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Skinks: Scincidae

Physical Characteristics

With about 1,400 species, the skinks come in many different sizes, shapes, and colors, but they do share a few features. Members of this family have large head scales, body scales that have bony plates underneath them, and a roof of the mouth that is made of two, flat bony plates instead of one, as humans and other animals have. The bony plate is called a palate (PAL-iht).

The skinks are divided into four major groups or subfamilies. The seventeen species in two of the subfamilies are legless, while the hundreds of species in the other two subfamilies have legs. A few species, known as comb-eared skinks, have noticeable scales that stick out near the ear opening on the side of the head.

Skinks, most of which have smooth scales, may be either small or large. The smallest adults grow to just 0.9 inches (2.3 centimeters) long from the tip of the head to the vent, which is a slit-like opening on the belly side of the lizard. If the lizard has legs, the vent is located between them. The longest skink is 20 times larger than the smallest, reaching 19.3 inches (49 centimeters) from the snout to the vent.

Color varies among the skinks, but many have rather drab, brownish bodies. The males of numerous species, however, often develop colorful heads during the breeding season. In many species, juveniles have bright blue, red, or yellow tails, which are believed to help them escape attacks by predators (PREH-dih-ters), or animals that hunt them for food. The predator snaps at the colored tail, which the young skink drops before running away. Adults are also able to lose their tails and survive.

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceDinosaurs, Snakes, and Other ReptilesSkinks: Scincidae - Physical Characteristics, Habitat, Behavior And Reproduction, Skinks And People, Conservation Status, Prehensile-tailed Skink (corucia Zebrata): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, DIET