Jeff Green | Aug 16, 2007
Back toHomeNatureReflections - August 16, 2007
Nature Reflections by Jean Griffin
This week I received a report of Five-lined Skinks being seen, with a comment about the beautiful colours. The beautiful blue tail that is seen on some of these little animals is on a juvenile. Unfortunately that blue colour disappears when they mature.
What are skinks? They are reptiles with dry, scaly skin, ears, eyelids, non-expandable jaws (unlike snakes), 4 legs each with 5 clawed toes - unlike the salamanders who have moist, smooth skin, no external ear openings and no more than 4 toes on their unclawed front feet. The Five-lined Skink is the only reptile found in eastern Canada and only in southern and southeast Ontario. Unfortunately it is in danger - from loss of habitat, depredation by cats and dogs, and by people who collect them.
A female will make a nest in rotten logs, loose soil, or leaf litter, lay four to fifteen eggs, and will guard the nest until the young are born - then they are on their own. The young start out with that bright cobalt-blue tail, and a dark body with five pale stripes down the body. As they age the colours will fade to a more uniform gray, with the male losing the stripes. It takes a female two years to mature, though a male will be ready to mate at one year. When the male, who has a fatter head than the female, is ready to breed, it develops an orange head only seen in the spring breeding season.
The male when ready to mate recognizes a female by behaviour. A courting male will lunge with open mouth at the neck of another skink. If it attacks back it is a male, but if it runs away or stays still it is a female.
A cold-blooded animal a skink may occasionally be seen basking in the sun on a rock or log. But being very wary, and very agile they are difficult to spot.
The Five-lined Skink has been declared a Species at Risk and should be protected. There are several reasons why one should not handle one - first - they will bite - second - their tail is easily broken off. This is a defense mechanism that sometimes allows a skink to escape an enemy, as the tail breaks off and continues to wriggle attracting the attention of the enemy and allowing the skink to disappear. The tail will grow back, but not as long as the original - and third - they should not be collected. Apart from the fact that it is illegal, like most wild animals they are best observed in their native habitat.