What Time is it in Nature: Broad-headed Skink
Prairie Ridge is home to several species of lizards. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see one of the largest skinks in our region, the Broad-headed Skink (Eumeces laticeps), lurking on the grounds.
Broad-headed Skinks are, as the name suggests, members of the skink group of lizards that have wide jaws and rather triangular heads. Members of both sexes are robust, thick-bodied lizards with legs designed for climbing. They are long lizards, routinely reaching average lengths of 10.5 inches, but exceptionally long individuals have been discovered with lengths of well over a foot. Males are typically olive-brown and drab, but during the breeding season their heads turn bright reddish-orange, as seen in the photo on the left above. Female Broad-headed Skinks (right photo) are brown to black and are often striped, but lack the orange heads of the males. Juveniles are similar in appearance to the females, but they have the bright blue tails typical of their close skink relatives. In fact, it can be difficult to distinguish a young Broad-headed Skink from a Five-lined Skink without catching one: you need to look at the scales on the lips to be sure!
These lizards are forest dwellers and are considered the most arboreal of the skinks native to North Carolina. You will often see them climbing trees or resting on limbs, sometimes retreating to tree cavities or under bark to hide. However, they do most of their foraging on the ground where they search for invertebrate prey such as grasshoppers, butterflies, cockroaches, and beetles as well as earthworms. They are known to eat other lizards from time to time and are thought to capture and consume the occasional small mammal. In addition to foraging, Broad-headed Skinks tend to nest on the ground, laying 8-22 eggs in June or July under logs, sawdust piles, or other concealed and protected areas. If all goes well, the female will wrap her body around the nest and the baby lizards will hatch in September.
Broad-headed Skinks are large enough to represent a significant meal to many forest animals, and they are occasionally eaten by birds and mammals. Like several other species of lizards, their tails detach easily, allowing the lizard to escape after it has been captured by a predator. The tail will eventually grow back, but the new tail will never quite replace those that have been lost. Check out the tail of the female skink pictured above. She had clearly lost her tail and is in the process of growing a new one.
In some parts of the country, Broad-headed Skinks are called scorpions, likely due to the juvenile skink’s habit of holding its blue tail up above its body and waving it about. They are sometimes thought to have a venomous sting. Broad-headed Skinks are completely non-venomous, however, and definitely do not sting. They can give you a strong bite thanks to their broad, muscular heads, but a few teeth marks and a bit of pain is the worst these lizards, or any other skinks in the southeast, can do to a person.
At Prairie Ridge, look for Broad-headed skinks scurrying up trees along the Forest Trail, curled around eggs under logs, or foraging for food on the forest floor. They are handsome lizards of impressive size, so be on the lookout for them on your next visit!
What Time is it in Nature is a weekly feature highlighting the current plants, animals, and other wildlife at the Musuem’s public outdoor facility, Prairie Ridge Ecostation. Find out more about the natural happenings at Prairie Ridge at our What Time is it in Nature Archive!
(Photos by Chris Goforth)