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Broadhead Skink

Plestiodon laticeps

What do they look like?

The bodies of young broad-headed skinks range from brown to black and have five to seven white or light orange stripes on their back. The tail is vibrant blue. If a juvenile is attacked, the bright blue tail breaks away and wiggles to distract the predator. As adults, males are more uniformly colored and don't have stripes. Their heads become orange to red and increase in size during mating season. Broad-headed skinks are the second largest skink species, males are larger than females, reaching a maximum of 324 millimeters. Adult females keep some of their striped patterns as adults, but lack blue on their tails. Five-lined skinks are often confused with female and young broad-headed skinks because of their blue tails.

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • male more colorful
  • Range length
    324 (high) mm
    12.76 (high) in

Where do they live?

Broad-headed skinks can be found in central and eastern parts of the United States, ranging from Pennsylvania to Florida and Indiana to Texas. (Roots, 2006; Smith, 1995)

What kind of habitat do they need?

Broad-headed skinks live in trees and prefer open forest habitats. However, they are also found hunting, mating, and nesting on the ground. Areas with thick leaf litter are preferred for nesting.

How do they grow?

Broad-headed skinks hatch from eggs and look like small versions of their parents.

How do they reproduce?

Female broad-headed skinks release chemical cues, or pheromones, during the breeding season. Males follow the female's scent trails. Females prefer to mate with larger males with the most brightly-colored orange heads.

Broad-headed skinks breed once each year in late spring. Females lay 8 to 13 eggs in their nest, which is in leaf litter or a decaying tree. The eggs weigh less than a gram each. The female will remain with the eggs for 3 to 8 weeks until they hatch, only leaving to feed. Newly hatched skinks venture out of the nest within a few days. They become adults when they reach a total length of 75 mm.

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Broad-headed skinks breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding season occurs over several weeks in late spring. Eggs have an incubation period of 3-8 weeks.
  • Range number of offspring
    8 to 13
  • Average number of offspring
    11
  • Range gestation period
    3 to 8 weeks

Females guard their egg clutches until they hatch, but leave soon after that. Males don't help care for the young.

  • Parental Investment
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female

How long do they live?

The lifespan of broad-headed skinks in the wild is unknown. Related kinds of skinks live an average of four years in the wild. One report suggests that broad-headed skinks can live at least eight years in captivity.

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    8 (high) years

How do they behave?

Broad-headed skinks are active during the day and are usually found on their own, only coming together to mate. Males are territorial during breeding season and chase away smaller males. Broad-headed skinks are found mainly in the trees, but often nest and hunt on the ground. These skinks hibernate from October to March in northern regions of their range.

Home Range

No published information is available regarding home range or territory sizes in broad-headed skinks.

How do they communicate with each other?

Little is known about how broad-headed skinks communicate, although it is known that they can visually distinguish between sexes and can also detect the scent of pheromones.

What do they eat?

Broad-headed skinks eat many kinds of insects, spiders, snails, small rodents, and smaller reptiles, including young skinks. Broad-headed skinks search for food in trees and on the the ground using visual and scent signals, which are detected via tongue flicking.

  • Animal Foods
  • mammals
  • reptiles
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • mollusks

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Broad-headed skinks are preyed on by birds, larger reptiles, and some mammals, including domestic cats. Like most skinks, broad-headed skinks have tails that break away when grabbed by a predator. The tail continues to wiggle and distracts the predator while the skink makes its escape, often climbing into a surrounding tree or under leaf debris. The tail eventually re-grows.

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Broad-headed skinks are a food source for their predators and they help control insect populations by preying on them.

Do they cause problems?

Broad-headed skinks have no known negative impact on humans.

How do they interact with us?

Broad-headed skinks are often taken from the wild and placed into the pet trade. (Bartlett, et al., 2001)

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • pet trade

Are they endangered?

Broad-headed skink populations are stable and they are not considered a conservation risk.

Contributors

Brandy Quesenberry (author), Radford University, Karen Powers (editor), Radford University, Kiersten Newtoff (editor), Radford University, Melissa Whistleman (editor), Radford University, Jeremy Wright (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

References

Bartlett, P., B. Griswold, R. Bartlett. 2001. Reptiles, Amphibians, and Invertebrates: An Identification and Care Guide. Hauppauge, NY: Barron's Educational Series.

Burt, C. 1937. The lizards of the southeastern United States. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science, 40: 349-366.

Cooper, W. 1999. Tradeoffs between courtship, fighting, and antipredatory behavior by a lizard, Eumeces laticeps. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 47/1,2: 54-59.

Cooper, W., L. Vitt. 1987. Deferred agonistic behavior in a long-lived scincid lizard Eumeces laticeps: Field and laboratory data on the roles of body size and residence in agonistic strategy. Oecologia, 72/3: 321-326.

Cooper, W., L. Vitt. 1988. Orange head coloration of the male broad-headed skink (Eumeces laticeps), a sexually social cue. Copeia, 1988/1: 1-6.

Douglas, N. 1965. Observations on the predaceous and cannibalistic feeding habits of Eumeces laticeps schneider. Herpetologica, 21/4: 308-309.

Fergus, C. 2003. Wildlife of Virginia and Maryland and Washington. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books.

Fox, S., J. McCoy, T. Baird. 2003. Lizard Social Behavior. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press.

Mitchell, J. 1994. The Reptiles of Virginia. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Pianka, E., L. Vitt. 2003. Lizards: Windows to the Evolution of Diversity. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.

Roots, C. 2006. Hibernation. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group.

Smith, H. 1995. Handbook of Lizards: Lizards of the United States and of Canada. United States: Cornell University Press.

Thompson, P., C. Huff. 1944. A saurian malarial parasite, Plasmodium mexicanum, n. sp., with both elongatum-and gallinaceum-types of exoerythrocytic stages. The Journal of Infectious Diseases, 74/1: 48-67.

Trauth, S., W. Cooper, L. Vitt, S. Perrill. 1987. Cloacal anatomy of the broad-headed skink, Eumeces laticeps, with a description of a female pheromonal gland. Herpetologica, 43/4: 458-466.

Vitt, L., W. Cooper. 1986. Foraging and diet of a diurnal predator (Eumeces laticeps) feeding on hidden prey. Journal of Herpetology, 20/3: 408-415.

Vitt, L., W. Cooper. 1989. Maternal care in skinks (Eumeces). Journal of Herpetology, 23/1: 29-34.

Vitt, L., W. Cooper. 1985. The relationship between reproduction and lipid cycling in the skink Eumeces laticeps with comments on brooding ecology. Herpetologica, 41/4: 419-432.

Zug, G., L. Vitt, J. Caldwell. 2001. Herpetology: An Introductory Biology of Amphibians and Reptiles. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

 
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Quesenberry, B. 2012. "Plestiodon laticeps" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed November 27, 2014 at http://www.biokids.umich.edu/accounts/Plestiodon_laticeps/

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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