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Friday, September 16, 2011

Species Spotlight #3: Ground Skink

A couple of months ago, in late April, a bunch of birders made the overnight decision to travel the hour and a half to visit North Carolina’s remarkable first record of Cassin’s Sparrow. And we weren’t disappointed – Ali, Nate, Matt, and I watched the bird skylark from a small bush in the middle of an overgrown field, completely oblivious to the stream of onlookers pointing spotting scopes in its direction.

Scotland County, where the bird was found, is pretty interesting. It’s full of sand and pines, and that means a pretty unique group of animals lives there. Ali, being a herper, kept on turning over logs and fallen bark while we were off looking for the Fork-tailed Flycatcher, hoping for a snake or two. Oh, wait, I didn’t mention that an ABA Code 3 Fork-tailed Flycatcher was seen next to the Cassin’s Sparrow not ten minutes before we’d arrived and never seen again?! I've decided that the Patagonia picnic table effect sucks ass. Anyway, after we gave up our search and had enjoyed our views of the wayward sparrow, we decided to check out the nearby Red-cockaded Woodpecker colony, where Ali upended a bit of bark, and found this little guy.

Definitely a good hiding place, keep it up!

He’s a little Ground Skink, a relatively common little lizard that can be found throughout the state, although you kind of have to be looking for them. I often find them scurrying off into the leaf litter or burrowing themselves right into the soil, but this is the first time one has decided stick around. Apparently, this guy thought a couple pieces of pine straw constituted a hiding spot! Ali, as herpers often do with a touch of wanton disregard for their own safety, picked up the little guy so we could all get a better look.

Apparently Ali's hand makes lizards feel right at home.

You can really see how well these guys are evolved for their particular lifestyle – they’re very elongated, and their legs are extremely small because when you burrow like these guys do, spare limbs just get in the way. And check out those scales – most skinks are unique among the lizards in that their scales overlap in such a way as to create a smooth, laminar surface, and the Ground Skinks really exemplify that. It’s an awesome little lizard, anyway, and one that I rarely get to see close up like this!

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