Broad-headed Skink (Plestiodon laticeps)
This larger, smooth-scaled skink varies in background coloration from near black to olive-brown; color depends largely on sex and age. Adult females have five lighter stripes that run from the head all the way onto the tail, although in older individuals these stripes may be nearly faded away. Adult males are typically a uniform olive-brown and, during the breeding season, develop orangish, engorged cheeks (thus broad-headed skink). Juveniles look similar to adult females, but have more contrast with a near black background, yellowish stripes, and bright blue tail. The belly, regardless of sex or age, is plain cream colored.
This species looks very similar--if not identical--to other skink species found in Arkansas and examination of scales may be required to confirm identification. The Broad-headed Skink has 2 postmental scales and 9 upper labial scales (of which the 6th from the snout is in contact with the eye orbit). Postlabial scales are absent. (Some guides consider there to be 8 upper labials and 1 postlabial.) A postnasal scale is present. Full-grown adults are larger in size than similar-looking skink species.
As young, this species may be called a Blue-tailed Skink (a term shared amongst several skink species). In some parts of its range, this species may be called a Scorpion, but it is a harmless lizard.
This species is more arboreal than other skinks of the same genus. It is a woodland inhabitant and seems to prefer edge habitats, especially areas with rotting logs or downed trees. Old abandoned barns provide ideal habitat.
While slightly less urban and common than its close cousin, the Five-lined Skink, this species is most likely observed as it basks on a sunny log or tree trunk. It can also be uncovered from a hiding place under a log, rock, or piece of old tin.
Breeding occurs in the spring. Females will lay eggs and brood them until hatching. In early summer, it is not uncommon to turn up a log and find a mother skink coiled around a half dozen small eggs. In such cases, it is generally best to gently return the cover object to minimize the disturbance to the nest.
This species is diurnal and an active forager. It will alternate throughout the day between basking in the sun and hunting for its insect prey. Only prey that is easily subdued is taken. Areas with rotting logs may provide conditions ideal for its preferred prey.
If approached, this species may hide under some kind of cover, such as a rock or log, or it may climb and tuck around behind a tree trunk. It is more apt to climb than its close cousin, the Five-lined Skink. It is a larger skink and if captured, it can deliver a pretty powerful bite. Care must be taken in capture since the tail is easily detached. The detached pieces will wiggle, providing a distraction to any would-be predator. Although a new tail will be regenerated, a lot of energy is required for this process and a regrown tail will always be suboptimal to the original. A spied juvenile may display tail wagging behavior, presumably to focus a potential predator on its bright blue detachable tail.
Although less numerous than the Five-lined Skink, this species holds no special status and is a relatively common lizard species.