Yesterday, while mowing the lawn I came across a hatchling Plestiodon skink darting between the blades of grass. While Plestiodon species are the most common reptile found around my house, I did not know how to tell apart the species. The only surefire way to separate Plestiodon species is to look first at the underside of the tail to see if all of the rows of scales are the same size (inexpectatus), or if the middle row is much broader than the rest (fasciatus and laticeps). If the middle row is broader, then check to see if there are four labial (in between the eye and mouth) scales (fasciatus) or five labial scales (laticeps). The juveniles look much more similar than the adults anyways. The species of this genus are diurnal reptiles, and all three can easily be found in residential areas. Plestiodon inexpectatus generally prefers drier habitats than Plestiodon fasciatus and Plestiodon laticeps. Plestiodon laticeps is also most likely to be found in trees in the coastal plain. Collectively, Plestiodon are referred to as “blue-tailed skinks” due to the outstanding shared characteristic of the juveniles.
Plestiodon feed on insects, worms, spiders and sometimes young lizards or mice. Predators include snakes, birds of prey, and mammals. Breeding season is spring to early summer. Rotting logs and vegetation are typical choices for a place to lay eggs. Pregnant females can often be found basking more often than during other times of year although all genders and ages of all species can be found basking at any point on a hot, sunny summer day. The female then lays about five to ten eggs and incubates them for a period of a few weeks to a couple of months before they hatch.
The juveniles of Plestiodon stand out most due to their tails that sport an unparalleled bright blue-purple color. The tails are detachable, that is, easily left behind when the need arises. While abundant during the summer, close or lengthy encounters – at least from my experience – are far too few and far apart. In fact, this was my first time coming across a Plestiodon without a crack or crevice through which it could make a quick getaway. Therefore, I was able to snap some decent shots of the compliant little fellow. I count my self quite fortunate to have been afforded such an amazing ten minutes with this tiny creature. I picked him/her up and he/she fit easily in my hand – only 2 to 3 inches long. He/she sat still for a few seconds before using his/her benign claws to climb up my arm, then my sleeve and onto my back until at some point he/she fell back to the ground unharmed although perhaps slightly stunned. At that point I had my sister bring my camera from my room so I could keep an eye on the sneaky lizard and then he/she posed while I got twenty or so pictures. My sister then picked him/her up and let him/her climb up her arm as well. After falling off of my sisters shirt, he/she seemed to dart into the taller grass, gone from sight till the next time I come across my new scaly friend.