September 17th, 2009 – Learned something new today

Today I learned something new about the Five-lined Skink ( Eumeces fasciatus).  Of course I knew that they can drop their tails as a means of escaping predators or things they perceive as threats, and that the tail grows back.  But I was not aware that the tail keeps moving long after they drop it.  I think it safe to assume that the reason for this has to be because it would work even better as a means of escape, if it continued to move as if it were the actual skink himself.  I found this really interesting.

But I’ll back up for a moment and tell you how I learned this.  Today my husband was on his way outside and he yells, “Debbie there’s a skink in the house.”  I came into the kitchen and said, “Where?”  He said, “I opened the door and it fell on me and jumped off of me onto the floor.  Then it ran under the table.”  I said, “Oh great.”

Skinks are very fast, and I hated the thought of loosing one in our house.  Where he might die a slow death of dehydration.  😦   I looked under the table and spotted him right away.  A very young one, running about looking for a place to hide.  I managed to get under my table in time to catch him in my hands.  I feared what going under there would do to my spine, but surprisingly enough crawling under my table hurt less than most of the things that I attempt during the day.

As soon as I caught him, I cupped him in both of my hands.  I never pulled on him or anything like that.  Just scooped him up carefully but quickly.  But apparently I scared him enough to make him feel the need to drop his tail while inside my hands.  I felt the Pop as it popped off inside of my hands.  I said to my husband, “Oh no, he’s dropped his tail.”  I felt a ton of thrashing about, and I assumed it was the little skink.  In hindsight I now realize it was the tail.   I cracked my hand open and his tail fell out onto the floor.  I took the little skink outside and he sat there in my hand looking at me for a few moments.  Then he took off up my arm as fast as he could run.  I put my hand in front of him to block him from making it to my shirt, and he leapt off into the grass.

I had only two teeny tiny drops of blood on my hand.  So clearly there isn’t much blood loss when they do this.

My husband came out with the tail and said, “You’ve got to see this.”   He laid the tail on our outside table and it was thrashing about like you wouldn’t believe.  Eventually it stopped (this was probably at least 5 to 10 minutes after popping off).  And he touched it, and it started flopping again.  We realized that it would lay perfectly still until you touched it, then it would move.  It was really something to see.  My husband went and grabbed the camera and we took some photos of it.


After a bit (probably at least 10 – 15 minutes after the tail had dropped off) we got the idea to take a video of it.  And he touched it to provoke the reaction again and we taped it.  If you’ve ever seen someone kill a snake, I would say this is much like the muscle reactions that you see after a snake is killed.  It doesn’t so much surprise me that it does this, as much as it surprises me that it does it for so LONG.  And that it stops for several minutes or more, and then if you touch it again, it provokes the same reaction.  What an interesting defense mechanism indeed !

I wish I could have stayed and timed it, to see how long it would do it before loosing whatever energy allows this to happen.  But I was in too much pain and had to go back inside to sit down.  All I can say is that it continued to do this after we took the video.  And we watched it do this for at least 20 minutes after the skink popped it off his body.  I think that is really impressive.  And certainly enough to help fool a lot of predators I would think.

Now for a first ever on this blog….  Video!

I have thought about adding video on several other occasions but never did.  But I thought this was worth adding.  It was just too tempting to pass up.  So….. Here ya go.  I hope you enjoy watching. Notice not only how it moves, but also how it moves enough to even completely turn itself over.  Let me know what you think and if you would like to see more videos in the future.



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