Skip to Content

Skinks in Virginia

There are 5 different types of skinks in Virginia. You can tell skinks apart from other lizards in the state by observing their scales and body patterns.

Skinks have smooth, glossy scales and small limbs. Their long and slender bodies often cause people to mistake them for snakes. However, these lizards are entirely safe to keep.

Skinks are fascinating lizards that play vital roles in the ecosystem. In this guide, you will learn valuable facts about those you can find in this state. You will also feel more confident in your ability to identify each species.

Most skinks in Virginia are shy lizards that spend their time foraging or resting in well-covered shelters. However, these lizards are fast and have developed several adaptations to escape predators.

One of such adaptations is autotomy—the ability to detach their tails. When trapped or chased by predators, these lizards abandon their tails to distract predators and escape.

This detachment can be an uncomfortable sight to watch, so you should avoid trying to capture these lizards in the wild.

More importantly, losing this tail takes a toll on their health. This is because skinks use their tails for fat storage, and regenerating lost tails requires a lot of energy.

Skinks in Virginia

1. Northern Coal Skink

Northern Coal Skink (Plestiodon anthracinus anthracinus) in dry leaf litter at Roanoke, Roanoke County, Virginia, USA
A Northern Coal Skink (Plestiodon anthracinus anthracinus) in dry leaf litter at Roanoke, Roanoke County, Virginia, USA. – Source
  • Experience Level: Advanced
  • Family: Scincidae
  • Scientific Name: Plestiodon anthracinus anthracinus
  • Other Names: Coal Skink, Black Skink
  • Adult Size:  5 to 7 inches
  • Lifespan: 6+ years
  • Average Price Range: N/A

You can find coal skinks in Virginia and many eastern U.S. states. But, unfortunately, there are not enough of them in any of those states, including Virginia. 

These lizards have sparse populations and spend most of their time out of sight. This behavior makes finding them a real challenge. Sadly, it is also one reason biologists do not know enough about their life history. 

Coal skinks live in moist coastal areas with lots of debris and litter. They tend to stay under this debris during the day, so you rarely see them basking on the ground surface. However, these lizards sometimes bask on the surface. 

If you approach a coal skink while it is in the open, it will make for the nearest shelter. Those close to streams make a habit of diving into the water when threatened. This habit is not typical of other skinks in Virginia. 

Coal skinks get their name from the night-black skin of their young. Hatchlings are born with no or faint lines on their black skin. In addition, their tails are bright blue or purple, and their heads bear small white markings. 

Mature coal skinks lose these blue tails and develop overall brown skins. Four thin, light lines appear on their sides—two on each side. Each pair of light lines has a broad, dark stripe in the middle. 

Northern coal skinks eat a high-arthropod diet, which includes lots of crickets, beetles, termites, and crustaceans. These lizards may also eat other invertebrates like worms. 

You may feed those in captivity with more nutrient-rich foods. Like most skinks, these lizards are not picky eaters.

2. Common Five-lined Skink

Common Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) on a mossy rock wall at Great Falls Park, McLean, Virginia, USA
A Common Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) on a mossy rock wall at Great Falls Park, McLean, Virginia, 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

Common five-lined skinks are different from coal skinks in several ways. First, these lizards have a wide distribution in Virginia and other states across the US. They are also relatively less shy.

Although common five-lined skinks are wary of predators and often hide from them, you can easily find these lizards in areas where they are abundant. They even near people in some rural areas.

Like most skinks, these lizards love moist environments. Their natural habitats are typically forests with many fallen trees, leaf litter, and rotting logs. Females lay eggs in or under these logs.

Five-lined skinks are comfortable on trees and the ground, so you can find them in either place. They tend to climb trees to bask in the sun when the temperature on the floor is unsuitable.

These lizards get their name from the five lines that run down the bodies of juveniles and female adults. The lines are yellow or light brown in young skinks and dark brown or gray in adult females.

Male adult common five-lined skinks tend to lose these lines and other juvenile features. Adult five-lined skinks are typically brown, with females being darker than males.

Adult five-lined skinks also tend to have brown tails, which differ significantly from the bright blue tails of juveniles.

These lizards are good fits for terrariums and are easy for experienced people to keep in captivity. Unfortunately, these lizards often die when handled by children or inexperienced keepers despite having simple care and feeding requirements.

Common five-lined skinks eat several kinds of foods but vastly prefer to snack on insects like roaches and crickets. They also eat other small invertebrates like worms. Less commonly, these lizards eat other tiny lizards.

3. Ground Skink

Ground Skink (Scincella lateralis) on rock and river debris at Northwest River Park, Chesapeake, Virginia, USA
A Ground Skink (Scincella lateralis) on rock and river debris at Northwest River Park, Chesapeake, Virginia, 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 peculiar lizards with adaptations and habits that set them apart from other skinks in Virginia. These lizards spend all their time foraging and resting on the ground. They never climb trees, hence the name “ground skink.”

These lizards are also the only skinks in Virginia with transparent parts in their lower eyelids. As a result, they can see through these transparent films even when their eyes are closed.

Ground skinks spend a lot of time traveling under debris and leaf litter, so this adaptation is useful in helping them see when covered with debris.

Ground skinks have coppery brown skins with a broad, dark stripe running along each side. However, you may encounter some with golden or dark brown skins.

The stripes of all little brown skinks run from snout to tail, and there are no light lines. These features and their transparent lower lids make it hard to mistake them for other skinks in Virginia.

You can find ground skinks in moist forest areas with loose soil areas with plenty of leaf litter and rotting logs. They tend to stay in coastal areas, but you can also find them in other places.

Little brown skinks are fast, tiny lizards that typically stay out of sight, so catching them can be significantly challenging. As a result, only advanced keepers tend to collect these skinks from the wild. Unfortunately, those captured typically end up as snake feed.

Ground skinks have a short lifespan and are not suitable as pets. They tend to last longer in captivity if you care for them well. However, even captive species scarcely survive more than four years.

You can feed ground skinks with insects and mealworms. They also eat other arthropods and are open to eating small fruits and vegetables.

4. Broadhead Skink

Broad-headed Skink (Plestiodon laticeps) on a concrete block near plants near Manassas Regional Airport, Virginia, USA
A Broad-headed Skink (Plestiodon laticeps) on a concrete block near plants near Manassas Regional Airport, Virginia, 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

Unlike other skinks in Virginia, broadhead skinks have distinct heads. You can identify adult males of this species by their broad, triangular heads. The jaws are usually orange, but they become brighter during breeding seasons.

Juvenile and adult female broadhead skinks differ from adult males in several ways. They are also less distinguishable from both young and female species of American and Southeastern five-lined skinks.

Young broadhead skinks have black bodies and long, bright blue tails. They also have five light brown lines running down their bodies. Adult females have these lines, too, but in a darker shade.

In contrast, adult males contain only broken traces of their juvenile stripes. Older male broadhead skinks typically bear no sign of these lines.

Both male and female adults lose their bright blue colorations and develop brown bodies. However, females are significantly darker than males.

Broadhead skinks are excellent tree climbers. They are arboreal skinks that spend most of their time on trees foraging or basking in the sun.

These lizards favor moist wooded areas with lots of trees and litter. So you are likely to find them perched on high branches anytime you visit their habitats.

Broadhead skinks do well in captivity and are suitable for home terrariums. However, you must ensure their enclosures have good vegetation and high basking spots. You also need UV lighting to substitute for sunlight.

These large lizards are not fond of handling, so they are not ideal if you want touch-loving reptilian friends. But caring for broadhead skinks is easy once you have made all the necessary arrangements.

Broadhead skinks primarily consume arthropods, and they also eat other small invertebrates, vertebrates, and fruits. In addition, these lizards can be cannibalistic, so it is not unheard of to find broadhead skinks eating their immature young.

5. Southeastern Five-lined Skink

Southeastern Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon inexpectatus)  on a brick wall near Nottaway Falls Park, Green Bay, Virginia, USA
A Southeastern Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon inexpectatus) on a brick wall near Nottaway Falls Park, Green Bay, Virginia, 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 species of five-lined skinks in Virginia. Adult males are easy to distinguish from broadheads but are more difficult to tell apart from American five-lined skinks.

The most effective way to differentiate this species is by studying the scales under its tail.

Southeastern five-lined skinks have even scales, but American and broadhead skinks have at least one uneven scale. If you have never handled skinks before, you may have trouble noting this difference.

Juveniles have black skins with five light lines and long, bright tails. All adults lose the blueness of their tails, but females retain the lines. However, these lines are much darker in females.

These medium-sized lizards generally turn brown in adulthood. Males take on a light hue while females are darker.

Adult males of this species have slightly orange heads. During breeding seasons, these lizards develop reddish-orange markings on their heads. However, the intensity fades once the breeding season is over.

You can find members of this species in moist forests with plenty of leaf litter. However, these lizards vastly prefer drier places compared to their American counterparts.

Southeastern five-lined skinks thrive in dry pine forests and sandhills, where you can find many of them foraging. They spend a lot of time on the ground, but they often climb trees to hunt or bask in the sun.

These lizards are suitable for terrariums and do not require much when it comes to food. They eat a high-arthropod diet, so feeding them with roaches and beetles is good. You may also supplement with vitamin-rich meals to ensure they get multiple nutrients.

If you keep one, ensure its terrarium is well-wooded and has good basking and hiding spots. You may include a UV light to make the enclosure much better.

Frequently Asked Questions

You probably have many questions about the skinks in Virginia after reading this article. Or maybe you need clarifications about specific issues. In this section, you will find clear answers to those questions.

How do you identify skinks?

Skinks differ from other lizards by having streamlined bodies and nearly indistinct heads. Their scales are smooth, colorful, and sometimes appear to shimmer in the sun. They also have reduced limbs, long tails, and a somewhat wavy motion that can make them seem like snakes from afar.

How rare are skinks in Virginia?

Skinks are not rare in Virginia. But, of course, some species are common because of their large populations and wide distribution. For instance, common five-lined skinks are the most encountered lizard around homes in Virginia. 

Others skinks are more challenging to find, either because they have small populations or these populations are concentrated in restricted ranges. For example, coal skinks are shy and avoid staying out in the open. This nature and the lizards’ few numbers contribute to their rarity.

What do skinks in Virginia eat?

Skinks in Virginia eat plenty of arthropods. From insects and arachnids to crustaceans, these lizards do not discriminate much. 

You can also feed these reptiles with non-arthropod foods like waxworms and fruits or vegetables. Making their diet variable is vital in helping them get lots of nutrients unavailable in arthropod-strict diets. 

Many skinks also eat other lizards, but this usually happens in the context of older adults eating younger lizards.

Are skinks in Virginia poisonous?

No. Skinks in Virginia are neither poisonous nor venomous. But, unfortunately, while no skink in the world is venomous, it is common to find people who believe some species are. 

This belief could be due to this lizard’s close resemblance to snakes or body patterns. Blue-tailed species, especially, are considered venomous because people think they carry special venoms. However, these beliefs are all unfounded. 

Skinks may bite when threatened, but even bites from larger species cannot harm you. You may experience some pain, but nothing is dangerous about these lizards.

Where are skinks found in Virginia?

You can find skinks in several parts of Virginia. The precise locations of these skinks differ from species to species. 

For example, you can find five-lined skinks in almost any part of the state, including residential areas. But these lizards are most at home in wooded habitats. 

Finding less common skinks requires researching their precise geographical distribution within the state.

Can you own a pet skink in Virginia?

Yes, you can own a pet skink in Virginia. The Department of Wildlife Resources does not prohibit you from owning skinks, but it has strict regulations regarding other reptiles in the state. 

Due to conservation efforts, the department requires you to get a permit to keep certain native reptile species beyond a specific number. 

While coal skinks are not on this regulated list, you should avoid taking them out of the wild since they have small populations.

Wrapping up

There are 5 types of skinks in Virginia. This number may not seem like much, especially considering that 3 out of the 5 are related and easy to mix up. However, each species has distinct traits that set it apart from the next.

Despite their high species count globally (1,500+), skinks are often considered exotic creatures. Many states have fewer skink species, so Virginia stands out by having up to 5 of them.

These lizards are most visually appealing when they are young, but there is a lot to like about them at any age. Besides helping control pests, watching their interactions with each other can be entertaining.

We hope you enjoyed learning about the different types of skinks in Virginia. If you are ever out herping in the state, identifying the species you encounter should be easy with this guide.

Click to rate this post!
[Total: 0 Average: 0]

Sharing is caring!