Common names for this species include the little brown skink and the ground skink. However, the common name, ground skink, may refer to any species in the genus Scincella.
The little brown skink is one of the smallest reptiles in North America, with a total length (including tail) of only 3 - 5.5 inches (7.5 - 14.5 cm). Its back is typically a coppery brown color with a white or yellow underside, and like most skinks has an elongated body and short legs. Transparent disks in the lower eyelids allow it to see with its eyes closed (Beane 2006, Palmer et al. 1995).
The ground skink is found throughout much of the Eastern United States, from New Jersey, Ohio , and Kansas south to Texas and Florida, as well as into northern Mexico. It is absent from higher elevations in the Appalachian Mountains.
S. lateralis lives in a variety of habitats, including deciduous or mixed deciduous/coniferous forests, hedgerows, and the edges of streams and ponds. It does require a deep substrate, such as leaf litter.
The ground skink is a fossorial species, spending the majority of its time buried in leaf litter on the forest floor. Unlike other skinks, it seldom climbs trees. Its usual means of locomotion is to wriggle through the leaf litter with undulating movements. It may dive under water when pursued, although normally avoids wet areas. It is largely diurnal, but may be active at night as well. It hibernates during the coldest months, but may be active in almost any month of the year in North Carolina (Palmer et al. 1995). As befits a tiny lizard, the home range of an individual may be as small as 20 square meters (Natureserve).
Ground skinks are, in turn, preyed upon by snakes such as the eastern racer, ringneck snake, and scarlet kingsnake. Predatory birds of woodland habitats, such as the barred owl and the red-shouldered hawk, also feed upon ground skinks. Even the eastern bluebird has been observed feeding on this tiny lizard (Palmer et al.2008, Robert Brooks 2009).
Sexually mature S. lateralis females lay small clutches of 1-6 (usually 2-3) eggs in moist soil, rotting logs, falling logs, or under rocks. Eggs are laid during the summer, March through August in the Southern United States. There may be more than one clutch per year. In contrast to Eumeces species, the female ground skink does not guard its eggs (Robert Brooks 2009). Eggs hatch in one to two months, and young are sexually mature at one year of age.
The little brown skink is a widespread and common species in most of its range. It is of conservation concern only on the northern edge of its range and can be seen in grassland or forest.
- Lizards of Georgia and South Carolina—accessed 15 May 2006
- NC Herps—accessed 15 May 2006
- Natureserve—accessed 15 May 2006
- Terrapin Book—accessed 23 September 2007
- Jeff Beane (2006). Love Skinks. Wildlife in North Carolina 70: 14-19. ISSN 0043-549X.
- Bernard S. Martof et al. (1980). Amphibians and Reptiles of the Carolinas and Virginia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-4252-4.
- William M. Palmer, Alvin L. Braswell, Renaldo Kuhler (1995). Reptiles of North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-2158-6.
- Say T. 1823. In James E. 1823. Account of an Expedition from Pittsburgh to the Rocky Mountains, Performed in the Years 1819 and '20. By Order of the Hon. J.C. Calhoun, Sec'y of War: Under the Command of Major Stephen H. Long. From the Notes of Major Long, Mr. T. Say, and other Gentlemen of the Exploring Party. Vol. II. Philadelphia: H.C. Carey and I. Lea. 442 pp. (Scincus lateralis, new species, pp. 324–325).
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