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Brief Summary

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The ground skink (Scincella lateralis), also called little brown skink and brown bark skink, is a small, diurnal (active by day) lizard common in a broad diversity of habitats across the southeastern United States.This species ranges from southern New Jersey south to the Florida Keys and west to eastern Kansas and central Texas.Small isolated populations are also found in Illinois, northeastern Missouri, and in Coahuila, Mexico.

Like most skinks, ground skinks have short legs relative to their body length.They have a smooth dorsal surface that varies in color from gold to brown and a pair of dark brown stripes down their back.Their cryptic coloration often blends into the environment around them, making them difficult to see.Their underside is creamy to yellowish white. Ground skinks are one of the smallest reptiles in North America.Including the tail, adults measure 7.5-14.5 cm (3-3.5 inches).

Shy critters, ground skinks are ground dwellers found under the cover of grass, leaves, rocks, and logs.They inhabit the floor of many types of forests, hunting insects, spiders, worms and other invertebrate prey in rotting wood, detritus, and leaf litter. Ground skinks also can be found in disturbed areas, such as in gardens of urban areas, especially in warm southern states where they are active year round.Further north, ground skinks hibernate underground during the coldest months.

As small, easy prey, ground skinks have numerous predators including snakes, other species of lizards, many types of birds, wolf spiders, cats, shrews, skunks, and armadillos.While ground skinks might swim to escape a predator, they do not climb.Their first response to disturbance is to seek shelter.Another defense strategy for these lizards is their ability to release their tail. After falling off, the tail thrashes conspicuously, distracting the predator long enough to allow the skink to escape.In comparison to other lizard species (e.g. Anolis carolinensis, which often lives alongside the ground skink), the tail released from S. lateralis thrashes faster, and appears to improve the lizard’s escape rate.

Male and female ground snakes are hard to distinguish, as their coloration and size is similar.Female ground skinks are slightly longer, but males have larger heads than females.Head size may be a result of sexual selection, as males are more aggressive than females, both towards other males and females. Ground skinks court and mate between January and August.Females hold the fertilized eggs inside for a considerable time before laying.When she does lay a clutch of 1-7 eggs, the embryos are fairly well developed and hatch within 22 days.Ground skinks lay their eggs in moist humus, tree stumps, under logs, and other hidden spots.Once laid, the eggs receive no maternal care and the 4.5 cm-long hatchlings are self-sufficient.Females lay multiple clutches of eggs April through August.

Ground skinks are vectors for a number of trematodes, cestodes, nematodes, and a tick species.The tick is a the main Lyme disease agent, suggesting that more study of ground skink parasites may be epidemically important.

A short video of a skink in its habitat can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUWmnIl9nt8

(Becker and Paulissen 2012; Franklin 2016; Hammerson 2007; McAllister et al. 2014a; McAllister et al. 2014b; Missouri Department of Conservation 2016; Smith 1997; Wikipedia 2015)

References

  • Becker, B.M. and Paulissen, M.A. 2012. Sexual dimorphism in head size in the little brown skink (Scincella lateralis). Herpetological Conservation and Biology 7(2): 109–114.
  • Franklin, C.J. 2016. The Ground Skink, Scincella lateralis. Retrieved 12 February, 2016 from http://www.texasherpetology.org/Scincella-lateralis.html.
  • Hammerson, G.A. 2007. Scincella lateralis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2007: e.T64245A12758168. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2007.RLTS.T64245A12758168.en. Downloaded on 23 February 2016.
  • McAllister, C. T., Seville, R. S., Connior, M. B., Trauth, S. E., & Robison, H. W., 2014a. Two new species of coccidia (Apicomplexa: Eimeriidae) from ground skinks, Scincella lateralis (Sauria: Scincidae), from Arkansas, USA. Systematic Parasitology, 88(1), 85–90. http://doi.org/10.1007/s11230-014-9485-4
  • McAllister, C.T., Bursey, C.R., Connior, M.B., Durden, L.A. and Robison, H.W., 2014b. Helminth and arthropod parasites of the ground skink, Scincella lateralis (Sauria: Scincidae), from Arkansas and Oklahoma, USA. Comparative Parasitology, 81(2), pp.210-219.
  • Missouri Department of Conservation, 2016. Little Brown Skink, Field Guide. Retrieved February 12, 2016 from http://mdc.mo.gov/node/6688
  • Smith, D.G. 1997. Ecological factors influencing the antipredator behaviors of the ground skink, Scincella lateralis. Behavioral Ecology 8(6): 622-629. doi: 10.1093/beheco/8.6.622. http://beheco.oxfordjournals.org/content/8/6/622.full.pdf+html
  • Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 29 October 2015. Scincella lateralis. Retrieved February 12, 2016 from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Scincella_lateralis&oldid=688020607

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Behaviour

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When alarmed, the Ground Skink (Scincella lateralis) is quick to take refuge under the nearest shelter. When running, it makes lateral, snakelike movements. It does not hesitate to enter water to escape, but seldom climbs. (Conant and Collins 1991)

Scincella lateralis responds to both visual and chemical cues of prey. A visual stimulus is associated with an increased rate of tongue flicking, orientation to the prey, and attack behavior. Chemical cues are of reduced importance when the visual cue (movement) is present. However, when the visual stimulus of prey is removed, the rate of tongue flicking increases, and is significantly greater in the presence of a prey extract than to a dead prey item or a water control. When prey are non-moving or dead, chemical cues enable the lizard to distinguish potential prey from inanimate objects. (Nicoletto 1985)

Scincella lateralis, like many lizards, autotomizes its tail as a defense strategy. Tail autotomy involves the lizard releasing ("dropping") its tail to allow it to escape from a predator. The tails of many lizard species, including S. lateralis, may thrash wildly from side to side after being autotomized. Dial and Fitzpatrick (1983) experimentally studied the effect of this thrashing on a mammal predator (a feral domestic cat) and a snake (milk snake, Lampropeltis triangulum). They found that the wildly thrashing autotomized tails consistently distracted the cat predator sufficiently to allow the lizard to escape (this was not the case for the same experiments run with another lizard, Anolis carolinensis, which has a much lower rate of tail thrashing). In encounters with a snake predator, rather than distracting the snake, the effect of the thrashing tail appeared to be to increase tail handling time (specifically, subdue time) relative to a quiescent tail, giving the lizard more time to escape.

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Comprehensive Description

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The Ground Skink (Scincella lateralis) is a quick and elusive smooth, brown-backed, long-tailed lizard of the eastern United States. It is typically found in habitats such as humid forests with abundant leaf litter, where it feeds on insects and spiders. (Behler and King 1979; Conant and Collins 1991)

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Distribution

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The Ground Skink (Scincella lateralis) is found in the eastern United states from southern New Jersey south to the Florida Keys and west to eastern Kansas and west-central Texas, with isolated records from central Illinois, northeastern Missouri, and Coahuila (northern Mexico) (Conant and Collins 1991).

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Habitat

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The Ground Skink (Scincella lateralis) lives on the forest floor, searching for insects among leaves, decaying wood, and detritus. It is found in humid forests, hardwood hammocks, and forested grasslands--wherever leaf litter is abundant. In the Deep South, it is likely to appear almost anywhere, even in towns and gardens. (Behler and King 1979; Conant and Collins 1991)

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Lookalikes

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Other small brown lizards in the range of Scincella lateralis either have rough scales, indications of light stripes (dark in Scincella lateralis), or both. Two-lined salamanders are similar in color and pattern, but lack scales and claws. (Conant and Collins 1991)

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Morphology

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The Ground Skink (Scincella lateralis) is a small, smooth, golden-brown to blackish-brown long-tailed and small-legged lizard with a dark dorsolateral stripe. The shade of brown varies with geography from reddish or chocolate to light golden brown. In the darkest specimens, the dark stripe almost blends with ground color. The belly is white or yellowish. A transparent disc in the lower eyelid allows the lizard to see when the eye is closed. The length including tail is about 7.5 to 14.5 cm, with a maximum head-body length of less than 6 cm. Young are about 4.5 cm at hatching. (Behler and King 1979; Conant and Collins 1991)

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Reproduction

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Scincella lateralis is oviparous (lays eggs) (Smith and Brodie 1982). Mating occurs from January to August. A clutch of 1 to 7 eggs may be laid almost monthly from April to August, with a maximum of 5 clutches per season. The female abandons the nest after laying (there is no parental care). (Behler and King 1979)

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Scincella lateralis

provided by wikipedia EN

Scincella lateralis is a small species of skink found throughout much of the eastern half of the United States, and into northern Mexico.

Common names

Common names for this species include the little brown skink and the ground skink. However, the common name, ground skink, may refer to any species in the genus Scincella.

Description

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dorsal view

The little brown skink is one of the smallest reptiles in North America, with a total length (including tail) of only 3 - 5.5 inches (7.5 - 14.5 cm). Its back is typically a coppery brown color with a white or yellow underside, and like most skinks has an elongated body and short legs. Transparent disks in the lower eyelids allow it to see with its eyes closed (Beane 2006, Palmer et al. 1995).

Geographic range

The ground skink is found throughout much of the Eastern United States, from New Jersey, Ohio [1], and Kansas south to Texas and Florida, as well as into northern Mexico. It is absent from higher elevations in the Appalachian Mountains.

Habitat

S. lateralis lives in a variety of habitats, including deciduous or mixed deciduous/coniferous forests, hedgerows, and the edges of streams and ponds. It does require a deep substrate, such as leaf litter.

Behavior

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lateral view

The ground skink is a fossorial species, spending the majority of its time buried in leaf litter on the forest floor. Unlike other skinks, it seldom climbs trees. Its usual means of locomotion is to wriggle through the leaf litter with undulating movements. It may dive under water when pursued, although normally avoids wet areas. It is largely diurnal, but may be active at night as well. It hibernates during the coldest months, but may be active in almost any month of the year in North Carolina (Palmer et al. 1995). As befits a tiny lizard, the home range of an individual may be as small as 20 square meters (Natureserve).

Diet

The diet of the little brown skink consists of small insects, spiders, and other arthropoda, such as isopods.

As prey

Ground skinks are, in turn, preyed upon by snakes such as the eastern racer, ringneck snake, and scarlet kingsnake. Predatory birds of woodland habitats, such as the barred owl and the red-shouldered hawk, also feed upon ground skinks. Even the eastern bluebird has been observed feeding on this tiny lizard (Palmer et al.2008, Robert Brooks 2009).

Reproduction

Sexually mature S. lateralis females lay small clutches of 1-6 (usually 2-3) eggs in moist soil, rotting logs, falling logs, or under rocks. Eggs are laid during the summer, March through August in the Southern United States. There may be more than one clutch per year. In contrast to Eumeces species, the female ground skink does not guard its eggs (Robert Brooks 2009). Eggs hatch in one to two months, and young are sexually mature at one year of age.

Conservation status

The little brown skink is a widespread and common species in most of its range. It is of conservation concern only on the northern edge of its range and can be seen in grassland or forest.

References

  1. ^ Hammerson, G.A. 2007. Scincella lateralis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2007: e.T64245A12758168. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2007.RLTS.T64245A12758168.en. Downloaded on 08 July 2020.
  • Lizards of Georgia and South Carolina—accessed 15 May 2006
  • NC Herps—accessed 15 May 2006
  • Natureserve—accessed 15 May 2006
  • Terrapin Book—accessed 23 September 2007
  • Jeff Beane (2006). Love Skinks. Wildlife in North Carolina 70: 14-19. ISSN 0043-549X.
  • Bernard S. Martof et al. (1980). Amphibians and Reptiles of the Carolinas and Virginia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-4252-4.
  • William M. Palmer, Alvin L. Braswell, Renaldo Kuhler (1995). Reptiles of North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-2158-6.
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Scincella lateralis: Brief Summary

provided by wikipedia EN

Scincella lateralis is a small species of skink found throughout much of the eastern half of the United States, and into northern Mexico.

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