P. s. septentrionalis
|Northern (red) and southern (gold) prairie skink ranges|
The prairie skink (Plestiodon septentrionalis) is a species of skink endemic to the prairies east of the Rocky Mountains in North America. It is one of only five species of lizards that occur in Canada.
- Northern prairie skink, P. s. septentrionalis Baird, 1859, originally described as Plestiodon septentrionalis.
- Southern prairie skink, P. s. obtusirostris (Bocourt, 1879), originally described as Eumeces obtusirostris.
A third subspecies was described as Eumeces s. pallidus, the "pallid skink", by H.M. Smith and Slater in 1949, but this subspecies is absent from the literature for the past more than 40 years, and it is unclear whether it exists or coincides with one of the other two subspecies.
The scientific name of the species derives from Latin: septentrionalis means "northern". Latin obtusirostris means "blunt-nosed". Despite the scientific name P. septentrionalis obtusirostris translating to "blunt-nosed northern great skink", it is a southern subspecies.
The prairie skink is a small lizard, reaching a total length (body + tail) of about 13 to 22 cm (5 to nearly 9 inches). Adult prairie skinks are brown or tan on the back and darker on the sides and have several thin lighter stripes along the sides and the back. Juveniles have bright blue tails, the color of which fades when they mature.
Prairie skinks are good burrowers; they hibernate in burrows they dig themselves below the frost line. They are very secretive and are rarely seen in the open except during their breeding season in spring.
Prairie skinks hibernate from about September to late April. In spring, when they emerge, the males start developing a bright orange coloring on the jaws and throat: the breeding season has begun. The female lays eight to ten eggs after a gestation time of about 40 days. The eggs hatch in August; hatchlings are about 5 cm (2.0 in) long. They reach sexual maturity in their third year.
The prairie skink lives in sandy habitat or open grasslands with loose soil, preferably with some rocks providing shelter and places to bask in the sun, and close to a water source.
The ranges of the two subspecies are disjunct. The range of the northern subspecies extends from eastern North Dakota and Minnesota south to central Kansas. A small isolated population lives in southwestern Manitoba in Canada—it is the only lizard in Manitoba and is one of only five lizard species to occur in Canada; the northern prairie skink is protected in Canada. The southern subspecies occurs in Oklahoma and Texas.
- Baird, S.F. 1859. Descriptions of New Genera and Species of North American Lizards in the Museum of the Smithsonian Institution. Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia "1858" : 253-256. ("Plestiodon septentrionalis, Baird", p. 256.)
- Behler, J.L., and F.W. King. 1979. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. Knopf. New York. 743 pp. ISBN 0-394-50824-6. (Eumeces septentrionalis, pp. 575–576 + Plates 423, 428.)
- Boulenger, G.A. 1887. Catalogue of the Lizards in the British Museum (Natural History). Second Edition. Volume III. Lacertidæ, Gerrhosauridæ, Scincidæ,... Trustees of the British Museum (Natural History). (Taylor and Francis, printers.) London. xii + 575 pp. + Plates I.- XL. (Eumeces septentrionalis, p. 374.)
- Conant, R. 1975. A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America, Second Edition. Houghton Mifflin. Boston. xviii + 429 pp. ISBN 0-395-19979-4 (hardcover), ISBN 0-395-19977-8 (paperback). (Eumeces septentrionalis, pp. 127–128 + Plate 19 + Map 73.)
- Smith, H.M., and E.D. Brodie, Jr. 1982. Reptiles of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. Golden Press. New York. 240 pp. ISBN 0-307-13666-3. (Eumeces septentrionalis, pp. 76–77.)
- Northern Prairie Skink, Reptiles and Amphibians of Iowa