S l i n k y   S k i n k s

When looking for a word to describe the little 5 Lined Skink, the word slinky came to mind. Things that slither, slide on their bellies and slip around and hide under rocks are slinky. My introduction to the slinky little skink family was anything but proper. These little lizards seem to appear out of nowhere and are so quiet that unless you are looking for them they will go unnoticed. You'll find them in your garden under rocks, boards, or piles of limbs. When I was in the 6th grade I met my first skink face to face in a cemetery.

Dad was an avid Florida historian and often stumbled on to old hidden cemetery sites in the northern Florida woods. Early one Sunday morning we went to one of these old 1800's graveyards, which was located under some big, old, lumbering oaks and magnolia trees. It was about mid-morning and a beam of sunlight broke through the overhead canopy and shown on a rather large moss covered tombstone. As we knelt down to record information from this particularly old granite tombstone, Dad had to remove some of the moss to read the name engraved there. While he entered this information in his notebook I stood up to take a look around. Scattered here and there were very old tombstones and some old cypress grave makers with no names. I don't think any of them were straight up and down. Most were leaning at angles or partially sunken into the soft leaf-covered sand. All were covered with bright green moss and actually presented a very peaceful setting. I had never been to movies or had scary stories read to me but the idea of standing on sunken-in gravesites did give me an eerie feeling.

As in most graveyards this old site was very quiet and peaceful. Birds sang from the surrounding thickets and squirrels fussed at us for interrupting their acorn gathering. I stood there, being as respectful of the ones laid to rest there as I could possibly be. As I surveyed this pleasant spot, I slowly turned and not more than 10 inches from my face was a very large broad headed skink. His head was massive for such a lizard and was bright reddish-orange. He was opening and closing his mouth and licking his chops right in my face. At that time I didn't know what it was and I didn't care and I wasted no time trying to find out. I was so startled I just ploweded right through those old cypress grave markers. My movements were so rapid I don't think I left any tracks as I headed for new territory. When I jumped, hollered and ran I scared Dad so bad he dropped his notebook and headed in the opposite direction, not even knowing what he was running from. After we both stopped he came over to check me over.

Are you hurt?

No Sir.

What in the world happened son?

My whole body shaking and I was gasping for air. Before I could catch my breath to tell him he knelt down and peered into the woods for some unknown villain. I pointed to that still undisturbed, redheaded beast perched on top of the big tombstone. Now, if Dad had ever seen one of these large lizards before, I certainly wasn't impressed with his assurance of how harmless it was. He proceeded very slowly to retrieve his notebook and all the time flailing his hands in the air to frighten away this life-threatening creature. Judging by Dad's movements, I really think if that lizard had made even the slightest movement towards him, I would have lost a Dad somewhere in the North Florida swamps. The lizard very begrudgingly gave up his warm place in the sun to hide under the tombstone from this excited, hysterical historian.

Skinks, like most lizards, are harmless and like most reptiles in nature they won't hurt you, but can startle you into hurting yourself. I don't remember how many old wooden grave markers I knocked down that day. However, I was fortunate to have avoided the stone monuments or would have ended up with more than a few scratches. I'll always remember that startling experience every time I see another beautiful skink.

Skinks, like snakes, like to sunbathe to warm them up and help with their digestion. They are very helpful around your house by eating insect pests. The most common skink we have here in the Eastern part of Tennessee is the 5-lined skink, the one with the beautiful, bright blue tail.

It takes a lot of time and effort to get to really know nature but the rewards are well worth it. The more you learn the more you will appreciate and respect what your Heavenly Father has done for you. Go out and turn over a few rocks and get personally involved with God's creations.

Burney Tompkins

    - Uncle Burney

("McDonald Manna, June, 2006")

Copyright 1995 - 2006

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