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Friday, Oct. 12, 2001
By ROWAN HOOPER
* Japanese name: Nihon tokage * Scientific name: Eumeces latiscutatus * Description: Skinks are a type of lizard, but they have shorter legs than is usual for lizards and sometimes no legs at all (legless species move by wriggling like a snake). The five-lined skink does have legs and a long tail. A dark-brown stripe runs lengthways down both sides of the body, which is smooth and shiny-scaled. Adults grow 16-25 cm long. Juvenile skinks have a bright-blue tail and metallic-gold stripes. Adult males lose the blue-and-gold coloring, but females retain it. * Where to find them: From Honshu to Kyushu, from the lowlands to the mountains. One variety of the five-lined skink living on the Tokara Islands in southern Kagoshima Prefecture, is endangered, but the mainland variety is common. Although skinks are some of the most secretive lizards, the five-lined skink can be found in sunny places, near crevices and hiding places, and even in the city. They are diurnal (active during the day), and they hibernate in winter. Mating takes place in April and May, and females lay their 5-16 eggs under stones or in underground burrows. Females take care of the eggs, remaining with them until the baby skinks hatch, 31-35 days later. Females keep the eggs clean by licking them and move them around so that each egg is equally incubated. Without female care, most of the eggs wouldn't hatch. * Food: Crickets, spiders and other invertebrates, including earthworms and insect larvae. Skinks hunt in leaf litter, around decaying logs and under rocks. * Special features: Many animals show sexual dimorphism, and the skink is no exception. Males are bigger than females, and although their bodies are more dull in color, during the breeding season they develop orange-red pigment markings under the jaws, belly and lips. At the same time, males become highly aggressive. The male hormone testosterone is responsible both for the increase in aggression and the red coloration. During fights, a male attempts to bite his opponent's head. During mating, a male also bites -- or nips -- the female, especially around the pelvic region. Some skinks may bear the scars of such bites.
Sexual dimorphism: The condition in which there are physical differences, such as color or size, between the male and the female in a species.