Slide Skink #2

Five-lined Skink © UF/IFAS – Tyler Jones

LIZARDS

You might find it interesting that there are more non-native lizard species in Florida than native ones. Lizards are found across the subtropical and tropical parts of our planet. They can be easily transported accidentally in shipments or brought here for the pet trade. Either way, they do well in Florida’s climate.

 

Lizards have long bodies, usually long tails, and four limbs extended from the sides of their body. This forces them to move their backbone in a side-to-side motion when they walk, unlike the up-and-down motion of a mammal. This is called ambulatory locomotion  These ambulatory lizards can move very fast for a short distance, but they tire easily. Many lizards have the ability to “drop their tail” when predators are near. This is a defensive behavior that lets the predator consume the fallen tail and leave the lizard alone – who grows a new albeit shorter one.

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Brown Anole © John Powanda

Lizards are eggs layers. Their eggs are deposited in the soil near and around logs and other debris, sometimes within them. Lizards are in the same order as the snakes – Squamata – and the difference is not the lack of legs (or presence of them). There are legless lizards. The difference is the lack of eyelids and an external ear in snakes. Many lizards possess the Jacobsen’s organ found on many snakes. This organ is located in the roof of the mouth and used for the sense of taste and smell. It is accessed by the famous forked tongue that collects chemicals when exposed to the environment. The tip of the tongue is inserted into two grooves in the roof of the mouth where it is accessed.

 

All lizards have teeth. Some are vegetarian, some are carnivorous. On Pensacola Beach, lizards are one of the few animals who come out in the heat of a summer day.

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Skink Protecting Eggs

Anoles represent a battle between natives and non-native species. The Cuban species of brown anoles has made its way to Pensacola Beach. It is called the Brown Anole as well as the Cuban anole. It is believed they reached Florida accidentally in cargo of some kind.  In recent years, they have been hitchhiking from southern Florida to our area on landscaping plants that are shipped here. Once here, they quickly multiply and spread. They quickly cover an area and compete with the native Green Anole, which is often mistaken for a chameleon because it can change color. There are fierce battles between these two anoles – they even eat each other’s young. The green anoles are eventually forced higher in the shrubbery and disappear from the area altogether. One thing about the brown anole is that they are not currently found in natural areas. They seem to favor landscaped habitats.

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Green Anole © Joe Stukey

The Brown Anole differs from the green with a shorter snout, a brown/gray/black 8 inch body with white markings along their sides. The Green Anole will turn dark brown/gray/black as well. The green female may develop a white stripe down her back but never the white markings on the sides. The brown anole cannot turn green. The dewlaps of the males are different as well. A dewlap is a kind of throat fan used to establish territorial boundaries and attract females for mating. Green anole dewlaps are red. Brown anoles are orange with a white outer margin. Brown anoles feed on insects and spiders. Because of the decline of the green anoles, some consider this non-native lizard to be INVASIVE.

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Brown Anole

The native Six-lined Race Runner is unforgettable when you see one – if you can get a good look at it. They are incredibly fast, running across the hot sand from one bush to another. They are dark in color, about 8 inches long with six yellow-white stripes running down their bodies. Their tails are typically blue, and the belly of the male is blue. They are found in almost every part of the island and don’t come out until the sun is nice and hot. Race runners feed on a variety of insects and spiders and are one of the lizards who bury their eggs in the sand.

 

Another interesting fact about many of the lizards in this genus (Aspidoscelis) is that there are no known males. The females can produce fertilized eggs without sperm – something called parthenogenesis. The males are not needed at all, so they don’t exist.

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Six-lined Race Runner

The difference between the Five-lined Skink and the Six-lined Race Runner is… well… one has five lines and the other six. Good luck seeing that. Actually, the Southeastern Five-lined Skink is a fan of woodland habitats and will not be racing across the sand. They can be found in the leaf litter under the trees of the maritime forest and are about 6 inches long. They are shiny looking due to their smooth scales, unlike the six lined race runner.  The females and juveniles have dark bodies with the five lines and a bright blue tail. The males are usually tan with an orange head. They can be found in logs and other debris. Like most of the other native island lizards, they are diurnal by habit. They feed on insects and lay their eggs in decaying logs instead of burying them.

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Five-lined Skink © UF/IFAS – Tyler Jones

Glass lizards are the native legless lizards often mistaken for snakes, but unlike snakes they have eyelids and external ear openings. The lizard’s slender head is another indicator. These lizards are harmless. They are called glass lizards because when one drops its tail when threatened it appears to be “broken” – like it’s made of glass. The Eastern Glass Lizard is the more common one of two species that can be found on the island. It is dark green on top with small white spots and a yellow belly, reaching a length of 30 inches. Like the race runner, they are diurnal in habit and eat a variety of insects. In addition to insects, they also consume small crabs, small snakes, small mammals, and even each other. Glass lizards are one of the few reptiles that stay with their eggs until they hatch.

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Glass Lizard © UF/IFAS – Sally Lanigan

The native Northern Mole Skink is not a legless lizard, but their limbs are VERY small and difficult to see. Actually, the lizard is hard to see period. They spend most of their time buried beneath leaf litter and loose soil, rarely exposing their overall 5 inch length. They have dark bodies with stripes and colorful tails – the local species has a red tail. They are very shiny and could be confused with a salamander, but they have scales (salamanders do not). These lizards feed on insects, bury their eggs and remain with them until they hatch.

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Mole Skink © John B. Jensen

Geckos are famous for their nighttime habits of hanging around back porch lights eating all sorts of insects including the American cockroach – a homeowner’s dream. Unlike most lizards, geckos do lack eyelids and clean their eyes frequently by licking them. The Mediterranean Gecko is almost translucent to the point where the developing eggs can be seen within a female. They can be pink, tan, or even a brown color. There are numerous tubercles covering their 5 inch bodies. They are originally from the Mediterranean and India. First reported in Florida in 1910, they have spread to all the southeastern states. They like to be around people and are most active on warm nights. Males make a distinctive peeping sound at night calling to females and other males. This gecko is not considered invasive.

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Mediterranean Gecko

In the 1960s, the Texas Horned Lizard was common throughout Escambia County. Today, they have declined to only a population on Santa Rosa Island and they are not easy to find. It is hard to misidentify this critter. It is flat and wide – looking more like a toad than a lizard – and there are thorns covering their 4 inch body. Another common name for them was the horned toad, but they are in fact lizards, not toads or frogs.

 

They are native to the western United States and one look at them and you identify them with the desert. It is believed they were brought here as pets and were released. They feed on ants, insects, and centipedes. One interesting defensive behavior they have is squirting their own blood from their eyes at a predator. It is pretty drastic, but it works. They are not considered invasive.

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Texas Horned Lizard

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