Nature in Your Backyard: Five-lined skinks!

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the nature that we observe in our basements, backyards, and neighborhoods.

It started with a poem from Anna Zuiker, a local middle school student, who so kindly let us share her poem about the ecology of her backyard on the blog.

Then a couple weeks ago I posted a short video that I shot while strolling my neighborhood one evening: a beetle (and cockroach) feeding frenzy at an oozing oak tree!

And yesterday, my colleague Jenny Weston in the NC State College of Engineering emailed me a fun series of photos her fiancé took in their backyard garden.

Jenny is on the NCSU Turtle Rescue Team – she fosters injured turtles and nurses them back to health so that they can be released into the wild. A couple weeks ago, she began caring for one particularly ornery and injured turtle. When he refused to eat the delicious fruits and veggies that previous turtle patients had gobbled down in an instant, Jenny headed out to her garden on the hunt for a big fat juicy slug – something she knew it just couldn’t resist. She began flipping rocks. And much to her surprise, under one of the rocks, she discovered THIS:

A female five-lined skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) guarding a clutch of eggs under a rock. Photo credit: Mike Cox

A mama five-lined skink guarding a clutch of 10 eggs! Over the next week or so, Jenny kept an eye on the nest, always guarded by the mother skink.

After about 10 days, Jenny couldn’t resist gently checking under the rock again. This time she saw little lizard heads poking out of the eggs – the skinks were hatching!

Skinks starting to hatch from the eggs. Photo credit: Mike Cox

She checked the next day to find the tiny newborn skinks scurrying out of the nest and into the surrounding leaf litter. Mama was still onsite, but the egg cases were gone.

After scooping up a handful of leaf litter, Jenny got a close-up with a skink hatchling. Photo credit: Mike Cox

Suffice it to say, I bet we’ve all experienced these little wondrous moments of nature, the brief yet delightful phenomena that unexpectedly catch your eye or ear and give you pause when going about your daily life.

If you’re like me, maybe you snap a photo – or even record audio or video. You may take a mental snapshot, but then so often those observations get buried in your smartphone’s photo album or in the recesses of your memory.

I think it’s time we share these moments with one another – like Jenny did with me over email. I bet if something caught your eye, made you smile, or pause and ponder, it will do the same for others. And who knows? Maybe you’ve witnessed something that no one else has seen, a new phenomenon awaiting scientific investigation.

So what are you waiting for?  Drop us a line at yourwildlife@gmail.com — We’re eager to hear and share the nature in your backyard!

By |2016-11-22T13:47:20-05:00July 30th, 2013|

About the Author:

Holly Menninger
As Director of Public Science, Holly coordinates our empire of citizen science projects and manages the online science communication here at Your Wild Life. An entomologist by training, she’s a science communicator by passion and practice.

2 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Mike Cox August 1, 2013 at 10:42 pm - Reply

    This is the skink photographer here, with a small bit to add. The momma skink, though too small to have even pinched my skin (and seeming WAY too small to have extruded those big eggs) was nonetheless quite protective of them. When I moved a pine needle aside for a better shot on the first photo, she made a move to warn me off!

  2. Avatar
    Jim Chatman August 31, 2013 at 1:00 pm - Reply

    We have both 5-lined skinks and their bigger cousins, broadheaded skinks. We’ve become so protective of them (no, this isn’t an excuse to be lazy…well…not entirely) that I no longer run the weedeater around the perimeter fence of our 1.25 acre yard. I let the grass grow for all the small animals – anoles, skinks, voles, toads – to use as protection and highway. If you get down on the ground and part the grass at the ground level beside the fence, and you’re brave enough to put your head in there, you’ll notice a trail leading both directions and occasionally even see an animal in there. It’s probably big enough to roll a tennis ball through or slightly larger.

    When I mow, I particularly have to look out for broadheaded skinks sunning near the fence. I even mow the neighbor’s side because her sons won’t check for them as they mow.

    They’re beautiful, especially when the sides of their heads are brilliant red in Spring during mating season. They too lay eggs under our porch ramp, under the 2 brush piles I keep, and occasionally in the insulation in the wall of the back porch. Guests sometimes have to be peeled off the ceiling of the porch when they look down and see a lizard head sticking out from under the washer. No, it’s not a snake, and please get off my head, thanks.

    We have 2 BIG pigs as pets; Spig, our wiry red-haired female, about 600 pounds, who sleeps on the back porch (we call her our ‘security system’) and Shadow, our half-ton salt-n-pepper neutered male. We have so many broadheaded skinks that they each have their own “zone”. One comes up on the back porch and catches bugs and even mice. He (I think it’s a he) sits beside Spig who eyes him but never bothers him. I have never caught them having a stare down when I have my camera handy to get a picture, but I eventually will. Shadow has one that keeps him company in the barn where he sleeps, too. Same story except that this one even climbs up on Shadow sometimes. I don’t know why the lizard does it, but Shadow is just too complacent to care as long as the lizard doesn’t steal his food. Fat chance of that, anyway. :) I think the lizard probably makes a good living on mosquitos, and boy have we had those this wet year.

    Yep, we have wild life and we cherish even the ones the neighbors don’t like; squirrels, voles, moles, lizards, snakes, and spiders. We figure they were here first and they’ll be here after we’re gone.

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