Why prairie skinks lose their tails

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.

Photo of a prairie skink on its hind legsopens IMAGE file

Schnoodle the prairie skink

Some skinks are is a little smaller than a typical prairie skink because they only havea 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.

Photo of a prairie skink missing its tailopens IMAGE file

A skink's tail does regrow, but it is not as long or colorful as the original tail.

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.

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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.

Photo of a five-lined skinkopens IMAGE file

Five-lined skink

Photo of a six-lined racerunneropens IMAGE file

Six-lined racerunner

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.

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