Prairie skinks are lizards with many stripes and a long tail. There are two subspecies in our state, and they look quite similar. In general, these skinks have a longer tail than all other Missouri skinks. The ground color is tan to olive brown. There is a faint, light stripe down the back and one or two wide dark stripes along the sides. During the breeding season, males have reddish orange on the head.
The northern prairie skink (Plestiodon septentrionalis septentrionalis) has more dark striping along the body and tail than the slightly smaller southern prairie skink (Plestiodon septentrionalis obtusirostris), whose stripes are fewer and fainter. Another way to tell them apart is their location (see Distribution notes below the map).
Total length: 5 to 7½ inches (average).
A small population of northern prairie skinks lives in one county in Missouri's extreme northwestern corner, and a small population of southern prairie skinks was recently found in southwestern Missouri.
Habitat and Conservation
The preferred habitat is flat rocks or similar shelter near small prairie streams in tallgrass prairie. This species spends much time under rocks and thatch. It suns for short periods during morning or early afternoon. These lizards require native prairie habitat in order to survive.
A variety of insects and spiders.
Both subspecies are listed in Missouri as species of conservation concern. Like many organisms that can only live on native prairie, this lizard is declining due to degradation, loss, and fragmentation of habitat. Much of our native prairie was lost years ago when it was plowed and converted into crop fields.
Courtship and egg-laying occur in May and June, with the female laying 5–18 eggs in a shallow burrow under rocks or thatch. She remains with her eggs until they hatch. As with many other skinks, the hatchlings have a bright blue tail.
Often when we think of our interactions with animals, we focus on what they mean to us: Can we eat them? Do they harm us? And so on. But with most declining species, the situation is reversed: Our human settlements have eliminated most of their ancestral habitat.
This species eats a variety of insects and spiders. Animals that prey on these lizards include snakes, hawks, badgers, and skunks.
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.