Common Five-Lined Skink

Image of a five-lined skink
Scientific Name
Plestiodon fasciatus
Scincidae (skinks) in the order Squamata (lizards and snakes)

The common five-lined skink is Missouri's most common skink. It has shiny scales and a dark ground color with light stripes. Color varies with sex and age. Adult males are uniform olive or tan with a faint dark side stripe and a few light stripes, but during breeding season, the male's head is bright red orange. Adult females are normally brown with a dark brown side stripe, five tan stripes that are more pronounced than in males, and a blue or blue-gray tail. Juveniles are black with five yellow stripes running from head to base of tail, and they have a brilliant, cobalt-blue tail, which is why this species is sometimes called the blue-tailed skink.

Similar species: Broad-headed skinks are very similar, but they lack postlabial scales, or only have one. The five-lined skink, however, has two postlabial scales: these are the scales positioned, one on top of the other, in the space between the lip scales and the ear hole.

Other Common Names
Blue-Tailed Skink

Total length: 6½ inches (average).

Where To Find
Five-Lined Skink Distribution Map

Statewide, except for some far northern counties.

These skinks live in open woods, near wooded bluffs, and on rocky, south-facing hillsides. They require shelters such as rocks, downed logs, stumps, and standing dead trees. They occasionally climb trees, especially when searching for insects. They can also live around farm buildings, rock gardens, and patios. Active, in our state, from April to October. As with other skinks, the tail breaks off easily, allowing them to escape predators. A new tail grows back later.

Five-lined skinks eat a variety of insects and spiders.

Life Cycle

In Missouri, egg-laying takes place from late April through June. Females nest in leaf litter or under rotten logs, tree stumps, or rocks, laying 4-14 eggs. She stays with her eggs until they hatch, eating any bad eggs to remove them from the nest. The eggs hatch in 1-2 months. 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 five-lined skinks.

Old-time Ozarkers called them "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.

Lizards are predators that help keep populations of insects and other small animals in balance. They, and their vulnerable eggs and hatchlings, fall prey to hawks, opossums, armadillos, skunks, moles, shrews, snakes, and larger lizards.

Media Gallery
Similar Species

Where to See Species

Spring Creek Gap Conservation Area is in Maries County, approximately 10 miles southeast of Vienna and 14 miles north of Rolla on old Highway 63.
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.