What is a Skink?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A skink is a member of a large family of lizards with a distinct cylindrical body and short, stubby legs. Skinks can be found widely distributed throughout the world in tropical to temperate zones, and they are incredibly diverse. Their family, Scincidae, contains over one thousand species, some of which are considered rare and endangered, while others are quite abundant and well known in the regions that they inhabit. The determined creatures will readily adapt to fill any available ecological niche, including niches created by humans, such as stone walls and gardens.

One environment that skinks can occupy is the desert.
One environment that skinks can occupy is the desert.

Many skinks move more like snakes than lizards, due to their sinuous bodies and short legs. They are also distinguished from lizards by their short necks. Some skink species actually slither like snakes, as they have vestigial or even nonexistent legs. The creatures are small to medium sized, and they vary widely in coloration. Some skinks are relatively staidly colored, blending in well with their background, while others have bright spots or stripes. A few species actually change color during their breeding season, to alert other skinks to their availability.

Though the tail of the blue-tailed skink is indeed blue, its body is black with yellow stripes.
Though the tail of the blue-tailed skink is indeed blue, its body is black with yellow stripes.

Several species of skink are quite distinctive because their coloration includes the color blue. Five lined skinks, for example, have bright blue tails which are intended to distract potential predators from their bodies, while the blue tongued skink has a blue to purple tongue. Some people colloquially call these species “blue skinks,” in a reference to their coloration.

Skinks do have a few unique tricks up their sleeves. They can drop their tails when threatened, regenerating new ones later. This is probably why some skinks have brightly colored tails, so that they can lure predators into grabbing the wrong end. Some skink species also bear live young, hatched from eggs which are retained in the mother's body. The creatures are also extremely adaptable, making themselves comfortable in a range of environments from deserts to forests.

As a general rule, skinks are harmless. In fact, they are quite useful to have around the garden, because many species are carnivorous and they will eat insects, slugs, and other small garden pests. Some people also keep skinks as pets, and they can apparently make quite friendly and affectionate animal companions. Like most other reptiles, skinks are awake and active during the day because they cool down at night, and they enjoy sunning themselves in warm spots or taking advantage of rocks which have been heated by ambient temperatures over the course of the day.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


It is easier to let little kids rear common garden skinks because they are easier to maintain and you wouldn't waste any money if it eventually dies. Also, having a skink as a pet can fit your daily schedule perfectly. They can keep you busy all day long and sometimes you only need a minute to see to it. I highly recommend one.


I work in a park and have been observing three skinks and an Eastern Fence lizard all living under the same sidewalk. They all seem to get along just fine. I was surprised to observe more than one species of lizard cohabitate.


@jellies- The general consensus seems to be that it is a bad idea to put anoles in with skinks. Skinks eat a wide variety of foods, including smaller lizards. I have heard of someone who kept a five lined skink in with an anole, and another lizard and snake.

The idea was keeping them well fed prevented the skink from eating the anole. They did not have any problems in their case. I don’t know if I would risk it.


I have a large tank which is home to my anole lizards. I would love to get a skink but don’t really have space for another enclosure. And aquariums can get expensive. Can anoles and skinks live together?


I had the chance to buy an orange-eyed crocodile skink. I’ve had a variety of snakes as pets, but this was my first skink. I love the bright orange ring he has around his eyes! Definitely a unique looking creature.

I use an aquarium, as well. I got a ten gallon tank with hopes of eventually having a pair. That was the recommended size for two skinks.

The most difficult part in keeping the little guy happy has been maintaining humidity for him. I use sphagnum moss inside an old cricket tub. It has a hole in the side and I spray it with de-chlorinated water to refresh it. I change out the moss when it needs it. Also, keeping limited ventilation is important.

My crocodile skink has the mild disposition these lizards seem to usually have. He makes a great pet. If you get a chance to find one of these guys, you won’t be disappointed.


I worked at a pet store when I was a teenager. I spent a fair amount of my time responsible for the reptile department. I ended up buying a pet skink for myself. It was a Schneider’s skink.

They do require attention but are not difficult to take care of. I had an aquarium with sand and mulch. It had an undertank heater as well as a cooling area. I put in a rock for backing on under the incandescent light. You also need a full spectrum fluorescent light for about 12 hours a day.

Skinks need clean water, of course. I fed mine crickets and meal worms. Skinks should get a vitamin supplement once or twice a week. They also need daily calcium. So, maybe skinks are not a great pet for a little kid to take care of all by themselves. But, they aren’t as labor-intensive as a lot of pets.

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