I love living in the country. There are many reasons, but one is the fact that we share our little “estate” with many other critters. For example, you may recall my encounter with a Spadefoot Toad. This morning I checked off another first in the critter world—a Broad-Headed Skink.
It is a striking little reptile. The Broad-Headed skink gets its name from the wide jaws, giving the brilliant orange triangular head a formidable appearance. These skinks are often thought to be venomous but they are, in fact, nonvenomous. (There is only one species of venomous lizard in the United States: the Gila Monster of southwest Texas.)
According to my references, this lizard is found throughout the southeastern United States, including my home state of Virginia. However, after living on the farm for more than twenty years, I do not recall ever seeing this lizard—and it would be hard to not notice.
This morning, I was outside working when I heard one of the cats making a fuss. She had caught something and was, in true cat character, playing with it. The skink is a fast runner, and as soon as she relaxed her grip, the skink raced off, with the cat in hot pursuit. She did this several times until I intervened. The skink had escaped in my direction, and was in the driveway at my feet. I took the first photo (above) and captured it as gently as I could. There were no obvious injuries from its encounter with the cat.
Broad-headed skinks are the largest skink in the southeast, growing up to twelve inches in length (the one shown is about six inches long). The body is can be gray, brown, or black with five white or yellowish stripes running down its back. Mature adults are often solid brown.
Although their official range encompasses the southeast, they are supposed to be most common along the Coastal Plain. Broad-Heads are more arboreal that other species, climbing trees to hunt for insects or sun on upper branches.
Broad-Heads prey on a wide variety of insects, spiders, and other invertebrates. Large adults have powerful jaws, allowing them to overpower virtually any invertebrate and probably an occasional smaller lizard or mammal.
Male skinks are territorial and may fight over a female. Females lay up to 22 eggs in moist soil or rotten logs during the summer and attend the eggs until they hatch.
The blue-tailed young of the Broad-Headed skinks are widely referred to as “scorpions” and are believed to have a venomous sting. While this belief is completely false, some scientists speculate that these skinks are bad-tasting to many predators.
Skinks are reptiles with dry scaly skin that breathe air through nostrils (the opening just behind the tip of its nose. The indentation behind the curve of the jaw is the lizard’s ear. Skink eyelids are well developed. Snakes have neither eyelids nor ear openings.
For those of you who just have to know, the scientific name is Eumeces laticeps.
Note: It really annoys me that the spell checker does not recognize the term “skink.” It has been a good word for centuries referring to a family of more than a thousand species of lizards found on all continents except Antarctica. The term first appears in French in the late 16th century, and traces its origins back to much earlier Greek.
Broad-Headed Skink – Saved from the Cat! offers me my first encounter with a lizard that is supposed to be common both here and where I grew up.