Broad-Headed Skink

Photo of Broad-headed skink on ground among leaves
Scientific Name
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).

Where To Find
Broad-Headed Skink Distribution Map

The southern two-thirds of the state.

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.


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.

Old-time Ozarkers called skinks "scorpions," but they are completely unrelated to those spider-like creatures and are certainly not venomous. But that colorful nickname indicates that Missourians have long been intrigued by these fascinating and harmless lizards. It's amusing to note that Ozark folklorist Vance Randolph reported that true scorpions were often referred to as "stingin' lizards" in Ozark dialect.

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.

The skinks (Scincidae) are a large family of lizards with species on nearly every continent and many oceanic islands. There are over 1,580 species worldwide, representing about 115 genera. The smallest species may be only 3 inches long; the largest (in Australia) may reach a length of over 2 feet. Most species have smooth, overlapping scales and live either on or under the ground. Five genera with about 15 species occur in the United States. A few nonnative species have been introduced into southern Florida. Missouri skinks are represented by two genera with a total of six species and one additional subspecies. All our skinks can quickly break off their tails if grasped by a predator. A new tail will regenerate, but is usually dull grayish brown.

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Similar Species
About Reptiles and Amphibians in Missouri
Missouri’s herptiles comprise 43 amphibians and 75 reptiles. Amphibians, including salamanders, toads, and frogs, are vertebrate animals that spend at least part of their life cycle in water. They usually have moist skin, lack scales or claws, and are ectothermal (cold-blooded), so they do not produce their own body heat the way birds and mammals do. Reptiles, including turtles, lizards, and snakes, are also vertebrates, and most are ectothermal, but unlike amphibians, reptiles have dry skin with scales, the ones with legs have claws, and they do not have to live part of their lives in water.