Broad-Headed Skink

Plestiodon laticeps
Scincidae (skinks) in the order Squamata (lizards)

Missouri's largest forest-dwelling skink. It is a large, smooth-scaled lizard with a large, wide head. Color varies with sex and age. Adult males are usually olive brown with few or no stripes along the side, but during breeding season they develop an orange-red swollen head. Adult females nearly always have light and dark stripes down the back and sides, with a wide, dark stripe down each side being particularly prominent. Hatchlings are jet black with five narrow yellow lines along the back and sides, with a bright blue tail.

Similar species: Five-lined skinks are very similar, but they have two postlabial scales (positioned, one on top of the other, in the space between the lip scales and the ear hole); postlabial scales are usually absent or only single on the broad-headed skink.

Total length: 10½ inches (average).
Habitat and conservation: 
This skink prefers edges of woodlots and forests. Broad-headed skinks spend much of their time in or near large trees, stumps, larger logs, or dilapidated farm buildings. They often reside in large dead trees, using abandoned woodpecker holes or other cavities. They come to the ground to search for insects. Active during the day from April to October. Like other skinks, the tail breaks off easily, allowing them to escape predators. A new tail grows back later.
Distribution in Missouri: 
The southern two-thirds of the state.
Life cycle: 
Courtship and mating apparently take place in late April and in May. There is reason to believe that this species creates communal nests, with nests containing more than 10 eggs holding the clutches of more than one female. Two different nests in Cole County were found to contain 22 eggs. The strikingly different coloration of juveniles is believed to be a way of protecting them from territorial males who, during breeding season, might attack them if they looked like adult broad-headed skinks.
Human connections: 
Some people have dubbed them "scorpions," but they are completely unrelated to those spider-like creatures and are certainly not poisonous. But that colorful nickname indicates that Missourians have long been intrigued by these fascinating and harmless lizards.
Ecosystem connections: 
Like most lizards, this species preys on insects and other small targets and is preyed upon by larger predators, including mammals and birds. This species often makes its home in abandoned woodpecker cavities, an example of the many interconnections in nature.
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