Identification: Indiana's larger skink is less often seen than its close relative: the five-lined skink, as it spends much of its time higher up in trees. Like its close relative, juvenile broad-headed skinks are black with bright white-yellow stripes and a blue tail and adults are brown with faded stripes and no blue coloration. This species gets its name from the enlarged, swollen red heads that males in breeding condition develop. Broad-headed skinks can be quite large with adults reaching lengths of around a foot (30 cm) in length.
Similar Species: Though there is a similar skink in Indiana that is virtually identical in some life stages, it is first worth mentioning that many people confuse skinks with salamanders due to their similar form and shiny appearance. Though the presence of scales, claws, and eyelids is a quick way to separate these reptiles from salamanders (which are amphibians), the differences in behavior and activity pattern are also quite stark. Most people encounter skinks climbing on buildings or skittering across the forest floor, in broad daylight during the warmer months. Skinks, like many other reptiles, are sun-loving creatures that thrive in warm and dry conditions and are inactive in cool and cloudy weather. Salamanders, on the other hand, are predominantly active in spring, fall, and even winter when conditions are cool and wet. Salamanders are frequently active on cool, rainy nights during the spring but otherwise seek cover under rocks, logs, or underground. Lizards and salamanders are so different that it would not be hyperbole to say that the conditions in which one thrives, might be fatal to the other.
Five-lined skinks grow to only about half the size of this species making it relatively simple to identify large adult broad-headed skinks. However, any individuals under eight inches (20 cm) long should be more carefully examined. Five-lined skinks have four scales, on the upper lip, between the eye and the nose while broad-headed skinks have five.
Distribution: Broad-headed skinks are a species of mature deciduous forests and are most abundant in the unglaciated hills of south-central Indiana and in the forested ravines of west-central Indiana. They seek out sunny openings, but will often move into the canopy to find gaps. They are also frequently encountered on standing dead trees (snags) and on sunny rock outcrops.