By Ericha Nix, Wildlife Biologist

Have you ever opened your back door to see a black and brown critter with colorful stripes and a blue tail racing across the back porch, headed under the air conditioning unit? If it was a lizard about the size of a small cigar with a tail, and its coloration was black-to-brownish with blue stripes, do not be afraid. You saw a five-lined skink. These animals are nonpoisonous and common throughout Alabama. They are found around the outside of houses, basking in the sun on concrete patios or in gardens, or waiting patiently for an insect meal.

Common five-lined skinks are smooth, shiny, medium-sized lizards ranging from 5 to 8 inches in length. Breeding males have brown bodies with five light stripes, orange-reddish heads and blue tails. Juveniles and females are blackish-brown with five yellow-orange stripes down their backs and have bright blue tails. When grabbed, the tail breaks off easily and twitches to distract the predator and allow the skink to escape. The tail will grow back, although it will most likely be shorter. As the female skink matures, the coloration of her stripes on the tail fades. Predators of skinks include raccoons, red foxes, opossums, snakes, and raptors. 

The common five-lined skink inhabits damp woodlands, hardwood forests, pine woods, and are quite common in gardens, under stumps, rocks, wood piles, trash piles and around homes. They feast on spiders, crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, snails, and other insects and their larvae. Nesting occurs during the spring and early summer. The female lays 4 to 14 whitish eggs under cover such as in rotting logs or stumps, rocks, and in cavities or sawdust piles. The female attends the nest during incubation to protect it from predators. The young hatch in one to two months and the female assists the young during hatching. 

The next time you see a skink race across your back porch, stop and take a look at this beautiful creature! Doing so will allow you the opportunity to gain a better appreciation of the vibrant and dynamic natural systems in your backyard. It will also bring wildlife up close for you to enjoy.