Jeff Green | Sep 17, 2009
Back to HomeOutdoors in the Land O'Lakes - September 3, 2009 The five-lined skinkby Steve Blight
It’s not common knowledge that there is a species of lizard that calls the Land O’Lakes area home. But it’s true – Ontario’s only native lizard, the Five-lined Skink, can be found among the rocky hills in this region during the warmer months of the year. This small, secretive lizard reaches a maximum length of about 9 centimetres, or about 3.5 inches, not including the tail. Young skinks have five cream-coloured stripes on their black bodies and prominent blue tails. While these colours and patterns tend to fade to a bronzy tone with age, the females keep some of the original colour pattern and adult males develop an orange colouration around their jaws and chin during the breeding season.
Five-lined Skinks are relatively common in many areas of the United States, but can only be found in two places in Canada, both in Ontario. The first is in deep south-western Ontario where their main habitat is sandy areas along the shores of Lake Erie and southern Lake Huron. The second is a band running along the southern part of the Canadian Shield from Georgian Bay in the west, through our region down to the Gananoque area along the St. Lawrence River. Canadian Shield populations live in areas where rocky outcrops are embedded in mixed deciduous and coniferous forests – a description that aptly describes much of the northern Land O’ Lakes region.
In Ontario, skinks are active from about late April to late September or early October. Mating is uppermost on the minds of adults in spring, and several weeks later females will excavate a suitable concealed nesting cavity and lay on average about 9 eggs. After a summer of foraging on insects, spiders and other invertebrates and dodging predators such as snakes and raccoons, the skink will move into hibernation in early fall. Not a lot is known about the details of preferred hibernation sites. However, it is likely that in our area they retreat to sheltered spots such as deep rock crevices and under old logs and brush piles where they spend the winter in a state of true hibernation.
One interesting fact about this reptile is that if grabbed by a predator, a skink can disconnect all or a part of its tail which will continue to wriggle on its own for several minutes. This behaviour might distract a predator just long enough to allow the skink to escape, while leaving behind a tasty morsel for the predator. Skinks will re-grow a new tail, but it is usually shorter than the original. Skinks also appear to be able to swim. I once encountered a skink basking in the sun on my dock and when I got too close, it launched itself off the dock and paddled madly to shore to escape.
Five-lined Skinks are listed under both Ontario and federal species at risk legislation, so skinks enjoy some legal protection from collecting. However, numbers of skinks are declining fast in south-western Ontario due to habitat loss along the shores of the Great Lakes and to illegal collection by people. Fortunately – for those of us who like lizards – skinks numbers are more or less holding their own along the southern Canadian Shield, including in our area. Five-lined Skinks – just one more thing that makes the Land O’ Lakes area so special.