If you walk quietly down Camp Salmen's Swampwalk boardwalk you may be lucky enough to suddenly spot a large Blue-tailed Skink basking in the sun. A sharp observer who manages to take in this sight might think they resemble an exquisite Tiffany jewel piece - a beautiful bronze body, an elegant suit of yellow pinstripes and a vivid,eye-catching iridescent blue tail. Sometimes older males even sport a noble red head. They can disappear in the blink of an eye and might leave you wondering, “Did I just see what it was I thought I just saw?”
It turns out blue-tailed skinks are the most numerous lizard in North America; from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Atlantic to the edge of the Great Plains. Their official name is the American Five-lined Skink; scientific Latin name: Eumeces fasciatus. They can grow up to eight inches long. Their fancy pinstripes and tail fade as they age through their six-year lifespan. They like things moist in their environment, making them easier to find in and around our swamp, and they usually stay hidden from view, except in those moments when they can’t resist basking in the sun.
Females actually “mother” their eggs but the young’uns are on their own only a day or two after hatching. Afterward, any number of predators - snakes, crows, hawks, shrews, moles, opossums, skunks, raccoons and domestic catsmay have a go at them, but the skink has a unique defensive strategy: they simply detach their beautiful tails and leave them twitching on the ground as a distraction whist making a getaway. If they survive this encounter they get to grow a replacement tail.
Skinks are, in turn, someone else’s predator. They have a liking for spiders, millipedes, crickets, snails termites, grasshoppers, caterpillars, beetles, various larvae and even vertebrates small enough to swallow whole, like frogs, lizardsand baby mice.