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.
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.
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.