Species Profile

Common Five-lined Skink Carolinian population

Scientific Name: Plestiodon fasciatus
Other/Previous Names: Five-lined Skink (Carolinian population)
Taxonomy Group: Reptiles
COSEWIC Range: Ontario
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: May 2021
COSEWIC Status: Endangered
COSEWIC Status Criteria: B2ab(i,ii,iii,iv,v)
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: This small and secretive lizard is restricted to isolated areas on the shores of Lakes Erie, St. Clair, and Huron in Ontario. The population has experienced a long-term decline, and today exists only in nine small and widely separated subpopulations within a landscape heavily modified by urbanization and agriculture. Continuing threats include habitat loss from various sources, mortality and barriers to movement from an extensive network of roads, increased predation by raccoons and other species associated with disturbed habitats, and severe storms associated with climate change that are eroding shoreline habitats. The wildlife species’ limited distribution across a low number of small isolated subpopulations and multiple continuing threats are the reasons for retaining Endangered status.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: The species was considered a single unit and designated Special Concern in April 1998. Split into two populations in April 2007. The Carolinian population was designated Endangered in April 2007. Status re-examined and confirmed in May 2021.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Endangered
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2009-03-05

Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.

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Five-lined Skink Non-active Special Concern

Quick Links: | Description | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Recovery Initiatives | National Recovery Program | Documents

Description

The Five-lined Skink is a small lizard with smooth, shiny skin. This is the only lizard found in eastern Canada. The biggest individuals of this small and secretive species measure no more than 9 cm in length excluding the tail. In Ontario, males are slightly bigger than females. Young skinks have a greenish-black body with five cream-coloured lines, which explains this species’ common name. They also have a bright blue tail, which is a distinctive trait of this species. Over time, the colour of the body changes, becoming uniformly bronze in both sexes, although females retain slightly more of the juvenile colouration than males. During the breeding season, the jaws of adult males turn orange. Some females may also have pink throats.

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Distribution and Population

The Five-lined Skink occurs in the deciduous forests of eastern North America, from the Atlantic coast to Texas and Minnesota, and from southern Ontario to the Gulf of Mexico. In Canada, the species is confined to two distinct areas in southern Ontario.   There are two known populations of Five-lined Skinks in Ontario: the Carolinian population, which concentrates near Lakes Erie, St. Clair, and Huron in southwestern Ontario; and the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence population, which occurs along the southern edge of the Canadian Shield, from Georgian Bay to Leeds and Greenville County in south-central Ontario. Between 1995 and 2004, four or five small distinct populations were reported in the Carolinian region, namely those of Point Pelee National Park, Rondeau Provincial Park, Pinery Provincial Park, Oxley Poison Sumac Swamp, and, possibly, Walpole Island. As lizards remain hidden throughout the major portion of the day, it is extremely difficult to estimate the sizes of these population with any degree of accuracy. In 2004, the total number of breeding individuals was estimated to be 1495.   Carolinian populations have been declining since at least 1984, and some have even disappeared. Prior to 1984, 17 populations had been documented in this region. This number dropped to eight between 1984 and 1994 and, since 1995, only five populations have been reported or confirmed. The Rondeau Provincial Park population appears to be stable. However, there appears to have been a significant decline of the Pinery Provincial Park population; surveys conducted between 2002 and 2004 indicate that this population is certainly much smaller than those in Point Pelee National Park and Rondeau Provincial Park. In 2007, apart from the Point Pelee population, very little was known about the populations. From 1990 to 1995, the Point Pelee population dropped to one-third of its former size, perhaps even to one-fifth, due to the scarcity of suitable microhabitats (such as plant debris) that provide shelter, and the capture of individuals. Since 1996, the artificial restoration of suitable microhabitats has resulted in recovery of the population.

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Habitat

The habitat of the Five-lined Skink varies from region to region and includes rocky outcrops, dunes, fields, and deciduous forests. This species is generally associated with relatively open environments that provide a sufficient covering of debris for shelter. Carolinian populations inhabit the forests around Lakes Erie, St. Clair, and Huron. Five-lined Skinks primarily inhabit clearings such as stabilized sand dunes, open forest areas, and wetlands where they find shelter, most often under plant debris, such as decomposing tree trunks. They also use other items for shelter, including artificial objects such as construction materials, utility poles, and wooden boardwalks. The availability of objects that provide shelter is vital to the Five-lined Skink so it can protect itself against extreme temperatures and desiccation. Since the Five-lined Skink is prone to dehydration, its habitat must include a permanent water body.

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Biology

In Ontario, Five-lined Skinks often hibernate in small groups under tree trunks or rocks, and inside rotting stumps and wood. This lizard is active from mid-April to late September or early October. The Five-lined Skink is an active hunter which feeds mainly on insects and other invertebrates.   Five-lined Skinks reach sexual maturity following their second hibernation at 21 months of age. While this is not a territorial species, males are often aggressive with other males during breeding season. A few weeks after mating, the female sets off to find a suitable nest site, which she often shares with other females. Females of the Carolinian population build their nests in sand or beneath plant debris. They choose nesting sites among the shelters used by the entire population throughout the year. Females lay 9 or 10 eggs in the nest. They incubate the eggs until hatching, which occurs from late July to early August. The female never leaves her nest unattended, and she defends it against predators, such as snakes, small mammals, and birds. Cats and dogs have also been known to attack Five-lined Skinks. Predators are attracted by the bright blue colouring of the tail. When an individual is attacked, the tail often detaches and continues to wiggle for a few minutes, providing a long enough distraction to allow the Skink to escape. The tail may eventually regenerate. Approximately one individual per clutch survives to breeding age. The average lifespan of the Five-lined Skink is five years.

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Threats

In Ontario, this species is threatened by the destruction, fragmentation, and degradation of its habitat caused by the growth of the human population and increased recreational activities. This tendency is particularly significant in the southwest of the province, where the species has been declining largely due to urban sprawl and the expansion of agriculture into many areas it inhabited 20 or 30 years ago.   The modification of microhabitats represents another major threat. In Point Pelee National Park, the disappearance of materials that had served as microhabitats caused the population to drop by at least two-thirds. For instance, plant debris, such as the driftwood that washes up on shores, is sometimes removed for aesthetic reasons or for use as firewood.   Small lizards are illegally captured to be sold as pets. This poaching, which is undoubtedly made easier by the tendency of females to nest in groups, threatens the Point Pelee National Park population.   In other areas, firefighting and other management activities may limit the availability of open environments that could be used by the Five-lined Skink. The continual erosion and deposition of sand transforms the habitat of populations in the stabilized dunes of Lake Erie.   Moreover, dogs, cats, Raccoons, Coyotes, and vehicular traffic also cause Five-lined Skink deaths.

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Protection

Federal Protection

The Five-lined Skink, Carolinian population, is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name Recovery Strategy for the Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) - Carolinian Population in Canada
Status Final posting on SAR registry

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Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

22 record(s) found.

Reports on the Progress of Recovery Document Implementation

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC Assessment and Update Status Report on the Five-lined Skink Eumeces fasciatus in Canada (2007-08-30)

    Eastern Canada’s only lizard, Eumeces fasciatus, is a secretive, small-bodied animal that reaches a maximum size of approximately 86 mm snout-vent length. Juveniles have five cream-coloured stripes on their black bodies and prominently display the species’ most characteristic feature, a bright blue tail. Body colouration fades with age in both sexes, although females retain more of the original colour pattern. In the breeding season, males develop orange colouration around the jaws and chin. The scales are unkeeled, giving the animal a smooth, shiny appearance.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Common Five-lined Skink, Carolinian population (2022-01-10)

    This small and secretive lizard is restricted to isolated areas on the shores of Lakes Erie, St. Clair, and Huron in Ontario. The population has experienced a long-term decline, and today exists only in nine small and widely separated subpopulations within a landscape heavily modified by urbanization and agriculture. Continuing threats include habitat loss from various sources, mortality and barriers to movement from an extensive network of roads, increased predation by raccoons and other species associated with disturbed habitats, and severe storms associated with climate change that are eroding shoreline habitats. The wildlife species’ limited distribution across a low number of small isolated subpopulations and multiple continuing threats are the reasons for retaining Endangered status.
  • Response Statement - Five-lined Skink, Carolinian population (2007-12-04)

    The species is the only lizard in Eastern Canada. The Carolinian population occurs in only 4 or 5 small, completely isolated populations on the shores of lakes Erie, St. Clair and Huron. Threats to this skink include loss and degradation of microhabitat, illegal collecting, increased depredation by racoons, coyotes, dogs and cats, and increased mortality on roads. If any population is extirpated, because of isolation there is no chance of natural recolonization.

Recovery Strategies

  • Recovery Strategy for the Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) – Carolinian Population in Canada (2019-06-26)

    The Minister of the Environment and the Minister responsible for the Parks Canada Agency are the competent ministers for the recovery of the Five-lined Skink – Carolinian Population and have prepared the federal component of this recovery strategy (Part 1), as per section 37 of SARA. It has been prepared with the cooperation of the Province of Ontario. SARA section 44 allows the Minister to adopt all or part of an existing plan for the species if it meets the requirements under SARA for content (sub-sections 41(1) or (2)). The Province of Ontario led the development of the attached recovery strategy for the species (Part 2) in cooperation with Environment Canada and the Parks Canada Agency. The Province of Ontario also led the development of the attached Government Response Statement (Part 3), which is the Ontario Government’s policy response to its provincial recovery strategy and summarizes the prioritized actions that the Ontario government intends to take.

Action Plans

  • Multi-species Action Plan for Point Pelee National Park of Canada and Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada (2016-07-05)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Point Pelee National Park of Canada and the Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of the two sites: Point Pelee National Park of Canada (PPNP) and the Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada (NNHS). The NNHS is being used as a term to collectively refer to two locations in the Niagara region that consist of three National Historic Sites: Fort George National Historic Site, Battlefield of Fort George National Historic Site, and Butler’s Barracks National Historic Sites of Canada. The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species At Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur in these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at PPNP and at NNHS.

Orders

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2007 (2007-08-30)

    2007 Annual Report to the The Minister of the Environment and the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
  • COSEWIC Annual Report 2020 to 2021 (2021-10-12)

    Over the past year COSEWIC assessed a total of 66 wildlife species, of which 4 were assigned a status of Not at Risk. Of these 66, COSEWIC re-examined the status of 41 wildlife species; of these, 80% were reassessed at the same or lower level of risk. To date and with the submission of this report, COSEWIC’s assessments now include 826 wildlife species in various risk categories including 369 Endangered, 196 Threatened, 239 Special Concern, and 22 Extirpated (i.e. no longer found in the wild in Canada). In addition, 19 wildlife species have been assessed as Extinct, 62 wildlife species have been designated as Data Deficient, and 202 have been assessed as Not at Risk.

Permits and Related Agreements

  • Explanation for issuing permit(#PP-2008-1771), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2008-06-25)

    This long-term research project aims to determine the current status and trends in relative population of five-lined skinks at Point Pelee National Park; to determine the current level of human disturbance to skink microhabitat and to advise and assist Parks Canada in management of the population. This research will advance knowledge in basic population ecology and conservation biology, and add to one of the longest running studies of a lizard species. This data and knowledge base is the largest in Canada, and likely anywhere on this species. Surveys are conducted throughout suitable habitats in the park in the daytime. A systematic search of woody debris is conducted in open habitats of the park to count skinks and determine sex, age, number of nests, and clutch sizes.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#PP-2008-1771-B), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2011-06-27)

    This long-term research project aims to determine the current status and trends in relative population of five-lined skinks at Point Pelee National Park; to determine the current level of human disturbance to skink microhabitat and to advise and assist Parks Canada in management of the population. This research will advance knowledge in basic population ecology and conservation biology, and add to one of the longest running studies of a lizard species. This data and knowledge base is the largest in Canada, and likely anywhere on this species. Surveys are conducted throughout suitable habitats in the park in the daytime. A systematic search of woody debris is conducted in open habitats of the park to count skinks and determine sex, age, number of nests, and clutch sizes.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#PP-2011-8837), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2011-06-18)

    As part of the ongoing summer interpretive program, Visitor Experience staff from Point Pelee National Park will provide opportunities for visitors to have up close and personal experiences with park animals. This will be done through two different interpretive programs: Creature Feature and Marshville. Creature Feature is a 15-20 minute presentation held in the Visitor Centre theatre that uses a live animal, usually a five-lined skink. This animal was chosen as they are a species at risk and also often misunderstood. The goal of the program is to provide visitors with a unique experience up close with a park animal, while delivering important conservation messages. Juvenile 5-lined skinks (with blue tails) will be collected, from the Visitor Centre area to use for the program. These animals will be at least 1 years old and will be captured and kept according to strict protocols. Collections will be opportunistic in nature for the most part and the location of capture will be noted on the data sheet for that individual. Preference will be given to skinks that may have entered the building. Typically, juvenile skinks are found on a regular basis in the building and preference will be given to these individuals. Only one skink will be collected at a time and will be kept for a maximum of 3-5 days. At no times will hatch year skinks or eggs be collected.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#PP-2014-16236), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2014-06-04)

    This long-term research project aims to determine the current status and trends in relative population of five-lined skinks at Point Pelee National Park; to determine the current level of human disturbance to skink microhabitat and to advise and assist Parks Canada in management of the population. This research will advance knowledge in basic population ecology and conservation biology, and add to one of the longest running studies of a lizard species. This data and knowledge base is the largest in Canada, and likely anywhere on this species. Surveys are conducted throughout suitable habitats in the park in the daytime. A systematic search of woody debris is conducted in open habitats of the park to count skinks and determine sex, age, number of nests, and clutch sizes.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#PPNP-2015-03), persuant to the provisions of section 73 of SARA (2019-10-28)

    Point Pelee National Park is re-paving and expanding the main road in the park and burying the power and communication utility conduits under the road. This will allow for the decommissioning and removal of the 6km aboveground power line corridor. Due to its close proximity to the road (~9m), one mature red mulberry tree may be impacted/harmed by this project and approximately 383m2 of critical habitat along the existing road will be destroyed as part of the initial phase of the project. Approximately 0.011km2 of critical habitat of eastern foxsnake and Blanding's turtle, and 0.005km2 of critical habitat of five-lined skink will also be destroyed along the existing road. Up to 200 individual common hoptrees may be damaged during the road recapitalization project, which may harm/kill any hoptree borers using them and damage/destroy their residences.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#PPNP-2019-02), persuant to the provisions of section 73 of SARA (2019-09-04)

    Point Pelee National Park's (PPNP) Integrated Vegetation Management Plan (2012) provides objectives, guidelines, and strategies for managing vegetation. This plan states the restoration of Lake Erie Sand Spit Savannah (LESSS) habitats is one of the top vegetation conservation priorities for the park. The LESSS is a globally-rare ecosystem that is important habitat for 15 of the federally listed species at risk found in the park. The Restoration of the LESSS will involve 1) mechanical removal of invasive, exotic and native shrubs and trees; 2) prescribed fires in selected areas, brush piles, and/or spot burning invasive, exotic, herbaceous vegetation; 3) hand pulling of invasive, alien, herbaceous vegetation; 4) using herbicides to reduce and/or control invasive, exotic, herbaceous vegetation and to treat the stumps of mechanically removed and/or girdled shrubs/trees; Site specific activities may vary and details are included in each site restoration plan for which individual impact assessments have been conducted. These activities are expected to incidentally harm or kill individuals of Dwarf Hackberry, Hoptree Borer, Five-lined Skink and Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus.

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act - Terrestrial Species (2008-03-10)

    As part of its strategy for protecting wildlife species at risk, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, also called the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Please submit your comments by March 25, 2008 for species undergoing normal consultations and by March 27, 2009 for species undergoing extended consultations.
  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act: Terrestrial Species January 2022 (2022-01-10)

    The Government of Canada is committed to preventing the disappearance of wildlife species at risk from our lands. As part of its strategy for realizing that commitment, on June 5, 2003, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species provided for under SARA, also called the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Extirpated, Endangered and Threatened species on Schedule 1 benefit from the protection afforded by the prohibitions and from recovery planning requirements under SARA. Special Concern species benefit from its management planning requirements. Schedule 1 has grown from the original 233 to 640 wildlife species at risk. Please submit your comments by May 10, 2022, for terrestrial species undergoing normal consultations and by October 10, 2022, for terrestrial species undergoing extended consultations. For a description of the consultation paths these species will undergo, please visit the Species at Risk (SAR) Public Registry website at: The Minister of the Environment's Response to Species at Risk Assessments.

Critical Habitat Descriptions in the Canada Gazette

Exceptions

  • Public Registry Notice for s.83 Exceptions - Former Camp Ipperwash (2015-03-06)

    As per the Memorandum of Understanding between DND, Environment Canada, and the Parks Canada Agency: 6.1 c) Activities occurring on Defence Establishments that are considered necessary for public safety in accordance with paragraph a) and authorized under the National Defence Act and the Explosives Act are: Remediation of contaminated sites; and Securing, handling, destruction or disposal of unsafe munitions, including unexploded explosive ordnance.

Recovery Document Posting Plans

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada's Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan (2016-07-06)

    Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan identifies the species for which recovery documents will be posted each fiscal year starting in 2014-2015. Posting this three year plan on the Species at Risk Public Registry is intended to provide transparency to partners, stakeholders, and the public about Environment and Climate Change Canada’s plan to develop and post these proposed recovery strategies and management plans. However, both the number of documents and the particular species that are posted in a given year may change slightly due to a variety of circumstances. Last update December 2, 2021
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