Other names: Eumeces skiltonianus
The Western Skink is a long-bodied lizard with short legs and a long, narrow, pointed head. They are a small lizard, with most individuals reaching body lengths of 10 cm, although their tails may reach up to 12 cm for a total length of over 20 cm. Western Skinks are most brilliantly coloured as juveniles. They have smooth, shiny scales and are brown on the back with gray sides that contrast 4 cream-white stripes that run from the head to their brilliant bright blue tail. As Western Skinks age their colours tend to fade. During the breeding season males develop reddish patches on the chin and on the sides of the head. When threatened, Western Skinks will attempt to escape by wiggling under a rock or nearby shrub with a snake-like body movement. However, if they are captured by a predator, they will their tail. When dropped, the bright blue tail continues to thrash and twitch for a period of time, providing a distraction for the tailless skink to escape to safety. Western Skinks will regrow their tail when lost as big or bigger than before, but it rarely returns to the original brilliant blue when regrown.
Listen to the Indigenous words for “lizard” here!
The Western Skink is a colourful lizard with a body form that resembles the comparatively drab Northern Alligator Lizard.
Credit: Joe Crowley
Credit: Andrew Nydam
Northern Alligator Lizard
In British Columbia, Western Skinks are at the northern extent of their range. Their range in British Columbia is not well understood but they generally occur in the south-central area of the province from Kootenay Lake in the east to Princeton in the west. If you see a Western Skink, you can help broaden the understanding on range and population size by reporting your sightings!
Western Skinks are found in many of the same habitats as the Northern Alligator Lizard, including Bunchgrass, Ponderosa Pine, Interior Douglas-fir, and sometimes in Engelmann Spruce – Subalpine Fir and Cedar-Hemlock ecosystems. They require plenty of plant cover and rocks, logs, stumps, and bark for cover and foraging, sunny clearings for basking, and south facing slopes and rocks for nesting and denning. In British Columbia, Western Skinks hibernate throughout the winter and are active from mid-April until October. They hibernate in communaland may share dens with Northern Alligator Lizards, Rubber Boas, and possibly even Western Rattlesnakes. In parts of British Columbia, Western Skinks do not appear to migrate from their summer habitat for hibernation and generally mate and feed very close to the den. Further south in the United States, migration from hibernation sites to summer habitats has been reported. Western Skinks return to the same sites year after year with high fidelity and are often caught within 10m of their previous capture. Movements of more than 100 m are very rare.
The breeding season for the Western Skink begins in spring, almost immediately after they emerge from their dens. Western Skinks are. Mating takes place in April-May, egg-laying occurs in June and July, and hatching occurs in August or early September. Female Western Skinks will make a nest for their eggs by digging a small burrow under rocks or other cover objects. Western Skink mothers will stay with their eggs until they hatch, aggressively guarding them. This form of parental care (defense of eggs) is uncommon among lizards.
Western Skinks hunt during the day by stalking their prey with intense focus and speed. Food consumption in nature is not well understood, but Western Skinks appear to be mainlydining on caterpillars, moths, beetles, grasshoppers, spiders, isopods, and crickets.
Not very much is known about the population size or structure of Western Skinks in British Columbia. However, where Western Skinks and Northern Alligator Lizards overlap, they appear to be the less abundant of the two species. The greatest threats to Western Skinks are habitat loss and alteration. Due to their small range, high fidelity to habitats, and dependency on rock and vegetation cover, they are extremely vulnerable to disturbances in their local habitat. Poaching is a cause of concern for Western Skinks as well, as many collectors seek them out for their attractive patterns. However, the collection of Western Skinks is illegal under the B.C. Wildlife Act and, by law, they cannot be handled, collected, or traded.
Did You Know?
Not only is it illegal to handle Western Skinks, but if you pick one up, they are likely to bite, and perhaps even drop their tail to distract you and get away! Regrowing their tail requires a lot of time and energy and can be quite costly for a Skink, so it is best to admire them from afar.
If a Western Skink loses its beautiful blue tail, it will grow back but will very rarely keep its brilliant blue.