Last year, you may recall that I brought you news of a fine family of Five-lined Skinks living about the property near Dollar Lake. The crew- perhaps a half dozen in all – were all young’ns based on their bright blue tails. I won’t re-pave old road by telling you the whole story but young skinks possess electric blue tails which lure predators into grabbing their non-fatal end if attacked. The tail breaks off and the lizard escapes. This leaves the attacker with a wiggling piece of tail meat. It is a great trick (especially given the fact that the tail can be re-grown).
I do wonder if one could survive on a diet of skink tails – they would be a harvestable resource and probably a good feed if cooked with butter. Do skink tails dance when heated in a fry pan? Could skink farming be part of a future food wave? Will Skink Snacks ever make the supermarket shelves? Just a thought, sorry I can’t stop myself from expressing such things. Anyway, back to the main subject.
Like smoke to fire, young skinks imply the presence of older skinks No mature skinks were ever spotted last year, however. I presume that baby skinks are far less cautious than the adult ones (as is the case with all baby critters and thus the reason most baby critters do not grow up).
This spring was different in that I finally happened upon one of the ‘da big skinks down by the lake. It was, in fact, a big daddy skink sunning itself on a Cedar tree next to a cavity in the trunk. The creature was reluctant to leave the warmth of the sun and did little in the way of movement as I watched it – although it did briefly duck back into the cavity at my approach. Given that this is supposed to be an educational blog, as opposed to a “what I did and how I feel” blog, I should endeavor to point out some of the details that marked this lizard as an adult and a male. The adults look completely different from their young.
Firstly, the age of this lizard was easy to call because, apart from the larger size (approx. 7 inches), it lacked clear striping. As they approach adulthood, Five-lined Skinks devolve into no-line skinks. Their bright striping décor fades as the background color changes from deep blue-black to pale yellow-brown. The blue tail of infancy pales to gray. Folks are not quite sure why this occurs since the tail remains detachable. It could be assumed that big skinks are accomplished predator avoiders by the time they ripen and the blue-tail thing becomes an un-necessary (and slightly embarrassing) mark of immaturity.
During the spring breeding season the males attain a reddish cast to their heads and cheeks. This feature is a distinctively masculine trait meant to attract the “ladies.” Unfortunately, to the human observer it looks like a lizard with an infected head or one that has been wacked repeatedly against a tree limb. It looks somewhat painful but is eye-catching. The females never get reddish heads.
Females lay their clutch of 15-18 eggs in wood debris or in tree cavities. There might be some possibility that the Cedar cavity might also serve as a nesting hole but because the males do not participate in brooding the association would be purely accidental. We’ll see if a cluster of blue-tailed babies pour out of this hole later in the year.
My sunning male skink remained relatively immobile over the course of ten minutes and I eventually moved on to watch some drying paint. It was gone by the time I returned and has not been seen since. The summer is young and I am reasonably sure that it will be giving me the skink eye from the shadows for the balance of the season.