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Great Plains Skink

Great Plains Skink
Plestiodon obsoletus (formerly Eumeces obsoletus)
(Order: Squamata, Family: Scincidae)

Adult Great Plains Skink (From: http://www.the-lizard-lounge.com/content/gallery/lizard-pictures/great-plains-skink-01.asp)

 

Adult Diagnosis: This species is easily identified by its large size and relatively uniform coloration. It is the largest skink in Kansas, easily attaining a length of 16.5-35.0 cm (6.5-14.0 inches). Like all skinks it has smooth, shiny scales and a long, sleek body adapted to burrowing in soil. Scales are tan to gray edged in dark brown or black and are arranged obliquely as opposed to the more common lateral organization. The black edging on scales may be unevenly distributed, creating the illusion of two or more lateral stripes. Juveniles are solid black with a blue tail and white to orange spots on the head. They are approximately 6.4 cm (2.5 inches) at hatching.

   

Plestiodon obsoletus juvenile (from: http://www.nps.gov/band/planyourvisit/august.htm) and variation in pattern (from USGS http://lizardsandmorelizards.blogspot.com/2008/12/photo-of-great-plains-skink-eumeces.html)
 

Adult Natural History: Great Plains Skinks spend the majority of their time hiding under rocks where they hunt and burrow. Hibernation generally occurs from early November to late march but can vary significantly depending on weather conditions. They occasionally leave their refuge during warm months to find food and mate. Out in the open they move quickly in short bursts pausing frequently to inspect their surroundings. They are highly aggressive and are known to attack snakes in self-defense.

Like all skinks, P. obsoletus is an egg laying species. Mating takes place a few weeks after the lizard emerges from hibernation, usually in mid- to late spring and is limited to just a few weeks in April and May. Courtship is initiated by visual cues and as the male draws closer, by scent. The male seizes females near the shoulder using his mouth to initiate copulation. Multiple males may successfully copulate with a single female but once they are gravid, females begin to act aggressively toward courting males.

After mating, females dig a burrow to deposit their eggs, generally protected under relatively large rocks or boulders. They lay an average of 10 eggs in late June and rarely leave them until they hatch. The extremely delicate eggs hatch about 6-8 weeks after being laid, at which point the young skinks are immediately able to fend for themselves. The young skinks grow rapidly following their first hibernation, up to 1 cm per month. They may attain a length of 10-12 cm by the end of their second year.

 

Distribution: This species is very common across the state of Kansas. It is found from south Nebraska to northern Mexico and from Arizona to the western edge of Arkansas. It is found in greatest abundance across the Flint Hills region in the great plains.

Distribution of the Great Plains Skink. (Illustration from Fitch, 1955)


Habitat: Commonly found on open, grassy hillsides where it shelters under rocks. It prefers soft, slightly moist soil that can be easily burrowed in. In more arid regions it is likely to shelter along streams or other water sources. A secretive creature, adults rarely leave the shelter of rocks.

 

Diet: They are primarily insectivorous, though larger individuals may eat small mice and lizards, attacking prey nearly as large as themselves. Adults often develop a preference for a single type of food such as grasshoppers or carabid beetles, rarely taking alternative out of necessity. Newly hatched individuals have been observed eating small crickets, flies and grasshopper eggs.


Conservation Status: Least Concern (IUCN)

 

Links:

Kansas Herpetological society: http://www.cnah.org/khs/

The Kansas Herp Atlas: http://webcat.fhsu.edu/ksfauna/herps/

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Plains_Skink

 

References:

Collins, Joseph T., Conant, Roger. Reptiles and Amphibians: Central/Eastern North America. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1991. print.

Fitch, H.S. Habits and Adaptations of the Great Plains Skink (Eumeces obsoletus). Ecological Monographs (1955), 25.1: 59-83

 

Submitted by: David Wickell, July 2013

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