearance of this skink species’ young and adults.

You can find this lizard in moist forests with loose soil, lots of leaf litter, and logs. This species is called a ground skink because it spends virtually all its time on the ground. Unlike other skink species, it never climbs trees.

Ground skinks are swift lizards. Along with their tiny bodies, this speed helps them escape predators in a flash. These lizards crawl fast under the cover of leaf litter and debris in the forest. Catching one is challenging because it is often gone before you notice the leaves rustle.

This lizard moves easily under debris because the lower part of each eyelid is a transparent gap, sometimes called a window. So it can see through this “window” even when its eyes are closed as it moves under leaves or loose soil.

None of the other skinks in North Carolina has this adaptation.

Ground skinks do not make great pets. Due to their small size, short lifespan, and shy nature, people who are not advanced or experienced keepers often find it hard to handle them.

Many people who purchase little brown skinks use them as feeder lizards for other reptiles like young snakes.

You can feed little brown skinks with insects and arthropods.

Ground skinks will hibernate during seasons with freezing temperatures until the weather improves.

2. Coal Skink

Coal Skink (Plestiodon anthracinus) on a mossy log somewhere in Hesper, Kansas, USA
A Coal Skink (Plestiodon anthracinus) on a mossy log somewhere in Hesper, Kansas, 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 are one of the most secretive skinks in North Carolina and the US at large. These lizards are difficult to encounter, even in their natural ranges.

Coal skinks are born pitch black with white markings on their jaws but usually without stripes. As they mature, most of this black fades into brown, leaving a broad black or dark brown stripe on each side of the body. The lizard gets its name from the jet-black color of its skin.

Each dark stripe on the sides of a coal skink has two light brown or white lines bordering it. These lines give the lizard the appearance of a four-lined skink. You can differentiate a coal skink from other four-lined skinks by confirming if its broad stripe extends over the eyes into the snout.

Male coal skinks develop an orange tint on their heads during breeding seasons. After laying eggs, females of this species fiercely protect them until they hatch.

Coal skinks live in wooded hillsides and rocky areas close to streams and springs. In North Carolina, you are more likely to encounter them in the southern mountains.

When you approach them, these lizards will often take shelter under debris or in streams. This evasive habit is one of the reasons biologists do not adequately understand their life history.

You can feed coal skinks with arthropods like spiders, termites, beetles, ants, crickets, roaches, etc. They also feed on other tiny invertebrates like earthworms.

3. Five-lined Skink

Common Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) on a tree in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA
A Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) on a tree in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA. – Source
  • Experience Level: Beginner to Intermediate
  • Family: Scincidae
  • Scientific Name: Plestiodon fasciatus
  • Other Names: Common Five-lined Skink, American Five-lined Skink
  • Adult Size:  5 to 8.5 inches
  • Lifespan: 6 to 10 years
  • Average Price Range: N/A

American five-lined skinks are among the most widely distributed skinks in North Carolina. Adults have olive-brown ground colors, while juveniles have black or dark brown skins with bright blue tails. This blue tail fades into gray or brown as the lizard matures. 

These beautiful lizards have five lines running along their bodies. The lines are light brown or yellow in juveniles but darken into tan or gray in adults. The lines may fade in older males, but they remain prominent in females. 

During breeding seasons, the heads of adult males take on a bright orange tint. But this color fades back to orange-brown after the breeding season passes. 

You can find five-lined skinks in several habitats throughout North Carolina. These lizards favor moist habitats with lots of rotting logs. So you may encounter more of them in moist wooded areas near riverbanks. 

Five-lined skinks spend most of their time on the ground, but they may climb trees searching for food. They also tend to bask in the sun during warmer periods. Consider including basking spots and UV lighting in their enclosure if you keep them. 

You can feed five-lined skinks with crickets, spiders, roaches, and other arthropods. They may also eat small invertebrates and tiny vertebrates.

4. Southeastern Five-lined Skink

Southeastern Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon inexpectatus) on a white concrete step off Morton Road, North Carolina, USA
A Southeastern Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon inexpectatus) on a white concrete step off Morton Road, North Carolina, 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

Did you know the “inexpectatus” in this skink’s name is because its discovery was literally unexpected? Southeastern five-lined skinks are so similar to common five-lined skinks that scientists spent years thinking they were the same species.

So how do you tell the difference? You often cannot without expert help. However, one distinguishing feature is that the scales on the underside of this skink’s tail are roughly the same size. 

Southeastern five-lined skinks have five lines running along their bodies, with a narrow middle strip and two stripes on each side. The color of this lizard ranges from brown to black. 

Juveniles have black skins with light brown or yellow stripes and bright blue tails. This tail coloration is lost as the skink matures into an adult and the stripes darken. Adult males of this species develop orange markings on their heads during breeding seasons. 

You can find this skink in various habitats, but it favors wooded areas and slightly drier, sandy areas in the east and central parts of North Carolina. This lizard spends time on the ground but is quite capable of climbing.

Keeping this skink in an enclosure is easy because it requires very little. You can raise this skink on a diet of insects and other arthropods. But including other nutritious foods is also good.

5. Broadhead Skink

Broad-headed Skink (Plestiodon laticeps) on a hollow log in grass at Carolina Beach State Park, North Carolina, USA
A Broad-headed Skink (Plestiodon laticeps) on a hollow log in grass at Carolina Beach State Park, North Carolina, USA. – Source
  • Experience Level: Advanced
  • Family: Scincidae
  • Scientific Name: Plestiodon laticeps
  • Other Names: Broadhead Scorpion
  • Adult Size:  6 to 13 inches
  • Lifespan: 6 to 10 years
  • Average Price Range: N/A

Broadhead skinks are the biggest skinks in North Carolina. They have tan, brown, gray, or black skins. Males of this species have large, triangular heads. That is where the name “broadhead” comes from.

Juvenile broadheads have bright blue tails and five light brown to yellow lines running along their body. Adults lose this tail color, but females retain the five lines while males do not. 

Because of these lines, people often mistake adult females for other five-lined skink species. However, you can identify female broadhead skinks by their five labial scales when you examine them closely. 

During breeding seasons, adult males of this species develop an orange head. 

Broadhead skinks are particularly suited for display in home terrariums but are not a great choice if you enjoy physical contact with your pets. These big lizards do not enjoy handling, so they tend to run or bite. 

Very few skinks climb as much as this species. They spend a lot of time on tree branches basking in the sun. So if you intend to keep one, you need to include high basking spots and UV lighting in its enclosure. 

Broadhead skinks are predatory skinks. While they enjoy a good meal of insects and spiders, they also enjoy preying on smaller lizards and other tiny invertebrates. 

In some parts of North Carolina and the US, you may hear older folks refer to juvenile broadhead skinks as broadhead scorpions. This name is born from the misconception that skinks with blue tails are venomous. 

Frequently Asked Questions

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

How do you identify skinks?

Skinks have smooth scales and streamlined bodies. Unlike other lizards, they typically lack a clear distinction between head and body. Another thing you notice quickly is how relatively little their limbs are. 

You can distinguish between skink species by features such as appearance, size, habitat, location, and behavior.

Are skinks rare in North Carolina?

Some skink species are rare, while others are more widely distributed. At any rate, it can be hard to come across many species because these lizards are generally shy creatures. They prefer to stay close to their habitats and often take shelter when they feel threatened by predators or humans. 

What do skinks in North Carolina eat?

Skinks eat a primarily insectivorous diet. They enjoy snacking on small insects and arthropods like spiders, termites, beetles, crickets, and ants. Some skinks also eat small vertebrates, such as lizards of their own or other species. Additionally, you can feed pet skinks with fruits and veggies to increase their nutrients. 

Are skinks in North Carolina poisonous?

No. The skinks in North Carolina are not poisonous. They are not venomous either. In fact, no skink in the world is. However, skinks may bite when threatened. This bite can be painful, especially from big skinks, but it is harmless. 

People often assume that blue-tailed skinks, many of which occur in North Carolina, are venomous. But this assumption is wrong.

Where are skinks found in North Carolina?

Skinks occur throughout North Carolina. It depends on the species you are interested in finding. Most skinks enjoy moist habitats, such as forests with leaf litter and excellent hiding and basking spots or rocky areas near streams. In contrast, others enjoy more arid places and dry hillsides. 

Can you own a pet skink in North Carolina?

Technically, yes. North Carolina has no specific list of skinks you can keep as pets. However, since the state only regulates the possession of dangerous animals, you can keep skinks as pets. 

Still, if you plan to get a pet skink in North Carolina, look up the current regulations regarding that skink’s sale or collection first to make sure you are not breaking any rules. 

Wrapping up

There are several species of skinks in North Carolina. Knowing the differences in their appearance, temperaments, and habitats differ can help you correctly identify them when next you go herping in the state. This knowledge can also help you decide which species to adopt. 

Whether you adopt a skink or not, having one around your home or garden is beneficial. Due to their high-insect diet, skinks play a vital role in pest control. 

North Carolinian skinks live in a wide range of habitats, but they often prefer moist environments. Adapting your home terrarium to closely resemble a skink’s natural habitat will make caring for it easy. 

Some skink species, such as little brown skinks, survive better in captivity than in the wild. But this is not a license to remove skinks from the wild. Removing skinks from the wild without proper care often does more harm to them than good. 

If you plan to get a pet skink, make sure it is captive-bred, as these skinks tend to have fewer parasites and diseases. They are also much easier to keep.

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