17 May 2011

Five-lined Skinks at Huntley Meadows

Yesterday I had a chance to get out to Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, VA.  I was hoping to get some macro images of purple milkweed and associated insects, but the milkweed is pretty far behind where it was at this point last year.  I was also hoping to luck out with some duck chicks, but I struck out on that score as well.  What I did see a lot of was five-lined skinks (Eumeces fasciatus).  They were everywhere along the boardwalks near the marsh.  Usually my experience with skinks involves seeing them sunning themselves on a boardwalk and then having them skitter underneath something before I get close enough to get a good image.  However, this afternoon, I stumbled across an adult male that was fairly tolerant of my presence and happy to pose for some images.  Enjoy!

Five-lined Skinks - Images by Elijah Goodwin

NOTE (5/18/2011): One of my twitter followers (@yakfur) brought up a question on ID of this skink which provides a chance for some interesting discussion.  It was posited that this might be the broadhead skink (Eumeces laticeps).  I agonized a bit over this ID, so I thought it might be interesting to talk about the field marks visible in the images and see if any reptile experts (of which I am not one, I'm an ornithologist by training) wanted to weigh in.  The five-lined and broadhead skinks have very similar coloring and patterning and undergo similar pattern and coloring changes based on age and sex.  This individual is an adult male and adult males tend to have their stripes fade until they look almost uniformly brown or olive and the orange-red color occurs on the head during the spring breeding season.  What is not really apparent in the images here (without a sense of scale) is that this individual didn't look particularly larger or more "swollen-headed" than other five-lined skinks I've seen.  My Peterson reptile guide states that five-lined skinks usually have four labial scales anterior to the subocular and that broadheads usually have five labial scales (but sometimes four on one side only).  Enlargement of the images above show that this individual appears to have four on one side and five on the other.  So this characteristic points to broadhead, but is somewhat ambiguous.  The clincher for me was that five-lined skinks have two "enlarged" somewhat horizontally oriented postlabial scales just forward of the ear opening, while broadheads have no large postlabials with one large labial scale extended from the labial region back horizontally to the ear opening.  My images here clearly show those two postlabial scales, so combined with the general size/shape information, I felt pretty confident labeling this specimen as five-lined.  However, I'm pretty much a beginner at reptile ID, so I'd love to learn from someone more experienced with reptiles and hear their opinion on the ID of this specimen.  Any takers?


  1. beauteful model and lovely lighting = perfect photo! Bravo!

  2. What a great capture! Huntley Meadows is one of my favorite places to visit!

  3. Thanks Alexander and John. John if you look back through my posts, you can see that I photograph at Huntley Meadows quite often. It is a great place for me for a half-day or after work trip.

  4. Outstanding photographs of the Five-lined Skink! Exquisite lighting and detail. I've never seen a skink such as this. Fantastic!