Can’t Live Without ‘Em: Blue-tailed Mole Skink

A weekly homage to endangered species large and small.

(Based on research by Benjamin Ikenson)

If you’re ever in central Florida and see a flash of electric blue dart under a rock or bury itself in the ground, count yourself luck. You’ve probably just encountered the highly elusive blue-tailed mole skink— a small lizard that grows to about 15 centimeters in length and is unique to the Central Ridge of peninsular Florida.

WHAT’S A MOLE SKINK?

Blue-tailed mole skink.

Although they greatly resemble salamanders, mole skinks are reptiles which means they have scales, lay hard eggs and don’t undergo metamorphoses (like tadpoles changing into frogs). There are several subspecies of mole skink although they all share common characteristics. All have long tails, short feet, and slender cylindrical bodies. Their body shape allows them to maneuver effortlessly underground. An aptitude for burrowing is what earned these creatures the name “mole” skinks. They usually have shiny scales ranging from brown to pink in color.

Juvenile blue-tailed mole skinks have brown bodies with neon blue tails (hence their name) that turn pink as they mature. They hide under leaf litter, rocks and in sand pits to stay cool in the dry Florida brush lands. As a clever trick, mole skinks sometimes break off their colorful tails to distract potential predators. They then escape by quickly wiggling their bodies (“swimming”) through loose soil or sand.

IN JEAPORDY

The cunning and elusiveness of the blue-tailed mole skink has made it difficult to study, but scarcity might also be to blame. In 1987, the blue-tailed mole skink was added to the federal list of threatened and endangered species. A revised recovery plan published in 1999 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service revealed that sizeable breeding populations occurred in only 34 known locations.

Residential, commercial and agricultural development has destroyed extensive tracts of habitat where the blue-tailed mole skinks once lived. Even in ideal dry and sandy scrub brush habitats where the skink has plenty of spots to hide and plenty of insects to eat, it’s rarely seen.

WHAT GOOD ARE THEY?

These critters have a voracious appetite for crickets, roaches, spiders, and other arthropods. They help manage the insect population for the entire ecosystem. Research suggest there might even be a direct correlation between the skink’s decline and insect population explosions, which could prove detrimental for people and crops—specifically the state’s orange groves.  

Most of the blue-tailed mole skinks range is on private land, although preserves on both public and private property have been established to combat the demise of the lizard and other upland wildlife. Unfortunately, the USFWS admits that there is uncertainty as to whether the existing conservation areas are adequate for the survival of the skink.

One thing’s for certain—protecting these animals will require that habitat destruction is stopped and that potentially suitable habitat is restored for these secretive sand swimmers.

If not, we may never know what big roles these little critters play or could play in our environment.

Learn more about the blue-tailed mole skink

Categories: CLWE, Southeast

71 Responses to “Can’t Live Without ‘Em: Blue-tailed Mole Skink”

  1. Chris Baker

    Hello, I live in south west Virginia in Buchanan County. I did an internet search because I have seen a Blue-tailed Mole Skink in my back yard. I actually thought that it was a very large salamander. After learning some facts about the skink I’m not surprised to have seen one. The area I live in is comprised on Sandstone which breaks down and makes a very sandy soil. The soil is great for farmers that like to grow carrots and potatoes because it isn’t heard to uproot the vegatables. I thought these reptiles were only found in Florida? I think finding them in Virginia is awesome.

    • Ed Laskowski

      I live in Jacksonville, FL and have found two small holes in my yard and a blue mole skink hiding in each. My wife hates spiders so she’s glad the skinks eat those!

    • Deborah

      I just saw one of these out in Reedville VA, on the shore of Gaskins Pond. All my internet research was pointing me to the juvenile striped skink, but this one had NO stripes and was very small – maybe two inches nose to tail and probably a bit less.

    • Nick

      I live in the Tarpon Springs area and we/ve had 2 in our home and one on our screened porch around our pool deck. When I encountered the 1st one in our house, I had no idea what it was. My wife does not like them one bit and called me home to get it out of the house, I got it by putting a plastic cup over it, but inadvertently cut of its tail and it wiggled like crazy. I took it outside and when it hit the grass it burrowed into the dirt and that’s the last time I saw. Yesterday she saw another one in the house, but can’t seem to find it. Hopefully it escaped the house and is in the pool area.
      I see the advantage of having them around, but my wife doesn’t. Any recommendations of getting them out of the house without killing injuring them?

    • Dru

      I live in central Florida (Sebring) and saw a blue tailed skink on my front porch 2 days ago. I hadn’t seen one here before but I had seen them when I lived in Utah.
      Then a friend of mine who lives 2 miles from me told me that they are planning on widening the road in front of her place but they are also going to make sure it’s not a skink habitat because they are endangered. I wasn’t aware of that.
      Then this morning I saw another blue tailed skink out by my horse shed but this one was much smaller. It had the beautiful orange stripes and blue tail.
      Maybe this area is a habitat, because it is fairly rural out here. It is comprised of higher sandy areas and also low wet areas as well.

  2. mary-jo

    Hi! I live in SWFL and I have found 2 in my yard and 1 in my house. Do they live this far south?

  3. Selina

    I looked this up becausr I saw one yesterday as I was walling along a street in Celebration Florida. Very cool.

  4. Yermudder

    OK, so I’m picky. But you don’t have to be Alex Trebek to know how to spell “jeopardy.”

  5. Ronnie G

    I looked this up because I have one in my office (Brevard County, FL) and wanted to know what it was before I figure out how to catch it and release it outside.

  6. Ken B

    I saw some today at the National Seashore just south of New Smyrna Beach. They were beautiful!

  7. Dave Schmidt

    I was riding my bike today in Lake Louisa State Park in South Lake County (about 5 miles north of Polk County line). I stopped at the bathrooms by the beach to rest and was talking with a ranger busy cleaning the building.

  8. Heather

    I am at walmart in gibsonton florida and I seen a baby blue tailed skink I was very surprised when it let me catch it twice it ran up my arm and onto my back and then jumped off of me and then let me catch it again I thought it was very cool

  9. Ashley

    I live is central Florida by Flagler beach and in the last two days I have seen 5 babies and 1 adult in the front of my house. I love to see then around and its good to know that the spiders will not be around for a while.

  10. Ann Cleek

    I live in central Mo and I think these little critters are what is living I my garden.?

  11. Helen McGroarty

    I’m pretty sure I just saw one in my front garden. I was doing some half-hearted weeding and saw just a flash of a neon blue tail disappear into the brush.

    • Helen McGroarty

      Forgot to let you know, I live in Indian River County on the east coast of central Florida.

    • Zoe

      Oh the poor deer! Heh! What a sweet little thing. Good on you for calinlg for help, and I hope it heals well. Must have been quite a magical experience to sit so close to one.

  12. Tethrake

    If you find one in your garage what should we do? Also we have 3 dogs if it’s an indangered species what should we do?

  13. Greg Kujawski

    I live in Spring Hill ( Hernando County ) Florida. One of these beautiful creatures calls my front yard its home. The blue color of its tail is indeed unique. At first I thought that it might be a variation of the green gecko species. Thanks to my son for sending me this blog and identifying my new tenant.

  14. Mark

    I live in Palm Beach County which is probably considered more south florida than central and found a juvenile in my back yard today. My dogs almost got to him first but wow are they quick. INteresting finding one this far south, perhaps their territory is expanding though this is the first one I have seen.

  15. Nell

    I just saw one in my yard (Ocala, FL) when I emptied a container full of rainwater. He had been hiding under it. Very fast!

    • Hany

      Katie, thank you so much for your wonderful reivew of Little Skink’s Tail. I especially liked your comments about your daughter. I’m still amazed, too, by how skinks and so many other lizards can snap off their tails and then grow new ones. And blue is my favorite color, too! Happy Reading to all!

  16. Rubel

    I have one roaming inside my garage. Such a fast and beautiful reptile…. I live in Pasco county Florida.

  17. Belinda

    Thanks for your post. I just rescued a blue tailed skink from my cat’s mouth. Luckily it was intact and soon scurried away. Very beautiful! I live just outside of Jacksonville Fl.

  18. Colette

    I’m in Tallahassee FL and I have at least 6 in my yard w/blue tails and a large one with a brown tail. So, they seem to be breeding well here!

  19. mary

    My husband and I were walking in the preserve yesterday and saw a blue tailed skink. It was beautiful and very fast. I hadn’t seen one in many years. We live in Jacksonville beach, Florida. April 9th, 2015

  20. Robert

    I have some blue tail skinks that live on my land. i live in North Carolina.

    • dotty

      Also in NC and have seen a tiny one–possibly 5″ long…

  21. Frankie

    I just seen one in my yard in Lake City Florida. At first I thought it to be a snake. I also got a really nice picture of it!

  22. Rebecca

    Hi there,
    A few weeks ago I had a photo op of a lifetime but didn’t have my camera : ( I am new to the P’cola area and went for an early morning walk through Bay Bluffs Park. While walking up the wooden stairs through the brush area, a striped lizard with an irridescent blue tail ran in front of me. I stopped an stood still for at least ten minutes while it crept up to my flip flop. It put its two tiny front legs on my shoe and then slowly walked away. I have NEVER seen anything like it! At first I thought it wasn’t even real. Then I thought of the how cruel someone was for painting a lizard. I couldn’t figure it out. Interestingly enough, I have two since then in similar areas. Both larger with a slightly hint of bluish white under neck and lighter tails. The first little one I saw, its tail was crazy metallic blue/green. What a bummer I didn’t have my camera. I love nature and hope someone else gets to experience one of these amazing creatures.

  23. Melissa

    Just a few days ago, I had a beautiful adult on my door step, peeping in at us. We live in Levy county (Inglis) He seemed quite content to bask in the sun until I stepped outside, then he disappeared under our RV. Yesterday (June 21) – we had the pleasure of seeing a baby scurry around the yard. Our nephew seemed to be attracting it, because it kept finding its way into his sandal! So cute. What an amazing creature – we feel truly blessed to have had the rare opportunity to see one!

  24. Rebel

    I have a couple in my yard. I am surrounded by woods so that may help.

  25. Debi Wisneski

    We live in Celebration, FL. In the past week we have seen two of these lizards. In a year a total of four have been seen by us and one other person. My daughter loves these because blue is her favorite color. 🙂

  26. Cathy Childress

    I just rescued a blue tail skink from my laundry room sink. It was absolutely beautiful. I have seen 5 or 6 in my yard this year. First time I have ever seen them and I have lived in Florida for most of my life.

  27. Megan

    I live in southern Mississippi, Gulfport. I believe me and my kids saw one today. We were able to get close up since it seemed just as interested in us, as we were in it. Not a single line on his body. Could they be over this way?

    • Robin

      I live in Hattiesburg and saw 2 in my yard yesterday hence doing research on these critters. I am from Thibodaux LA and have lived in Jackson MS for a long time. I have never seen these before despite doing lots of gardening and yard work.

  28. Luis Pagan

    I have seen blue tailed skinks where I work.
    I have encountered them several times where the garbage disposal dumpster is.
    Every time I’m going to clean the area they come out of the dirt. I tough they where a very rare type of iguana

  29. Luis Pagan

    I work in a complex in Orlando,Fl (forgot to mention)

  30. Christine

    I just rescued a very small blue tailed skink from an empty flower pot. I live in Santa Barbara, CA and while we have large skinks here I have never seen the blue tailed variety. He must have been trapped there for a few hours without water because his back was caved in. I gave him some water and he rehydrated nicely.

  31. Miranda

    Weirsdale, Florida just saved a blue tailed skink from a glue rat board that had been stuck for about two weeks. Thought it was a dead geico. Just skinked away and still looked healthy! Glad I took a second look! Too bad the Marion county zoning department will give special exceptions to friends and special interests and build parking lots on zoned environmental land.

  32. BeN

    My current ecological niche is Citrus County Florida. There are quite a few running around here. I had a smaller one bite Me when I grabbed Him/Her to remove it from the boat. The longest one I’ve seen is about 6″..

    There is also a kind of lizard that has a stubby tail. I read where this species sometimes removes it’s own tail due to it’s color. The lizards I’m referencing are a more natural brown/sand colored.

    Not that I’m a voyeur but I also saw 2 lizards doing “it” and they were different breeds/types?? Is this common?

    • Alan Asper

      Males and females of some skink species look different. The adult males often lose their body stripes whereas the females tend to retain them, and the males often develop reddish coloration around the head, especially during breeding season.

  33. BeN

    I also forgot to add: I’ve got some kind of Gecko that has big toes but is almost translucent/see-through.. These come out at Night and hang out by the Zapper™.. The different lizards take turns sitting atop the Zapper™ and then these Geckos come out at Night. I also get quite a few into the house because of the dogs. My puppy opens the back door and the lizards come in; and birds too…

  34. William Keever

    Spotted a adult Skink a month ago across the drive of my home and then today 1baby blue-tail in my garden along the house.Very nice specimen, Very colorful tail! I reside in Brooksville, Florida.

  35. Tara

    hello, we have lots of these beautiful creatures in south central PA, close to the Susequehanna River. I have lived here most of my life and see them often hanging out on the back patio! As a matter of fact, I found a baby about 2 1/2 inches long in the house this morning 🙂 he’s safely back where he belongs!

  36. Arrgenia Seymorr

    I live in Northern Virginia and I kept seeing this little lizard with the blue tail. I live in an apt complex and they made their home in the bushes. They are adorable. However, who can I contact to make sure gardeners do not destroy their little habitat.

  37. Tony S

    For the last several years I have been seeing a couple of them in my yard my dog normally chases the lizards but rhea he stays away from & so did I thinking that maybe he knew not to get next to them cause maybe they are poisonous as we have at times water moccasins. I know know that they eat roaches and other bugs how can I train them to attack the water moccasins cause my dog will bark at it from a Distance to Alert me that they are in the jard

  38. angeline

    I live in northern Oklahoma and one of these beautiful creatures is living on my patio. He hides from my dogs but this evening he and I had a face to face…did not appear to be afraid of me. Since I have never seen one I googled small lizard with purple tail and found this interesting site. I hope he stays with us and eliminates the gargantuan spiders.

  39. patricia robertson

    Kentucky- have even found in the house. I suppose they are feasting on the very small spiders that come indoors, I think they live in holes in my flower bed.

  40. patricia robertson

    site in Louisville,KY . I have found blue tail in the house. I suppose they are feasting on very small spiders that come in doors. i think they live in holes in my flower bed.

  41. Bill k

    I live in Pasadena Maryland and found one in my yard.First one I found in Md.

  42. Christine

    I live in Ft Lauderdale, Fl and I was planting and seen one burrow underground. It was BEAUTIFUL! I’ve been here 30 years and have never seen one on all the gardening I do. It’s too bad they’re endangered. I’m glad to know they like my yard though!

  43. Tina bruecher

    We live in fountain, Fl. and have several of these skinks living on our deck! We used to see them only in the yard but they have changed their location. I used to be scared of them but after reading more, not so much. Thanks for the info!

  44. Alan

    I live in SW Colorado at 7440 feet elevation n found a neon blue tailed lizard I put it on FB n asked if anyone knew what it was it was suggested a skink I have looked It up and I’m sure it’s a skink I tried to find out what it’s range is n It sounds like SE US did I find one way out of place

  45. Kim

    We have them in Mississippi. I live in the country outside Clinton a “burb” of Jackson… They have the bright blue tails, dark bodies w/ stripes… Our back area & deck are full of them ranging in all sizes… Glad to finally know what they are!

  46. Madge

    I live in Cape Coral, Florida and saw one on Sept. 24 on my patio. So glad he is there and he seemed gentle enough. I hope I didn’t scare him away!

  47. Paula

    I live in louisiana. In a small town 60 miles south of new orleans. And I have from time 2 time come across one of those little creatures. I thought it was a snake, until I saw the little legs.

  48. bonnie

    I’ve lived in Florida my whole life and have never seen one until I moved to the woods in citrus county. I’ve seen 2 picking up big rocks in my yard…actually quite friendly reptiles

  49. dannyboy

    I just bought me 6 acres and a double wide. I believe I have these skinks and small little lizards scurrying about my porch and trailer. They seem to enjoy chilling in the sun. I love them and will never hurt them.

  50. Rhonda

    I have live in Pinellas County Florida over 25 years and I have just seen a beautiful lizard which followed me in to the office after about 45 minutes until it neared the entrance and was let out. My co-worker told me it was a blue-tailed skink so I looked it up and it was one, this is the first time I’ve seen this type of lizard.

  51. Kathleen

    I just found my cat “playing” with one. Luckily I was able to stop him from killing it and he/she got away with his life although his tail sadly was a casualty. I too thought it was a salamander/skink until my flashlight revealed an electric blue squirming tail. Had to google what in the world it could be and stumbled onto your site. I appreciate the info and am grateful now that I was able to save the poor thing. I live in Clermont (Lake County) now having moved recently from Palm Beach and have never seen these before. They are actually quite pretty !!

  52. Patricia

    We have 8 acres in northern Polk County with a barn and horses. We have lived here 4 years in the winter months and have seen several. This afternoon my husband picked up his shirt by the back door and had a large run across his hand. They are beautiful and intersting and enjoy seeing them.

  53. Barbie

    Lake Placid, Florida~watched one skury right up between my feet-grabbed my phone & got some great pics! Next night he was in my garage & I got a video. Haven’t seen him since tho!

  54. Sunshine

    I just saw a beautiful blue tailed skink on my front porch in Archer FL. It ran fast right in front of me then stopped and froze…we stood there staring at each other!
    Wished I had my camera but unfortunately I didn’t.

  55. Marsha Moskowitz

    Just saw one on my back deck, absolutely beautiful! We have a 5 lined skink that has made his home in our garage. At first I thought they might be related, but research proved me wrong. The blue tailed skink is endangered, so we will do whatever is necessary to preserve this little guy. Hopefully he has more family members so we can cut down on the insect population!

  56. Maxine Delmastro

    I live in Spring Hill, Florida. I was working in the yard and came across something shiny and blue and it moved fast. I was fascinated to I caught it and looked it up. It looks exactly like the picture you have posted. I have never seen anything like it before. I let it go in my front garden. I was thrilled to have come across one.

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