Many of the beneficials discussed are commonly seen—and well-appreciated—by gardeners. A few are rather timid and reclusive.
Nevertheless, they are important beneficials for our gardens and landscapes and skinks are a prime example. These helpful lizards, though typically unseen, are underappreciated partners in our diversity of beneficials creatures in the garden.
Skinks are intriguing small lizards. When you do encounter one, it’s oftentimes during the day when it is sunning itself on a rock or partaking in an afternoon snack of grasshoppers or snails, their favorite munchies.
Generally skinks are no longer than 8 inches. Most skink species have short legs that are well-formed and a few have no legs at all. They often look like a snake crawling about. Skinks are very beneficial to the garden because their prey includes grasshoppers, snails, slugs, cockroaches and even small mice. Most skinks are active during the day and prefer hanging out on the ground rather than climbing trees. Some skinks like to burrow.
Even though you may not be well-acquainted with, or even aware of, skinks; tribes of these sleek-bodied mini-hunters are hopefully stalking pests in your garden as you read this. They help to maintain a natural balance and protect your plants.
Skinks have dark-colored bodies with a colored stripe or stripes running the length of their body. These stripes can be an important character in identifying a skink. Several species occur across the State of Texas, including the Five-lined Skink (Eumeces fasciatus), Southern Prairie Skink (Eumeces septentrionalis obtusirostris) and Ground Skink (Scincella lateralis).
Besides being helpful to the garden, they are equally amusing to observe. Take a moment to observe these creatures up close and you'll discover their beauty. Find a comfortable spot to sit quietly where you usually see skinks and they should eventually emerge.
Every detail is perfect: the clear dark eyes ever watchful of danger and their shiny armor of minute scales, often shimmering like bronze. Skinks have a small mouth, in some cases hiding a colored tongue. Look really close and you'll see your skink's chest rising and falling as it breathes, poised for action.
A skink may drop its tail when handled by you or chased by a predator. This is a survival tactic, as predators often focus on the wriggling tail while the skink escapes. The tail will eventually re-grow, but it costs the skink a lot of energy.
When a skink is sexually mature, it will often have a red or orange marking on it. About 55% of skinks lay eggs—the other 45% give birth to live offspring. Skinks prepare their nests in moist soil under objects in the garden. The female typically lays about five eggs in a clutch. Eggs are similar in appearance to chicken eggs only much smaller in size and soft and rubbery in texture. Skinks will sometimes lay their eggs in communal nests and a single communal nest may contain dozens of eggs.
BE A BUDDY TO SKINKS: Accumulate plenty of leaf mulch on garden beds—this provides the ideal location for skinks to hide and feed. Restore a skink nest if you disturb it while digging in the garden. Lean a small stick in any water bowl, so that skinks drinking there can climb out. If possible, keep dogs and cats out of the garden area, as they will eat the skinks. Also, avoid using pesticides, if a skink eats a contaminated insect, it will also be poisoned.
The following link provides additional information on skinks including their distribution by species in the state of Texas (scrool down to the heading entitled: Scincidae - Skinks):
A SIDE NOTE: Skinks make fun pets, they’re easy to feed on a diet of 60% veggies and 40% meat, which can be substituted with canned cat or dog food. It is sometimes noted humans look like their pets in some facet or another, so if this is true—the skink who has virtually no neck to speak of, would have a human owner who has a head attached to a shoulder, with basically no neck. I have spotted a few humans like this, but ALL skinks are neck-free.
Beneficials in the Garden & Landscape is an Earth-KindTM program coordinated through Extension Horticulture at Texas A&M University. Earth-Kind uses research-proven techniques to provide maximum gardening and landscape enjoyment while preserving and protecting our environment.
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