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Blue Streak Special— Why Do Young Skinks Have Blue Tails?
Posted on Monday, July 18, 2016 by eNature

There’s a rustling in the leaves. You look to see what made the sound, and bam—a blue streak vanishes into the duff. Was it a snake? A lizard? Was that intense cobalt color even real?

Yes, it was real.

The creature responsible for the streak was a lizard called a skink. Now’s the time when the newborns hatch, and the intense blue tails of the juveniles are as bright as neon signs.

Lots of Lizards
There are fifteen species of skinks in North America, a small percentage of the 1,200-plus species found worldwide (it’s the largest family of lizards). Most species keep their blue tails for the first two years of life; the tails of adults fade to gray or brown. As for why the young skink needs such a gaudy appendage, the standard textbook answer is that predators like birds and mammals will grab first at the bright tail. Because the tail easily detaches, the lizard escapes—tailless, yes, but at least still alive.

If this strategy is so advantageous, though, why don’t adult skinks have blue tails?

One possible explanation is that young skinks tend to spend more time above ground where they’re subject to more predators. When they become adults, skinks establish territories inside rotting logs or under rocks and spend little time moving from place to place. (To tell the difference between a mature male and a mature female, look for the orange highlights on the male’s head.)

Now’s The Time That Young Skinks Emerge
Mating takes place in the spring. Then, in late spring, the adult females retreat to burrows or other sheltered recesses, often deep in the ground, where they lay eggs and remain with them until hatching. A female may keep its eggs moist by licking them or otherwise moistening them or it may simply guard the clutch of two to six eggs.

When the eggs hatch, adult females and their brightly colored newborns come to the surface to feed on insects and spiders for the summer. The first chill of autumn sends them underground, where they wait until the first warm days of spring beckon them back to the surface.

Have you come across skinks or other colorful amphibians?  We always enjoy your stories!



A skink(s) lives in my garage.  It loves an old chest and the leaves and dust that collect under and behind it.  Sometimes it’s blown out by the blower but always returns.  Other times it ventures out when I walk by as if to say hello.  I do not know if it is the same skunk or not, but at least I will now know if it is male or female after absorbing your article!

Posted by Patricia Schlegel on 7/23

Skinks are always around our house. They range in size from a few inches to very scary large. We have one that is a light brown color that lives under the house. That one is so large it looks like a snake when sunnying. Once I see the legs, my shock goes away.

Posted by Fay Henderson on 7/23

I’m sorry to admit this, but when we were kids we were told (by the older kids) that skinks’ beautiful blue tails came off if you pulled them, so we tried it.  But, they also said, skinks could grow back their tails. Judging by this article, the latter is not true. I only pulled off a tail once, but didn’t try again because I thought it must hurt. Sorry, skinks.

Posted by Sharon Moore on 7/23

Live in the mountains of Western North Carolina. See a lot of them scurrying on our deck and steps. They’re so fast that one will get in occasionally! Fun to watch they run up our log walls. They eventually get out when we open a door to go outside!

Posted by Paul Rybak on 7/24

Skinks are reptiles, not amphibians.

Posted by Greg Jensen on 7/25

I have heard that they have a neurotoxin that can make dogs sick or die.  True or false please?

Posted by Ryn on 7/30

We occasionally have skinks in our basement. Often times, your cats find them before we do. We’ve had to turn out the skinks into the backyard after run-ins with the cats several times. Unfortunately, sometimes they don’t quite make it.

Posted by Regina on 7/30

I grew up catching 5-lined blue tail skinks, and they are still plentiful around my Atlanta home. I used to see a species we called a a fence swift (Eastern fence lizard, (Sceloporus undulatus)) but haven’t seen any in years.

Posted by Lallie Hayes on 8/1
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