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The ground skink (Scincella lateralis), also called little brown skink and brown bark skink, is a small, diurnal (active by day) lizard common in a broad diversity of habitats across the southeastern United States. This species ranges from southern New Jersey south to the Florida Keys and west to eastern Kansas and central Texas. Small isolated populations are also found in Illinois, northeastern Missouri, and in Coahuila, Mexico.
Like most skinks, ground skinks have short legs relative to their body length. They have a smooth dorsal surface that varies in color from gold to brown and a pair of dark brown stripes down their back. Their cryptic coloration often blends into the environment around them, making them difficult to see. Their underside is creamy to yellowish white. Ground skinks are one of the smallest reptiles in North America.Including the tail, adults measure 7.5-14.5 cm (3-3.5 inches).
Shy critters, ground skinks are ground dwellers found under the cover of grass, leaves, rocks, and logs. They inhabit the floor of many types of forests, hunting insects, spiders, worms and other invertebrate prey in rotting wood, detritus, and leaf litter. Ground skinks also can be found in disturbed areas, such as in gardens of urban areas, especially in warm southern states where they are active year round. Further north, ground skinks hibernate underground during the coldest months.
As small, easy prey, ground skinks have numerous predators including snakes, other species of lizards, many types of birds, wolf spiders, cats, shrews, skunks, and armadillos. While ground skinks might swim to escape a predator, they do not climb. Their first response to disturbance is to seek shelter. Another defense strategy for these lizards is their ability to release their tail. After falling off, the tail thrashes conspicuously, distracting the predator long enough to allow the skink to escape. In comparison to other lizard species (e.g. Anolis carolinensis, which often lives alongside the ground skink), the tail released from S. lateralis thrashes faster, and appears to improve the lizard’s escape rate.
Male and female ground snakes are hard to distinguish, as their coloration and size is similar. Female ground skinks are slightly longer, but males have larger heads than females. Head size may be a result of sexual selection, as males are more aggressive than females, both towards other males and females. Ground skinks court and mate between January and August. Females hold the fertilized eggs inside for a considerable time before laying. When she does lay a clutch of 1-7 eggs, the embryos are fairly well developed and hatch within 22 days. Ground skinks lay their eggs in moist humus, tree stumps, under logs, and other hidden spots. Once laid, the eggs receive no maternal care and the 4.5 cm-long hatchlings are self-sufficient. Females lay multiple clutches of eggs April through August.
Ground skinks are vectors for a number of trematodes, cestodes, nematodes, and a tick species. The tick is a the main Lyme disease agent, suggesting that more study of ground skink parasites may be epidemically important.
A short video of a skink in its habitat can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUWmnIl9nt8
(Becker and Paulissen 2012; Franklin 2016; Hammerson 2007; McAllister et al. 2014a; McAllister et al. 2014b; Missouri Department of Conservation 2016; Smith 1997; Wikipedia 2015)