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Skinks in South Carolina

There are 5 different types of skinks in South Carolina. While it may not seem evident at first, skinks are a type of lizard. 

Depending on which taxonomist you ask, they are the first or second most diverse lizard group with over 1,500 species worldwide. 

The skinks in South Carolina are distributed across the state according to species and habitat requirements. Some species are more widely distributed than others. Others are rare to encounter, so you will have trouble finding those. 

If you have only recently become interested in these lizards, you can identify them by their long, slender bodies and the distinct patterns that decorate their smooth scales. 

Skinks generally have small limbs, but this does not impair their movements. Their limbs function well and are used for climbing, burrowing, and foraging on the soil. 

While they do not crawl on their bellies, their swift and wavy motion can cause you to mistake them for snakes. But these lizards are entirely safe to be around.

There are benefits to having skinks around your home, even if you do not adopt one. This article will discuss them, along with the types of skinks you can find while herping in South Carolina.

1. Broadhead Skink

Broad-headed Skink (Plestiodon laticeps) on a rock at Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, Columbia, South Carolina, USA
A Broad-headed Skink (Plestiodon laticeps) on a rock at Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, Columbia, South Carolina, 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 the largest skinks in South Carolina and much of the United States. They get their name from the distinctly large, triangular, and orange heads of adult males of the species. 

These lizards are generally light to dark brown or gray as adults. Juveniles are black with bright blue to purple tails. As the lizards mature, they lose their beautiful tail coloration.

Broadhead skinks are five-lined skinks. Juveniles have five thin light stripes running down their backs. These lines mostly disappear in adult males while females retain the lines in a darker form. 

This lizard spends time on the ground and on trees but is primarily arboreal. It loves to climb, and you can often find it basking in the sun from the top of high tree branches. 

You will likely encounter this skink in moist, wooded habitats with plenty of leaf litter. If you keep one, make sure its enclosure is as close to its natural habitat as possible. 

This means ensuring the enclosure has enough vegetation and moisture. You should also include elevated basking spots and UV lighting to warm the lizard and substitute for sunlight. 

Broadhead skinks are suitable for display because of their beautiful colors, juveniles especially. However, if you are looking for a friendly companion you can pet often, these skinks are not ideal. 

Broadhead skinks are not comfortable with handling. So they might become aggressive towards you when you try petting them. Unsurprisingly, this aggressiveness is also typical among adult males who battle for territorial dominance and mating rights. 

You can feed broadhead skinks primarily with arthropods like termites, roaches, spiders, and crickets. Besides these, broadheads eat various foods, including veggies and small vertebrates. Ensure to supplement their diet with other foods rich in vitamin D.

2. American Five-lined Skink

Common Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) on a chopped trunk near Hidden Creek Horse Farm, South Carolina, USA
A Common Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) on a chopped trunk close to a green bug near Hidden Creek Horse Farm, South Carolina, 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

The name five-lined skink generally refers to American five-lined skinks. Although there are several types of five-lined skinks, this species is the most common and widely distributed in the United States. 

These lizards are most beautiful when they are young. Juvenile five-lined skinks have black bodies with five white or yellow dorsolateral stripes. Their tails are bright blue, but they lose their tail and body coloration as they mature. 

Although adult females fade to dark brown or gray, they retain their line pattern in darker shades. Males differ by being lighter and often possessing only traces of their juvenile pattern. Older species may be uniformly brown.

Common five-lined skinks love moist habitats. You can find them in forests with many fallen trees and leaf litter. While these habitats may be close to streams or ponds, this is not required. 

You may come across this species outside its preferred habitats in several parts of South Carolina, including residential areas. 

Five-lined skinks are comfortable climbing trees, and they often do so to bask in the sun or forage. However, these lizards are primarily ground-dwelling. 

Like other five-lined skinks, adult males are territorial against other males. However, they typically welcome females into their spaces. Females show considerable parental care by guarding their eggs until hatching. 

During breeding seasons, the heads of adult males of this species turn reddish-orange. However, the intensity of this coloration fades once the seasons have passed. 

You can feed five-lined skinks with crickets, roaches, or any other insect available. They also eat worms and small vertebrates. Moreover, these lizards scarcely discriminate, making them easy to care for in captivity.

3. Southeastern Five-lined Skink

Southeastern Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon inexpectatus) on jagged wood at Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, Jasper County, South Carolina, USA
A Southeastern Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon inexpectatus) on jagged wood at Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, Jasper County, South 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

Southeastern five-lined skinks are the third type of five-lined skinks in South Carolina. It is easy to mistake them for American five-lined skinks, and taxonomists did—for 100+ years! 

These lizards have stunning black juvenile bodies patterned with five light lines. Their tails are long and bright blue. Of course, this pattern drastically changes as they age, but they remain visually appealing. 

Adults tend to have brown to gray skin, with males lighter and females darker. Females also retain a darker shade of their juvenile stripes, while males lose them. 

While it is relatively easier to distinguish between the adult male species of five-lined skinks in South Carolina, females and juveniles are much harder to tell apart. 

You can distinguish the Southeastern five-lined skink from others by observing the scales under its tail. This species tends to have scales of roughly even size, while others have uneven scales. However, you may still have difficulty telling the difference if you are not an expert. 

Southeastern five-lined skinks can live in forests and moist wooded habitats like common five-lined skinks. However, they often enjoy living in drier places. Therefore, you can find them in arid areas like dry pine forests. 

Southeastern five-lined skinks have similar care requirements to American five-lined skinks. These lizards eat a wide variety of foods, although they are primarily insectivorous. So you can feed them ants, beetles, and crickets. Tiny fruits and vegetables may also do them good once in a while. 

Like broadheads and common five-lined skinks, this species does not enjoy handling. You can keep it in your terrarium for display or other purposes, but it is not a choice pet if you love physical contact.

4. Coal Skink

Coal Skink (Plestiodon anthracinus) curled up in a rock at Carvins Cove National Reserve, Salem, Virginia, USA
A Coal Skink (Plestiodon anthracinus) curled up in a rock at Carvins Cove National Reserve, Salem, Virginia, USA. – Source
  • Experience Level: Advanced
  • Family: Scincidae
  • Scientific Name: Plestiodon anthracinus
  • Other Names: Four-lined Skink, Scorpion
  • Adult Size:  5 to 7 inches
  • Lifespan: 6+ years
  • Average Price Range: N/A

Young coal skinks are visually stunning. These lizards are born pitch black with thick, bright blue tails. They are usually without lines, bearing only small white markings on their heads. However, some hatchlings have traces of a line pattern.

As these lizards mature, the black ground color fades to brown in all places but the sides. Here, a broad, dark lateral stripe forms. The light lines become more visible because they mark the dark stripes on each side. 

There are four light lines on a coal skink, making it a type of four-lined skink. However, this species is different from most four-lined skinks because its broad, dark stripes extend past each eye into its snout. 

There are no other four-lined skinks in South Carolina, so this method is enough to identify coal skinks. 

Sometimes coal skinks may be difficult to distinguish from adult five-lined skinks that have lost their dorsal stripe. In this case, you can tell a coal skink apart by checking its single postmental scale. Five-lined skinks have 2. 

Coal skinks are highly secretive lizards that favor moist wooded habitats near streams and ponds. Even in areas where they occur naturally, encountering them is rare. 

These lizards spend a lot of time under debris and litter. You may occasionally find them on the ground basking in the sun. But they always run for the nearest stream or debris for shelter when people approach them. 

These small lizards feed on various types of arthropods, including roaches, crickets, and riverside crustaceans. 

Adult males of this species develop orange tints on their heads during breeding seasons. However, the intensity of the orange markings reduces during non-breeding seasons. 

Coal skinks are officially a threatened species in South Carolina, so collecting them from the wild is prohibited.

5. Ground Skink

Ground Skink (Scincella lateralis) on a leaf at Myrtle Beach State Park, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, USA
A Ground Skink (Scincella lateralis) on a leaf at Myrtle Beach State Park, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, 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 fast and tiny lizards that spend a lot of time foraging under debris and leaf litter. They spend virtually all their time on the ground and never climb trees, which is how they get their name. 

Ground skinks generally have golden brown to dark brown ground colors with a broad dark stripe on either side. However, most ground skinks you will encounter are copper brown. 

Males and females of this species look alike, and there is virtually no difference between juveniles and adults. The broad, dark stripe runs from the snout to tail at all developmental stages, and the belly is white or yellow. 

Little brown skinks favor moist habitats like forests with loose soil, lots of leaf litter, rotten logs, and fallen trees. Many ground skinks prefer if these forests are coastal, but this is not always the case. 

In their natural habitats, ground skinks prefer moving under leaf litter. They have transparent lower eyelids that help them adapt well to this life. The transparency of their lower eyelids allows them to see even when their eyes are closed. 

Little brown skinks feed on insects like crickets, beetles, and beetle larvae. These lizards also eat small invertebrates and vertebrates. If inclined, you may give them small fruit servings once in a while. 

Ground skinks are not great pets due to their size, short lifespan, and dislike for handling. Most people who keep ground skinks sell them in the pet trade. These lizards are frequently used to feed other carnivorous reptiles like juvenile snakes.

Frequently Asked Questions

If you have recently taken an interest in the skinks in South Carolina, 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 easily identify skinks by their streamlined bodies, smooth scales, long tails, and reduced limbs. Despite their size, these limbs are functional, and skinks use them in locomotion. Some species are legless, but none of the skinks in South Carolina are.

Are skinks rare in South Carolina?

No. Skinks are not rare in South Carolina. Of course, this depends on the species you are interested in and what you mean by rare—population numbers or frequency of sightings? 

Some skinks are more common than others. For instance, five-lined skinks are abundant throughout the state, so you cannot say they are rare. However, other species like coal skinks are rare and harder to find because of their sparse populations. 

Based on the frequency of sightings, you may consider several skinks rare. You typically will not see skinks as often as you see more common lizard species. That is because skinks are secretive lizards that love to stay hidden.

What do skinks in South Carolina eat?

Skinks in South Carolina eat lots of insects and other arthropods. Skinks are not too picky about what they consume outside their primary diet. These lizards eat tiny invertebrates like worms and small vertebrates like immature lizards. If you keep skinks, you may also occasionally give them small fruits and vegetables to supplement their diet.

Are skinks in South Carolina poisonous?

No. Skinks in South Carolina are not poisonous. They are not venomous either, which means nothing will happen if they bite you. The skinks in South Carolina are known as toothy skinks because they have teeth. While their bite can hurt a bit, it’s entirely safe and does not cause any injury.

Where are skinks found in South Carolina?

You can find skinks almost anywhere in South Carolina. However, skink distribution in this state depends on several factors, such as species preference and habitat requirements. As a result, different skinks have different geographical distributions. 

For instance, common and Southeastern five-lined skinks are found throughout the state, while coal skinks are mostly restricted to western South Carolina. If you are interested in finding a particular skink in South Carolina, read about its specific geographical range.

Can you own a pet skink in South Carolina?

Many people keep certain skink species as pets in South Carolina. However, whether this is legal or not is a different question. Presently, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources prohibits the purchase, sale, and collection of native reptiles without valid permits. 

The department issues valid permits for several purposes, such as rehabilitation, education, and conservation. But there is no exception for the personal adoption of skinks. So ensure you check with the department before adopting a skink to avoid breaking any laws.

Wrapping up

You can find many types of skinks in South Carolina. But, sadly, you cannot legally adopt all of them. The state has several reasons for prohibiting this, such as conserving threatened species like coal skinks. 

Skinks are great animals to have around the home, whether you adopt them or not. One of the benefits of having skinks around is that they help you control pests. These animals eat many insects, so they are excellent biological controls. 

Besides being valuable to the ecosystem, skinks are generally pleasing to watch. That is why many people keep them as pets. You can tell the different species apart by observing their unique patterns, colors, and scales. 

If you come across any of the skinks in South Carolina while out in the wild, we hope you find this list valuable in identifying them.

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