Indiana home to colorful cast of lizards: Blue tails, stripes and snake-like skinks


HANCOCK COUNTY — Hanging around our parks (or your house) may be a few lizards; here in Indiana, we are home to at least six.

We have the six-lined racerunner, five-lined skink, broadhead skink, western slender glass lizard, northern fence lizard and the ground skink.

There are three more that may or may not be around: coal lizard, eastern slender glass lizard and the common wall lizard.

These are not often seen; mostly, you see them either basking in the sunlight or when you move something in your yard, and they jump and run and scare you.

I did see two this spring on my front porch, soaking up the heat from the sun. As it was close to mating season, the male’s lower jaw was bright orange. The female wasn’t interested and took off for the brush. He looked up at me, and I think I saw him heave a sigh, turn around and chase her.

We’re going to talk about three of these: the five-lined skink (Eumeces fasciatus), broadhead skink (Eumeces laticeps) and the western slender glass lizard (Ophisaurus a. attenuates).

The five-lined skink is our most common of the group. They can get quite large, up to 8 inches long; and in color, they range from black to a dark brown with very clear stripes (these will go away the older they get).

The female can lay up to 12 eggs that will hatch in July and August, and she does stay with them until hatched. Once the eggs are hatched, she will eat any that haven’t hatched.

The young ones are the ones we see and remember, mostly because their tail is bright blue.

What do these guys eat? Just about anything: crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, spiders, worms, slugs, other lizards and small mice.

On the other hand, they get eaten by raccoons, foxes, snakes, hawks, owls and opossums (remember that the next time you order “opossum gravy”).

The western slender glass lizard, while not common around here, is an interesting lizard. It is found mostly in the upper northwest part of the state.

It looks like a snake except that three things separate it: It has movable eyelids, external ear openings and inflexible jaws, so the next time you pick up a snake, make sure to check for these three things.

They are generally a brown or a yellowish color. They forage during the daylight in open habitats. They are unique in that if seized, they will break off all or part of their tail (which makes up over half its body length) and will regrow the tail after a period of time.

They like to munch on insects and spiders but cannot eat anything larger than their own heads. Like most lizards, the female will guard her eggs until they hatch.

The broadhead skink can get up to almost 13 inches in length. It is the second-largest skink in the country. The males are olive-brown with widely swollen jowls and orange-red heads that can be impressive.

Like the five-lined, the young are black with five yellow stripes and a bright blue tail. Their habitats range from swamp forests to empty urban lots strewn with debris; however, they are essentially a woodland species, making use of hollow trees and tree holes.

The female will lay eight to 22 eggs, which she guards and protects until they hatch. These skinks feed mostly on insects, spiders, snails, small mice and sometimes younger skinks.

Joe Whitfield is the naturalist and gardener for the Greenfield Parks and Recreation Department. Send comments to [email protected].

By now you should be asking yourself this question: “What is the difference between a lizard and a skink?”

I know I did.

There may be a lizard person out there who can explain it. By “lizard person,” I mean someone who loves lizards, has lizards and knows a great deal about them, not somebody who is half-lizard and half-human (although there may be some of those, too).

Without getting into a lot of scientific mumbo-jumbo and using a bunch of words that I (or you) have to look up in a science dictionary, here is my answer:

A skink has an almost cylindrical body with no marked neck. It has a long tail, short or absent limbs and scales that are shiny, smooth and overlapping. The skink has round pupils and a transparent scale on the eyelid, so it can see when it is closed.

Joe Whitfield is the naturalist and gardener for the Greenfield Parks and Recreation Department. Send comments to [email protected].