Five-lined skink © Joe Crowley
The five-lined skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) is Ontario’s only native species of lizard.
The five-lined skink is a smooth, slender lizard that can grow to 21 centimetres in length, but most individuals are much smaller.
Their coloration varies with age. Juveniles and young adult females are glossy black with five cream stripes down the back and a bright blue or blue-grey tail. Males and older females gradually fade to a more uniform bronze, although often the stripes are still visible. Males in breeding condition have a bright orange chin and jaw.
No other lizards are native to Ontario. Salamanders are similar in body shape but do not have scales or claws.
Five-lined skinks in the Great Lakes–St. Lawrence population are typically found in forest openings, specifically large rock outcrops. Along the Lake Erie shoreline, where the Carolinian population lives, skinks inhabit open forests, small meadows, beaches and stabilized sand dunes. Five-lined skinks hibernate in groups under rocks or tree stumps and in rotting wood.
View an interactive map of the known ranges of five-lined skinks in Ontario.
Five-lined skinks reach sexual maturity at just under two years of age. They breed in May and early June. Females lay two to 15 eggs in the early summer in a nest excavated under cover or within a rotting log. Several females may nest together and will protect their nest from predators. Females bask in the sun and return to the nest to use their bodies to warm their eggs, which hatch in late summer. The hatchlings are approximately three centimetres long.
Five-lined skinks are not territorial, and individuals do not have strict home ranges. These lizards eat a wide variety of invertebrates, such as insects, spiders and worms, and track prey with their keen sense of smell. On cool sunny mornings, five-lined skinks can be seen basking in the sun, but most often they are found hiding under cover. They typically hunt in leaf litter and woody debris. They will also climb trees to hunt, bask or escape predators.
If a predator catches a skink by the tail, it will break off and begin to thrash about. The moving tail distracts the predator while the lizard escapes. Although a new tail will grow over time, the skink will have lost much of the fat reserves on which it relies to survive the winter.
Other names: common five-lined skink, Eumeces fasciatus, Lacerta fasciata
Threats and Trends
The Carolinian population of the five-lined skink has drastically declined due to extensive habitat loss in southwestern Ontario, where most of the natural landscape has been converted to agricultural and urban uses. Ongoing habitat loss and fragmentation also threaten the Great Lakes–St. Lawrence population, as roads and cottages continue to proliferate. The removal of important microhabitats, such as shoreline debris, wood and loose rocks, is also a serious threat to this species, especially the Carolinian population.
Other threats to the five-lined skink include road mortality, illegal collection for the pet trade and predation, especially in areas where raccoons and other predators are abundant. A study at Point Pelee National Park documented a road mortality level of almost one skink per day!
Current Status and Protection
The Carolinian population of the five-lined skink is currently listed as Endangered under the Ontario Endangered Species Act, 2007 and Endangered under the federal Species at Risk Act. The Great Lakes–St. Lawrence population of the five-lined skink is currently listed as Special Concern under the Ontario Endangered Species Act, 2007 and Special Concern under the federal Species at Risk Act. The species has also been designated as a Specially Protected Reptile under the Ontario Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act. These acts offer protection to individuals and their habitat. The habitat of this species is further protected in Ontario by the Provincial Policy Statement under the Planning Act. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the global status of the five-lined skink as Least Concern. The species’ status was confirmed in January 2010. Additional detail about legal protection for species at risk in Ontario is available on our Legal Protection page.
Learn more about reptile and amphibian conservation and what you can do to help these species on our Reptile and Amphibian Stewardship page.