Skilton's Skink


by Brendan Bane

You’re walking along the tranquil trails of a pristine state park, deciding whether to partake of a Clif bar or a banana, when it happens. Rustling leaves catch you off guard. First thought: rattlesnake? A flash of electric blue, just within your peripheral, is all the more confusing. No, it’s not a snake. It’s Pleistodon skiltonianus skiltonianus, commonly known as Skilton’s Skink.

Skilton’s skinks, a subspecies of the Western Skink, are the only skinks you’re likely to find in Santa Cruz County. But they’re more than just the only skink in town—their range extends along most of the California coast, ending just north of where things become too dry in Southern California.

You may see them flittering through leaf litter in search of sow bugs and spiders. But they spend most of their time burrowing under wood scraps. Mind your fingers when lizard hunting—these guys bite (see video below).

Skinks are characterized by their slender, snakelike bodies and tiny appendages. Measuring a little over the length of a pencil, and not much wider, Skilton’s skinks are no exception. Their lithe little bodies yield fast, serpentine movements. They’re often gone before you know it.

Alternating copper, black and cream racing stripes run the length of the body, extending well into brilliant blue tails. The brightness of this skink’s tail may be an adaptation. When lizards release their tails, the shed appendage wriggles about, distracting hungry predators and buying precious moments to escape. Blue is rare in nature, and may be more distracting than other colors. A lost tail doesn’t set a skink back, though, as they regenerate with subsequent shedding.

The underside is pale gray. Colors are intense in juveniles, but often fade into adulthood. Herpetology enthusiasts distinguish subspecies of skinks by counting and measuring their stripes and scales. This particular skink’s light cream stripes are usually less than half the width of their dark brown stripes.

In the video below, an adult skink commits a little skink-on-finger violence. Note the faded color common to adults. This individual might have been attacked recently, as its blue tail is missing. (Still photo and video by Gary Nafis.)