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Photo of five-lined skinks.

Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus)

Appearance

One of three species of lizards found in Minnesota, this small reptile measures up to 8 inches in length, including its tail. Its name is derived from the five stripes running lengthwise down the body. Its scales are small, smooth, and shiny with a gray-black background color. Male skinks will get an orange-red coloring around their jaw during the breeding season. Young lizards have a bright blue tail. Juvenile five-lined skinks and juvenile prairie skinks appear very similar, but the prairie skink has more than five stripes. The six-lined racerunner is longer than the other two lizards, has rough scales, and is partially green.

Habitat and range

Minnesota five-lined skinks are on the northwestern edge of their U.S. range. Populations are found in the upper Minnesota River valley near Redwood Falls, the St. Croix River bluffs at Taylors Falls, and the southeastern blufflands. Five-lined skinks are found in forested or prairie habitats with south-facing rock outcrops because these are the only spots warm enough for skinks to live. They use the outcrops for hibernating sites.

Biology and life history

Skinks in Minnesota spend more than half the year hibernating underground. Adult skinks, active from May to September, bask on rocks and tree trunks but quickly retreat underground when disturbed. Females lay six to 10 eggs under rocks or logs and guard them during the 30- to 60-day incubation. Juveniles hatch starting in late July and are active to early October. Skinks eat a variety of arthropods, including crickets, beetles, and spiders.

Defense mechanism

If attacked by a predator, the skink will drop its tail to hasten escape. The detached tail wiggles about, distracting the predator while the skink flees. The tails usually grow back, but shorter and stubbier.

Status

In 1996 the five-lined skink was removed from the state's list of endangered species and designated as a species of special concern. Though five-lined skinks inhabit three distinct areas of the state, their need for open south-facing rock outcrops limits their population size. In 1984 the state's only known population of five-lined skinks was in the rock outcrops of the Minnesota River valley. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, new populations were found in Fillmore, Houston, and Chisago counties. In 1992 a science teacher discovered five of these lizards in the woods behind the high school in Taylors Falls. Minnesota's Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy includes the five-lined skink as a species in greatest conservation need.

John Moriarty,
Ramsey County natural resources manager and herpetologist

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