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Articles by Wayne Bierbarum

If it’s got a blue tail, it’s a skink

The shiny-skinned skink is not a salamander. It is a reptile. Skinks have scaled skins and live in dry areas where salamanders, which are amphibians, cannot.
    The American five-lined skink is the most common lizard in Maryland. They are also known as the blue-tailed skink because the younger lizards have bright blue tails, and also the red-headed skink because the adult males have red heads.
    These aggressive animals are able to spread over a wide range. Unfortunately, they can displace other lizards, like fence swifts.
    In the early spring, the skinks that over-wintered explore their surroundings. They actively hunt insects but will also eat worms and smaller vertebrates, even other lizards. By May, they look for mates and go through a fairly complex courtship. They chase and scratch at each other in a jerky dance-like manner.
    A couple of weeks after mating, the female will lay 10 to 20 eggs in a semi-moist area such as under a log. What is unusual among these lizards is that the female will coil around the eggs and aggressively defend them. The young hatchlings also get protection until they disperse.
    The youngest lizards have the brightest blue tails. When a skink is grabbed by the tail, the tail will break off and wiggle on its own, so the bright blue color will likely hold the attacker’s attention as the lizard slips away. Older skinks will also lose their tails, but the tails are no longer blue.
    The five-lined skink is thought to live up to six years in the wild. They will live longer in captivity but do not make good pets. They tend to escape, bite, dislike being held and do not calm down easily.
    They are common and widespread, from the coast to the mountains. They do not mind the heat, and we see them everywhere.

Most Baltimore orioles head south … Not this one

     This Baltimore oriole failed to migrate. Orioles usually fly down to Central and South America and winter in the warmth. Occasionally a bird will stay behind and tough it out in the cold. I think this is the second year for this bird to winter-over; one of its stops is my backyard in Riva.
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