The featured photo above was submitted by a TWL reader who said “Is this a typical salamander?” The short answer: nope. In fact, it’s not a salamander at all. It’s a skink!
Order: Squamata, Family: Scincidae, Species: Scincella lateralis
The Little Brown Skink is one of the smallest reptiles in North America with a tip to tail maximum length of around five and a half inches.
Skinks are often overlooked, even unknown, (even as I write this, spell-check doesn’t even recognize “Skink” as a word) but there are over 1,500 species of them on the planet. That makes them the most diverse family of lizards. It is understandable how a skink and a salamander could be confused for one another. Both have smooth, shiny bodies which seem to merge into the head without a pronounced neck. Both have small limbs in comparison to the length of their bodies. And many species of both have long slender tails which they can shed as a distracting defense.
The little brown skink has a copper top with a bold brown stripe extending from its nose to middle tail on both sides of its body. Their underbellies range from yellow, to light brown, to grayish and they have a transparent lower eyelid which allows them to see with their eyes closed!
The little brown skink can be found from northern Mexico throughout much of the eastern United States in a variety of habitats—preferably deciduous (leaved, not needled) forests with deep leaf litter and at the edges of streams.
This skink is what you would call fossorial. No, they aren’t dinosaurs, though 140 million year old fossils from the Cretaceous contain the first skink-like reptiles. Fossorial comes from the Latin word fossor meaning ‘digger’. The little brown skink spends most of their time wriggling about through the leaf litter searching for a isopods (types of crustaceans) like pill bugs (rolly-poleys) or insects. They are active mostly during the day between mid-Spring and mid-Fall, hibernating in the winter.
Check out some other species of Skinks from around the world in the slideshow below!
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