Little Brown Skink

little brown skink
Scientific Name
Scincella lateralis
Scincidae (skinks) in the order Squamata (lizards and snakes)

The little brown skink is a ground-dweller with dark brown or black stripes and speckling along the sides. Hiking along a forest trail, you may hear these small lizards scurrying through dead leaves, but you seldom see them. Missouri's smallest species of lizard has a brown or grayish-brown ground color with a wide, dark brown or black stripe down each side on the back, from the snout to midtail. Usually there are small dark flecks on the back and sides. The belly is light yellow, white, or gray. This is the only Missouri lizard with a clear scale on its lower eyelid, enabling it to see when the eyelids are closed.

Other Common Names
Ground Skink

Total length: 4 inches (average).

Where To Find
Little Brown Skink Distribution Map

Statewide, except for a few counties in the northwestern corner.

Little brown skinks, formerly called ground skinks, live on the forest floor and spend much of their time in dead leaves or under flat rocks. They rarely climb trees like the other forest-dwelling skinks. Normally active from April to October, this lizard seldom ventures into open areas unless there is an abundance of natural shelter. On warm, sunny days, they move through leaf litter and escape predators in a rapid, snakelike movement.

A variety of small insects, spiders, and earthworms.

Life Cycle

Courtship and mating apparently occur in spring and early summer, and females normally produce two clutches a season, with 2–7 eggs per clutch. The eggs are often retained inside the female for a considerable period, and the embryos are well developed when the eggs are laid. This shortens the incubation period so that it is only about 22 days. Eggs are laid in rotten logs, stumps, or under leaf litter or rocks.

People rarely go out "lizard watching," the way we make special outings just to see birds, but Missouri hikers know that those brief, furtive crunchings in dry leaves below are lizards like these, making a getaway. It may seem like a small thing, but our woods wouldn't be the same without them.

Because of their small size and ground-dwelling behavior, little brown skinks can fall prey to a variety of predators: snakes, other species of lizards, birds, and mammals such as shrews, skunks, and armadillos. Even bluebirds have been recorded feeding these skinks to their nestlings.

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.