Its a Newt, Its a Gecko, Its Super Skink!

By Kathy Conner Cornell VCE Southside Master Gardener My husband and I often see what we say to ourselves “Look, it’s a geico!”. But I figured that I should be able to correctly identify what we see. I will attempt to offer an explanation. Salamanders are amphibians like frogs and toads. They are shy so you rarely see them and they are non-vocal. A defense is to exude a bad tasting substance, some even to the point of being poisonous. Benefits of salamanders - they eat slugs, mosquito larvae and flies as well as insects, spiders and worms. Some salamanders breed in water so most species young have an aquatic tadpole like stage where they breathe through gills. As adults they lose their gills and grow eyelids and a tongue. At that point, they have the ability to walk on land.
This five-lined skink is a common lizard in Southside Virginia. Newts are a type of salamander but are not as slippery. Newts primarily live in water but some young have a land phase then go back to the water. Salamanders do not have claws on their toes and have the ability to regrow tails, feet and legs. Lizards, on the other hand, are reptiles like snakes and turtles. They live solely on land and they prefer dry warmer areas. The lizards body is covered in scales and they have claws on their feet and breathe with lungs. Lizards can jump, walk on water with their back legs and climb walls. Anoles, skinks and geckos are all types of lizards. Actually, there is a gecko in Virginia but it is from the Mediterranean. This gecko can change into two color phases. The light phase is light pink to pale yellow or white with brown or gray blotches. Dark phase: the coloring darkens to gray or brown. Some people call geckos chameleons but they are not. As is typical of imports, the Mediterranean House gecko came here on imported plants carrying their eggs. This gecko is more nocturnal and very happy to live in our homes. Once, in a Jamaican resort, we had a lovely villa where we did see a gecko climbing on the ceiling. They are prized in the tropics for their insect control, especially of roaches. Only one anole is native to Virginia, the green anole, Anolis carolinensis. They can change color from bright green to dark brown. Both males and females have an extensible pink dewlap, which is a fold of loose skin that plays a part in sexual attraction. Females may be more attracted to a male with a more developed dewlap. Male dewlaps are larger and may be used to intimidate a smaller anole. There are five different types of skinks in Virginia. The common five-lines skink, Plestiodon inexpectatus, are what we often see on our porch and deck. They can release their tails when threatened. It is hilarious when our cat tries to terrorize the skink and it sheds its tail. The cat is mesmerized by the flopping tail and the skink scurries away. Some Virginia lizards are threatened by fire ants. One bite can kill a lizard. They have evolved to have longer legs, thicker skin and climb trees to stay out of trouble. Just in passing, there is one poisonous lizard in the United States. That is the Gila (pronounced heela) Monster which is found out west. Salamanders and lizards are often housed in terrariums as pets. Salamanders usually fare poorly because their slimy skin makes touching difficult. Think about what it means to take one of these critters out of their natural habitat. Selecting a more appropriate pet might solve the problem. May this will help you determine the difference between some of these species. But if you are like us, it is just easier to say “Oh, there is a geico!”.