Five-lined Skink

Plestiodon fasciatus

Quick Facts

  • Species

    Native

  • Size

    Five to 8.5 inches in length

  • Habitat

    Five-lined skinks inhabit moist forested areas where there are plenty of places to hide, like rock crevices or piles of wood and leaf debris, and plenty of open areas to bask in the sun. Skinks are active during the day and are solitary outside of mating season. During the winter months, they hibernate.

  • Range

    Can be found throughout the eastern United States, including the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed.

  • Diet

    Primarily eats insects and spiders

  • Lifespan

    Six years
  • Status

    Stable

The five-lined skink is a small reptile with five distinctive stripes running along the length of its body. It can be found in damp forested areas throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Appearance

Five-lined skinks are known for the five white or yellow stripes that run down their bodies from nose to tail. The rest of the body can be black, brown or olive—they tend to lighten as they age, and males’ stripes may fade. Juveniles have bright blue tails. They are between five and 8.5 inches in length. Males have larger heads than females and have orange coloring on their snouts that develop during mating season. 

Feeding

Five-lined skinks feed primarily on insects or spiders, but may also eat snails or frogs.

Predators

Skinks are susceptible to predation from a variety of birds, snakes, and many small mammals, including domestic cats. It is able to disconnect its colorful tail, which continues to twitch and distract any predators while the skink runs away to hide. The tail will eventually regrow. 

Reproduction and Life Cycle

A male skink will find a partner and clamp his mouth around her neck before mating. Skinks tend to choose large decaying logs or stumps in moist areas for their nests. Often, they will place many nests close together, so that the females can communally care for and defend the eggs.

Females lay about 15 eggs between May and July. The eggs have thin, papery shells and are about half an inch long. They start out white and become more mottled and larger as they stay in contact with the nest and absorb water. The incubation period depends on the temperature—in warmer weather, it can be as short as 24 days, while in colder weather the eggs may incubate for nearly two months. The young leave the nest after only a couple of days, at which point their parents no longer provide for them. They reach sexual maturity at two or three years of age.

Did You Know?

  • Five-lined skinks look very similar to their cousins, broad-headed skinks, and must be examined up close to determine the species. Broad-headed skinks have an enlarged row of scales under their tails and five labial scales along their upper lip (between their nose and eye), while five-lined skinks have four labial scales. However, these species can bite, so only those with experience should attempt to get close enough to count them.
  • Eggs need to incubate in a humid environment. Females may urinate on the eggs to maintain the necessary level of humidity.
  • The scientific genus name, Plestiodon, comes from the Greek language and means “toothy.”

Sources and Additional Information

Quick Facts

  • Species

    Native

  • Size

    Five to 8.5 inches in length

  • Habitat

    Five-lined skinks inhabit moist forested areas where there are plenty of places to hide, like rock crevices or piles of wood and leaf debris, and plenty of open areas to bask in the sun. Skinks are active during the day and are solitary outside of mating season. During the winter months, they hibernate.

  • Range

    Can be found throughout the eastern United States, including the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed.

  • Diet

    Primarily eats insects and spiders

  • Lifespan

    Six years
  • Status

    Stable