The changing natural world at our doorsteps | Illustration and text by Patterson Clark
May 24, 2011
For most of the year, the male broad-headed skink is olive-brown, a color that helps him blend into his favorite habitat of moist oak forests.
But during breeding season in the spring, high testosterone levels trigger a flush of color to his head, which in May resembles the end of a red-hot poker.
Not surprisingly, the males with the biggest, reddest heads tend to be the ones that get to mate with the largest females, which lay the most eggs.
When challenged by another male, the skink will try to intimidate his opponent by displaying the size of his head. If that swagger doesn't work, a fight will ensue, with the loser banished to the margins of boss skink's territory. There, young and defeated males lurk, waiting for a chance to sneak some time with the closely guarded receptive female.
In the summer, females lay clutches of eggs in rotten hardwood logs, where they carefully monitor and protect them.
When they hatch in August, young skinks wear their mother's black and tan stripes, but sport bright blue, quick-release tails.
A predator grabbing a skink's blue tail will probably lose the rest of the lizard, which can scurry away and can grow another tail.
Sources: Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, Copeia, Journal of Herpetology, Herpetologica