Coal Skink, Plestiodon anthracinus

Two subspecies occur in TN; Southern Coal Skink (P. a. pluvialis) is found next to the Tennessee River in the western part of the state and Northern Coal Skink (P. a. anthracinus) exists in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Description: A medium-sized lizard (5.0 to 7.0 inches in length) with smooth, shiny scales and short legs. Back color ranges from olive-gray to brown. A wide dark brown or black lateral stripe extends from the head onto the tail along each side of the body, bordered by a thin light line above and below. The belly is gray or bluish-gray. Males have dark orange or reddish tint on sides of the head during the breeding season. Adult females are slightly larger than males.

Similar Species: Common Five-lined and Southeastern Five-lined Skinks have to stripe down the center of the back.

Habitat: Prefers open, moist forests near streams, river, or sloughs. Also, occurs on rocky hillsides and near springs.

Diet: Variety of small insects and spiders.

Breeding information: Courtship and breeding occur in spring. Female lays 4-9 eggs in rotten logs or moist soil, guarding them until they hatch in the summer.

Status in Tennessee: Uncommon within its restricted range. The Coal Skink is listed as “In Need of Management” by TWRA and considered very rare and imperiled by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

Fun Facts:
•As with all skinks, the Coal Skink can quickly and easily break off its tail if grasped by a predator or human. A new tail will regenerate.

Best places to see in Tennessee: Open forests next to Tennessee River in west TN.


Conant, R. and Collins, J. 1998. Peterson Field Guides: Reptiles and Amphibians (Eastern/Central North America). Houghton Mifflin Company, New York. 616pp.

Jensen, J. B., Camp C. D., Gibbons, W., and Elliot, M. J. 2008. Amphibians and Reptiles of Georgia, University of Georgia Press, Athens, GA. 575pp.

Johnson, T.R. 2006. The Amphibians and Reptiles of Missouri. The Missouri Department of Conservation, Jefferson City, MO.