Top Photo: Ground skink with regenerated tail.
Ground skinks are the smallest lizard found on the museum’s grounds. In fact, they’re the smallest lizard found anywhere in the state (about 3” – 6” of mostly tail). The tail is as long as, or longer than, the body. They have short legs. They tend to wriggle snake-like, more than run, when fleeing.
Perhaps more often heard slithering off through the dried leaf liter than seen, they were, until this past year, the most often encountered lizard at the museum (green anole has passed them in sightings).
Like many other lizards, skinks can lose their tails and regrow them, autotomy and regeneration. The intentional dropping of the tail could save their lives as a predator may be attracted to the left-behind, wriggling tail while the skink itself scurries off to safety.
The tail, when growing back, does not reach its original length, nor does it have the same scale pattern or color. The internal structure is also different in having a single cartilaginous rod instead of individual vertebrae. But, the lizard is alive and can, and may, lose its tail again in a future life-threatening encounter.
The tail may be bitten off or intentionally dropped by the lizard in order to save itself.
These little lizards consume isopods (roly-polies), small insects and spiders and other invertebrates. They’re usually associated with forest habitats and their leaf liter. The next time you’re out hiking and you hear a rustle in the leaves off to the side of the path, it may have been a skink. If you’re lucky, you may catch one crossing the path or stretched out on the trail’s edge.