Broadhead Skink

The Broadhead Skink is a species of common lizards found in a limited range in the United States. Also called broad-headed skink and red-headed scorpion, these lizards are non-venomous and harmless and are abundantly found in the forests and densely-vegetated regions. However, if attacked, cornered, or threatened, the large or adult individuals can deliver a powerful bite or nip to even humans.

Broadhead Skink Scientific Classification

Animalia
Chordata
Reptilia
Squamata
Scincidae
Plestiodon
Plestiodon laticeps

Table Of Content

Scientific Classification

Broadhead Skink

Animalia
Chordata
Reptilia
Squamata
Scincidae
Plestiodon
Plestiodon laticeps

Physical Description

Size: The total length can be anything between 6 and 13 in (15 – 33 cm), with the males being larger than the females.

Weight: A healthy adult can weigh around 70 g in an average.

Body: They have a glossy body with very small scales all over. As sexual dimorphism, the sexes are distinctly different from each other with the males being more colorful, having a glossy brown to olive brown skin and the heads turning bright reddish orange during the mating season, and the females having five faint stripes along the back running down to the tail, (quite much like the five-lined skink).

Broadhead Skink

Feet: They have short legs with long digits that help them get a good grip of the branches while climbing.

Lifespan

The longevity of this skink in the wild is unknown. However, they have been seen living for up to 8 years in captivity or as pets.

Distribution

They are found only in the southeastern United States. The most common range of the broadhead skinks is the Coastal Plain of Georgia and South Carolina. They are also found in Piedmont and lower mountains and are specifically common in coastal maritime forest and on barrier islands.

Habitat

They prefer living in leaf litters, decaying trees, moist soil, old sawdust piles, or rotten logs.

Classification of Species

No subspecies the reptile has yet been classified by the scientists.

Broadhead Skink Lizard
Broadhead Skink Female

Behavioral Characteristics

This skink species is the most arboreal of all the North American plestiodons. However, when it comes to foraging, they usually search for food at the ground level, but can also climb up the trees for the same, or else, for shelter, or to sleep.

They are diurnal and lead a solitary life except during mating season. During breeding, the males exhibit territorial behavior and are often seen chasing away other males, mostly the smaller ones. In winter, the northern population spends almost half the year, i.e., between October and March, in hibernation.

There is not much information about their means of communication. However, it is known that they can visually distinguish between the male and the female, as also, can detect the scent of pheromones. They can probably use these senses in perceiving their environment in general as well.

Diet

These creatures are carnivores preferring mostly arthropods for food, but prey on a wide range of creatures including insects, spiders, mollusks, rodents, smaller reptiles, and even display some cannibalistic behavior, consuming juveniles of its own species.

Broadhead Skink Male and Female
Broadhead Skink Egg

Reproduction and Life Cycle

With the arrival of the mating season, the female of the species begins releasing chemical cues, called pheromones, while the males smell this signal and follow the scent trails with the help of their flicking tongue, and track the females for the purpose of sexual mating.

Broad-headed skinks can breed only once a year in late spring. The females mostly prefer mating with males having a larger size and the most brightly-colored orange heads available.

The female broadhead skinks lay 8 to 22 eggs in their nest in around June or July. Each egg weighs less than one gram, and the mother remains with its eggs for until they hatch and only moves out for foraging.

It takes between 3 to 8 weeks for the young broadhead skinks to emerge in the summer, usually by September. The hatchlings are around 3 in length and are dark brown or black in color with stripes on the body, and a characteristic blue tail.

The baby skinks are ready to venture out of their nest within a few days. Juveniles attain the age of sexual adulthood when they are around 75 mm in length.

Adaptations

  1. Like many animal species, their bright coloration, especially those with vibrant blue tails, are believed to be indications for bad taste to predators.
  2. The jaws of the big sized adults are specifically powerful, a characteristic feature that allows them to overpower almost any invertebrate, and, probably, even other lizards, as also, some small mammals.
  3. Like many lizards, they can get rid of their tail, if attacked. In such cases, the tail continues to wiggle, thus distracting the predator, as the skink escapes usually climbing into a nearby tree or hide under leaf debris.

Predators

The primary enemies of the broadhead skink are birds, larger reptiles, and domestic cats.

Conservation Status

The population of this species is stable, and the IUCN 3.1 has listed it as ‘LC’ (Least Concern).

Broadhead Skink Picture
Broadhead Skink Image

Interesting Facts

  • Young individuals with blue tails are nicknamed as ‘scorpions’ and are believed to have a venomous sting by many people. However, this is a myth since no lizards in the Southeastern US are dangerous to humans.
  • Together with the Great Plains skink species, the broadhead skink is the largest member of the group of Plestiodon skinks, and the second largest of all skink species.
  • Broadhead skinks get their specific name Laticepes from the Latin words latus meaning ‘broad’, and ceps meaning ‘head’.

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