A lizard found on every continent except Antartica, there are more than 1,500 species of skinks.
Where I live in northern California, we have the western skink species, measuring 4-8 inches (10-12 cm) long, including the tail.
True to their lizard nature, they like to bask in the sun; and have an insectivorous diet including spiders, moths, beetles and other insects.
As experts at burrowing, they are not often seen. With a long list of predators, Plestiodon skiltonianus are most safe underground, or under rocks and leaf litter.
When attacked, the skink can perform autotomy, i.e., self amputation, of the tail appendage. This mechanism distracts the predator long enough for the skink to escape. The tail continues wriggling while the rest of the reptile has escaped. Eventually the tail will regenerate, though it is sometimes deformed.
The western skink has an especially beautiful tail, an azure feature that is often described as “neon.” As the skink ages, the color can fade.
Their movement more closely resembles a snake than a lizard, because their appendages are very short. Winding and swift, they undulate across the earth in a speedy blur.
Arid summer days in California, where there is no humidity, produce dry leaf debris on our forest floors. After the sun has been up for an hour or more, the reptiles begin their basking.
On my morning walks when I hear a soft rustle in the leaf debris, I always stop to see what will scurry out…hoping to see the dazzling blue of this shy and resplendent creature.
Photo credit: Athena Alexander