Little Brown Skink
Scincella lateralis


Common Name: Little Brown Skink
Scientific Name: Scincella lateralis
Etymology:
Genus: Scincella is from the Greek word scincus meaning "a kind of lizard".
 Species: lateralis is Latin for "of the side", referring to the dark lateral stripes.
Average Length: 3 - 5.75 in. (7.5 - 14.6 cm)
Virginia Record Length:  5.3 in. (13.5 cm)
Record length: 5.75 in. (14.6 cm)

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: This diminutive skink has short, slender limbs and reaches a maximum snout vent length (SVL) of 57 mm (2.2 inches) and a total length of 146 mm (5.7 in.). Maximum known SVL and total length for Virginia are 49 mm (1.9 in.) and 135 mm (5.3 in.), respectively. Complete tails are 55.6-67.8% of total length. Smooth, shiny, body scales overlap each other. Around the midbody, scale rows number 23-29. There are no supranasals. The rostral is broadly contacted by the frontonasal. Supralabials are usually 7/7 or other combinations of 6-7. The center of the lower eyelid includes a transparent patch (like a window). There is a single mental, and there is one postmental. Behind the pariatals, there are 2-4 pairs of enlarged nuchal scales. The dorsum varies from tan to golden brown, is the width of six scale rows, and a thin, dark brown stripe borders each side. The color of the dorsum is found from the back of the head to the tip of the complete tail. Starting on the snout, the dark stripes pass above the eyes and extend down onto the tail. On the side of the body and tail base, a light ashen background is peppered with a dark color. This coloring fades into the ventral color, which is cream to light gray. Compared to the rest of the venter, the chin and pelvic areas are lighter. The head and complete tail display the same color and pattern of the dorsum and venter. Tails that have been broken and regenerated are light brown *10760*.

SEXUAL DIMORPHISM: On average adult females are larger than males. The ratio of complete tail length to total length is similar in both sexes. In adult males, the width of the head is generally the same as that of females. There appears to be no sexual dimorphism in color or pattern. Of the sexes, there is no difference in the number of midbody scale rows *10760*. Juveniles: Dorsally, the head, body, and tail are bronze with small black flecks, when they hatch. The tip of the tail displays the largest amount of flecks. Toward the tip of the tail, the distinct, narrow, dark stripes become broken and blend with the other markings. To the naked eye, the venter appears grayish white, but golden flecks are seen when viewed under a microscope *10760*.

CONFUSING SPECIES: Four or five light stripes on a brown background are the patterns found in all other skinks. When compared to the size of S. lateralis, other skinks of the same size still have blue tails, S. lateralis lacks this characteristic. The rostral is separated by a pair of supranasals from the frontonasal in P. anthracinus. Also, in P. anthracinus, the dorsolateral stripes are light colored. The transparent "window" in each lower eyelid is not found in any other lizard in Virginia *10760,11624*.

REPRODUCTION: Clutches are usually small, 1 to 7 eggs. There may by two or more clutches per season. In a year, early broods mature. This is a short- lived species, approximately 10% survive 2 years and 4 years is rare *1014*. At oviposition, there is advanced embryonic development. Females do not stay with their eggs, unlike most other Virginia lizards of the genera Eumeces and Ophisaurus. Unknown are the dates for mating. The smallest mature female that Mitchell found in Virginia was 32 mm SVL, and 31 mm SVL was the measurement of the smallest mature male found. Between April 11 and June 24, eggs were found in the oviducts of females. Decaying logs and stumps were found to be used by this species as sites to deposit eggs. In Virginia, two communal nest sites have been found. Of these communal nest sites, one contained 9 eggs and the other contained 66 eggs. July 3-4, 30, and August 12 are the known hatching dates for this species. Dates and time periods for oviposition and incubation are unknown *10760*. Population Ecology: Louisiana and Florida studies have been conducted on this species' population ecology. In Florida, home range sizes for females and males were 2.5-54.3 sq. meters and 25.1-106.2 sq. meters, respectively. Also in Florida, depending on the month, populations were 2 to 6 individuals per 83.6 sq. meters. In Louisiana, populations were 12.6 per 83.6 sq. meters. Half or more of a population of this lizard that was studied did not survive over a year and chances of living three years were very low. Three years is the apparent turn over time for the population of this species. Virginia lacks comparative data *10760*.

BEHAVIOR: Running and hiding under ground cover is the method ground skinks use to escape from predators. This lizard is often heard before it is seen when they run atop leaves on the ground. Though the tail is not brightly colored, its motion still distracts natural predators away from the skink's body. Important in the strategy of escaping predators is the ability to autotomize the tail. A domestic cat was observed being distracted by the thrashing autotomized tail as the adult skink escaped this predator. Also, in Texas, tailless skinks were found to have been caught and eaten more often by snakes and feral cats than skinks with tails did. However, the lizard's ability to perform courtship, produce eggs, and escape later predators is affected by losing the tail, since the tail holds usable energy. This species is known to live in the leaf litter of most forest types. They overwinter under the leaf litter, and when they emerge, they bask atop the leaves and grasses. Small terrestrial invertebrates make up the prey of this species. Ringneck snakes and domestic cats are the only verified predators of this species. Wild turkeys and other ground-foraging birds as well as wolf spiders are also believed to prey upon this skink *10760*.


References for Life History

Virginia Fish and Wildlife Information Service: Species Booklet

Photos:

*Click on a thumbnail for a larger version.

   
Fairfax Co.    
     


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