THIS CREATURE KILL MY DOG?
iconic animals earn bad reputations because of people's personal experiences
with them. For example, if a Bengal tiger ate your favorite uncle or
a rogue African elephant destroyed your village, you might be inclined
to have a less-than-favorable view of these animals.
that every time you look at your prosthetic leg, you think of the great
white shark that made a meal of your real one - bad rap justified.
really cool animals that actually live around us get undeserved notoriety
as bad actors simply because of unfamiliarity. I receive numerous queries
every spring about one particularly formidable looking but benign species.
Attached is a photo of a creature in my courtyard that I have never
seen before. It is big. I'm frightened of it and scared it could kill
my bichon, which is a small dog.
can see, the monster is light brown with a huge orange head, At first
I thought it was a snake. What is this beast and how dangerous is it?
- Karen, Charleston, S.C.
It is a great-looking male broad-headed skink, a type of lizard. Some
skinks are said to be poisonous to cats that eat them, but that is rare,
and I've never heard of a dog being affected, not even a bichon or Chihuahua.
And a skink
would never be able to hurt a dog by biting it. My grandsons pick them
up all the time (both little dogs and big broad-headed skinks).
yourself fortunate to have breeding skinks around your yard as they
perform some fascinating courtship behaviors. You probably also see
the smaller juveniles that are black and yellow-striped with metallic
get older they lose the vivid colors. Adult females become more subdued
in color but usually retain the stripes and a bluish tail. Males develop
shiny, coppery brown bodies and get much larger than the females.
male skinks begin courtship and the head and neck turn brilliant red.
engage in head-on combat, wrestling and biting each other until one
decides that he's had enough and leaves the area. None ever seems to
get killed, but the winner as well as the loser may have a few scars
from some vicious biting.
let a skink bite your finger, seldom will it even break the skin. Some
people, perhaps to make a statement about their sense of adventure,
may let a skink dangle from one earlobe. This, by the way, is not a
recommendation, merely an observation.
of battle between male skinks is territorial rights, often in response
to a nearby female interested in mating opportunities. I have watched
the winning suitor after a fight spend from several minutes up to an
hour chasing around on the forest floor after the female, trying to
convince her that he is the man. "Hey, I just whipped that big
dude running away."
skinks are the most robust four-legged lizards in the Southeast. Legless
glass lizards get longer but do not have the cachet of a broad-headed
skink in fighting colors.
mating, broad-headed skinks lay half a dozen or more eggs in old tree
stumps or under rotting logs, and the female stays with them, presumably
guarding against attacks by snakes, ants and other small predators.
They perform "nursery maintenance" by moving the eggs around
in the nest and even eating eggs that become damaged and could harbor
bacteria or fungi.
skinks are just one of several species of skinks that collectively range
throughout most of the eastern United States. For example, six species
of skinks are native to Alabama. Two are smaller look-alikes of "broadheads."
you have skinks in your yard should be viewed as an environmental blessing
and an outstanding opportunity to see some interesting behaviors. Plus,
you will have an iconic species close at hand.
you have an environmental question or comment, email