Tags: North America, lizard, reptile
This adult five-lined skink has yellow and black stripes on its body and a faded blue tail. Photo by Patrick Coin
The five-lined skink has a black and yellow-striped body and flashy blue tail. The bright color of the skink’s tail might attract the attention of a predator, an animal that would eat the skink. However, if this happens the tail has a special function that can help save the skink’s life.
If an animal such as a skunk, fox, or bird tries to eat a skink and grabs on to its tail, the animal is in for a big surprise. The tail breaks off from the rest of the body and continues to move around as if it were still connected! If the predator is distracted by the tail, the skink may be able to get away without being eaten.
How does this work? In between the connecting bones in a skink’s tail are special breaking points where it is easy for the tail to detach from the rest of the body. After losing its tail, a skink can grow another one, but it will never be as long or as colorful as the original tail.
As male skinks grow older their tails eventually fade from blue to grey and they develop orange coloring around their heads. Female skink tails stay blue. This fact is important during mating season when male skinks fight with each other to try and assert dominance, or control, of an area. If a male skink sees another skink with a blue tail it knows not to fight with it because it is a female or a young male. If a male skink sees another skink with an orange head, he knows it is time to defend his territory.
This skink’s short tail probably grew back after its original tail broke off. Photo by PiccoloNamek Image Source
The tan area on this map shows the range of the five-lined skink in the United States. By rbrausse, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
Benyus, Janine M. A Field Guide to Wildlife Habitats of the Eastern United States. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989. Pp. 222-223.