Great Plains Skink

Media
Great Plains skink resting on a rock
Status
Name
Species of Conservation Concern
Scientific Name
Plestiodon obsoletus
Family
Scincidae (skinks) in the order Squamata (lizards and snakes)
Description

The Great Plains skink is a robust ground-dwelling lizard. It has a light tan to gray ground color, with the scales on the back and sides edged in brown or black, making it look speckled. These dark markings may combine to form irregular stripes along the back and sides. The belly is plain light gray. Body scales on the sides are in oblique (slanted) rows, and this is Missouri's only lizard species with such a scale arrangement. This is the largest species of skink in the United States.

Size

Total length: 11 inches (average).

Where To Find
Great Plains Skink Distribution Map

Great Plains skinks have been found in Missouri's far western and southwestern counties. Our state and northwestern Arkansas represent the easternmost extent of the range.

A rare species in Missouri, it requires grasslands with rocks sunken in the soil for shelters, preferring rock-strewn low hills with sparse vegetation. Although it spends a lot of time under rocks, it is active on the surface searching for insects from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. when the air temperature is over 70 degrees, from about March to early October. When captured, this lizard will inflict a painful bite to defend itself.

This lizard eats a variety of insects and spiders, especially grasshoppers, crickets, and beetles.

Species of Conservation Concern. This species has probably never been abundant in Missouri, but it has been common in Kansas counties that border Missouri. In Missouri, however, there have been few recent reports. As with most rare species, protecting the habitat it needs is a key to its continued presence in our state.

Life Cycle

Courtship and mating apparently take place in May. Females might not breed every year. Eggs are usually laid in a burrow under a large rock, with about 11 eggs per clutch. Females remain with their clutch from one to two months, until the eggs hatch.

Missourians have a unique, diverse combination of natural landscapes, including Ozark hills, Bootheel swamps, big river habitats, and our northern and western prairies. The Great Plains skink is a valuable component of our beautiful, and historically significant, prairies.

Like most lizards, this species preys on insects and other small animals and naturally keeps their populations in check. It, and its more vulnerable eggs and juveniles, is preyed upon by larger predators, including snakes, mammals, and birds.

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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.