Amphibians and Reptiles of Minnesota

A Complete On-line Field Guide to Minnesota's Amphibians and Reptiles

Prairie Skink - Plestiodon septentrionalis PDF Print E-mail
Lizards of Minnesota - Lizards of Minnesota



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Northern prairie skink, Eumeces septentrionalis, from Pope County, MN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Status

No status assigned in Minnesota.

Description

The prairie skink reaches lengths of 5 1/4 to 8 3/4 inches, total length (Conant and Collins 1991). The body scales are smooth and uniform giving the lizard a shiny appearance. Adults are tan or brown on the back, becoming darker on the sides. There are two very thin white stripes on the sides. The back may be unmarked except for two very thin, interrupted black stripes or two large black stripes that are as wide as the spaces between them. The head is unmarked. The males develop a bright orange coloration on the labial scales during the breeding season. Young have bright blue tails that fade as they become adults.

Subspecies


The subspecies of prairie skink in Minnesota is the northern prairie skink, Plestiodon septentrionalis septentrionalis. This species was formerly placed in the genus Eumeces.

Range

The prairie skink has the largest Minnesota range of all three lizard species. The only areas lacking records are the northeastern and southeastern counties.

Habitat

Prairie skinks come from sandy prairie areas, open grasslands with loose soils and open rocky areas. They are often found in open grasslands adjacent to marshes or lakes. They seem to be drawn to rocky areas; boulders sunken in the ground, rock piles, logs, or junk.

Habits

Prairie skinks emerge from their winter dormancy in late April. They bask atop rocks or logs and actively forage for their food. They are diurnal, but they often take refuge under rocks or logs during the hottest parts of the day in mid-summer. Prairie skinks are accomplished burrowers, and may construct burrows with entrances that form shallow "dugouts" under rocks or similar cover. Breeding occurs in spring. The male grasps the skin of the female's neck during copulation. All are oviparous laying about 10 eggs sometime in June in small excavations under forms of cover such as rocks logs or boards. I have observed a few prairie skink nests under railroad ties in Minnesota and Iowa. One nest in LeSueur County, MN contained 7 eggs under a railroad tie. Females guard the eggs and eat the ones that have spoiled (Oldfield and Moriarty, 1994). The eggs hatch in August.

All of Minnesota's lizards are quick and rely on speed to escape when they are out and about. Skinks look like small snakes slithering through the brush as they move their bodies in a very serpentine way when they run. One must use caution when trying to capture skinks. Often one will end up with nothing but a wriggling tail as the lizard scoots off to safety. Skinks may break their tails off by themselves by pushing it against a solid structure. The tail will regenerate, but it will have no pattern, will have slightly different scalation, and will never be as long as the original one. Minnesota's lizards overwinter underground in burrows they dig. They usually begin winter dormancy in September.

Food

All three species of Minnesota's lizards eat small invertebrates such as crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, spiders, caterpillars, which they chase down and eat. They mash their food up with their strong jaws before swallowing it.

 
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