Friday, April 20, 2012

A Skink

Here's a small skink seen on our deck this afternoon. S(h)e was pretty, colorful, and remarkably tame.

Interestingly, this individual may represent one of three remarkably similar species--so called sibling species. This one could conceivably be the eastern five-lined skink (Eumeces fasciatus), the broad-headed skink (Eumeces laticeps), or the southeastern five-lined skink (Eumeces inexpectatus). The last was named by taxonomist E. H. Taylor, who never expected until his technical investigations discovered it that another species was lurking in this complex of similar-looking lizards.

We suspect that this one is laticeps, based not on counting scale rows or similar taxonomic indicators, but rather on the other lizards we see around us.

Thirty years ago, a colleague and I challenged the conventional wisdom on the function of the blue tail-coloration, which is seen mostly in young animals. Contrary to prevailing thought (to trick predators into aiming for the detachable tail), we proposed that its true function was to identify young lizards to older individuals and to prevent attacks on their own young by the large and voracious adult males. No one seems to have have taken up the challenge, so our ideas seem to have carried the day (or to have been completely ignored).

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