Discover Maryland's Herps

Field Guide to Maryland's Lizards (Order Squamata)

Sub-order Lacertilia, Family Scincidae

Broad-headed Skink
Plestiodon laticeps

Broad-headed Skink, Photo courtesy of John White
Broad-headed Skink, Photo courtesy of John White

Size

6 - 12 inches.

Appearance

  • Our largest skink.

  • Adult males are similar to male Five-lined Skinks in appearance, only larger, and the red jaws (“jowls”) are swollen during the breeding season, giving them a fierce countenance.

  • Adult females also resemble their five-lined cousin, only larger.

  • Young and females may have 5 or 7 stripes running their body length.

  • Juveniles retain blue tails until sexual maturity.

  • Experienced herpers will differentiate between these species by counting the number of labial scales on the upper lip between the nostril and the corner of the eye of the animals. Broad-headed skinks have five scales; five-lined skinks have four. This should only be attempted by experienced handlers, as these animals have powerful jaws that can deliver a painful bite.

  • Close-up Broad-headed Skink, Photo by John White
    Broad-headed Skink, Photo courtesy of John White

    Adult Broad-headed Skink, Photo by Clint Otto
    Adult Broad-headed Skink, Photo courtesy of  Clint Otto

    Habitats

    A forest species. Extremely arboreal. It is generally restricted to the drier areas of low hills and knolls within woodlands, including the dry sandy ridges typically found along the eastern side of lower Eastern Shore rivers.

    How to Find

    A difficult find because they spend so much time high in the treetops. Look in and around snags on dry sandy ridges within the woods. They have also been reported living in the debris of woodland raptor nests. Look for females from May-July when they descend to lay eggs near the ground in decaying snags and logs. The broad jaw structure of the male broad-head allows for expanded musculature; their bite is very painful.


    Photo of Broad-headed Skink Habitat courtesy of Rebecca Chalmers

    Distribution in Maryland

    This species is fairly common. They are found on the Coastal Plain of the Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland. Also rarely found along the Potomac Valley in Montgomery and Frederick Counties.

    Broad-headed Skink Distribution Map in Maryland

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    and Reptile Atlas Project

    "A Joint Project of the Natural History Society of Maryland, Inc. and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources"

    For monthly newsletters of the Maryland Amphibian & Reptile Atlas Project click on Recent Newsletters and scroll down to the MARA Newsletters.

    The Maryland Herpetology Field Guide is a cooperative effort of the MD Natural Heritage Program and the MD Biological Stream Survey within the Department of Natural Resources and their partners. We wish to thank all who contributed field records, text, and photographs, as well as support throughout its development.