Prairie skinks (Plestiodon septentrionalis) are common in Iowa, but you may never have seen one before. They are so tiny, that they blend in extremely well with their prairie surroundings.
Prairie skinks range from 5-8 inches in length typically. The new animal ambassador at the Dickinson County Nature Center, named Schnoodle, however, is about 3.5 inches long.
Schnoodle is a little smaller than a typical prairie skink because he only has a nub of a tail. That is actually typical with prairie skinks, who lose their tails on purpose when frightened by predators. Their detached tails continue to wriggle, distracting predators while the skinks get away.
A skink’s tail does regrow, but it is not as long or colorful as the original tail. Schnoodle lose her tail about eight months ago, but it is still quite short compared to the usual long tail of a skink.
Prairie skinks have three wide tan or light brown stripes along their black back with two additional stripes on each side for a total of seven stripes.
They also look similar to five-lined skinks, which like their name suggests have five stripes on their backs, and six-lined racerunners, which have bright green, yellow or white stripes instead.
Prairie skinks can also be quite colorful. When they are young, they each have a bright blue tail, and during mating season, an adult male’s head, neck and lips turn bright orange. It appears that Schnoodle is a girl because of that lack of bright coloring during mating season.
Skinks eat crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars, spider and other such creatures.
They are usually found along stream banks or in small forests and grasslands.
As of March 2018, Schnoodle is new to the Dickinson County Nature Center, so she will spend a little time behind the scenes as we get to know her before she will be on display!