The American five-lined skink is a small lizard native to North America. It is one of the most common lizards in the eastern U.S. and one of the seven native species of lizards in Canada. Young skinks are dark brown to black in color with five distinctive white to yellowish stripes running along the body and a bright blue tail. The blue color fades to light blue with age, and the stripes also may slowly disappear. The dark brown color fades, too, and older individuals are often uniformly brownish.
American five-lined skinks are found in Canada and the United States. Their range extends in the north to southern Ontario, Michigan and eastern New York. The western border is in Minnesota, Missouri and eastern Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. These lizards prefer moist, partially wooded habitat that provides ample cover, trees as well as sites to bask in the sun. They live in forest edges, mixed pine-hardwood forests, along wooded river margins, in rocky areas, stumps, logs, brush piles or inside walls of abandoned buildings.
American five-lined skinks are ground-dwelling animals but will also climb trees. They are active during the day and if threatened will run away quickly and hide in the nearest tree or log. Like many other lizards, American five-lined skinks will lose their tails when captured or threatened by the predator; this allows the lizard to distract potential predators and escape. American five-lined skinks are generally solitary creatures but may hibernate in small groups during cold winter months. Adult males exhibit complex courtship and aggressive behavior. Although males tolerate juveniles and females in their territories, they actively defend these areas against other males. In order to determine the gender of other skinks, these lizards use their vision and their ability to detect pheromones.
American five-lined skinks are polygynous which means that males mate with more than one female during the breeding season. These lizards start to breed in May. The female will lay its eggs at least one month after mating, and 4-6 weeks after the incubation, the young hatch. Thus the birthing process consists of laying eggs and external incubation. Females lay 15-18 eggs in a small cavity cleared beneath a rotting log, stump, board, loose bark, a rock, or an abandoned rodent burrow. Females often place nests in regions where soil moisture is higher than in adjacent areas. Even when nesting sites are not limited, females may gather in communal nests in order to reduce egg mortality. In communal nests, females may alternate foraging and guarding of the nests, leaving eggs protected at all times. Females may also urinate in the nests and turn eggs to maintain humidity. The incubation period ranges from 24 to 55 days and varies due to fluctuations in temperature. Females typically brood their eggs during this time, protecting them against smaller predators. Parental care ends a day or two after hatching when hatchlings leave the nest. Young skinks attain reproductive maturity and begin reproducing within 2-3 years of hatching.
There are no major threats to American five-lined skinks at present.
According to IUCN, the American five-lined skink is locally common and widespread throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are stable.
Due to their diet habits, American five-lined skinks help to control populations of insects and other invertebrates they consume. These lizards are also a prey item for local predators including snakes, crows, hawks, shrews, moles, opossums, skunks, raccoons, and domestic cats.