In order to avoid predation, coal skinks are able to drop off a piece of their tail to escape or distract predators.
Certainly fewer than 20 locations have been documented. Populations are probably localized as some of the known habitats are unusual wetlands or ridgetops. However, presence in cutover woods at one site combined with its secretive nature suggests more occurrences may exist. No concerted inventory efforts for the species are known.
The short-term trends for this species in New York are unknown, but it appears the populations are stable or possibly declining. Coal skinks are known from only ten locations in the state, as well as two historical locations.
Long-term trends are unknown, but are likely stable or possibly declining.
Coal skinks in New York seem to prefer somewhat open habitats including talus slopes, rocky openings, and early successional habitats (Titus et al. 2010). Succession to higher percents of woody cover can make habitats unsuitable for skinks. Habitat destruction and fragmentation are also threats.
There are several conservation strategies that would serve to conserve and improve habitats for coal skinks. One of the most important conservation strategies for these skinks is to conserve known sites and ensure sites remain somewhat open. Controlling woody vegetation, including invasives, and introducing frequent disturbances to the habitat may be necessary (Titus et al. 2010). Titus et al. (2010) found that shrub cover was significantly less at sites with coal skinks than at sites where skinks formerly occurred but no longer seem to occur. Habitat management activities should be spaced out every several years and done at times that are not likely to endanger the skinks. Other management practices that will improve habitats for skinks are to leave stumps, logs, and other coarse woody debris following timber harvests or other management activities, and ensure that the forest floor structure is maintained in as natural a state as possible (Mitchell et al. 2006). Avoid fragmentation of large blocks of forests with roads, field crops, developments, and other barriers between them. Management activities should strive to protect habitat features within occupied forests, such as vernal pools, springs, seepages, and rock outcrops (Mitchell et al. 2006). Prevent or reduce ATV usage in areas with coal skink populations to reduce mortality.
Search for new populations of skinks and determine their distribution throughout New York. Estimate coal skink populations at sites with the most stable populations.
Coal skinks can be found in habitats near water, most frequently moist forested areas near swamps and other wetlands (Gibbs et al. 2007). Sometimes the skinks are found on dry rocky hillsides and shale barrens with water nearby. Habitats must include plenty of cover objects, such as boards, logs, leaf litter, and loose flat rocks. Sometimes they take refuge in water. One nest was under a piece of shale (Mount 1975).
Recent records from 5 of 57 counties (9%) plus older records from several others. All records are from the central western part of the state (lake plains and southern tier). Populations appear to be quite localized.
Coal skinks occur in fragmented populations from eastern Texas to the Florida panhandle, north to eastern Kansas and western New York (NatureServe 2018).
These skinks have smooth, shiny scales and a brown or greenish back (Gibbs et al. 2007). They have two wide dark brown or black stripes running along the side of the body bordered by bright yellowish stripes. Males can get a reddish coloration along the jaws and sides of the head during breeding season. Juvenile skinks have a blue or dark violet tail.
These skinks are mostly diurnal. In order to avoid predation, coal skinks are able to drop off a piece of their tail to escape or distract predators.
Coal skinks eat small invertebrates such as spiders, small insects, and insect larvae
Coal skinks breed from April - May in New York when they seem to be most observable, but they remain active throughout the summer and fall.
The time of year you would expect to find Coal Skink present, active, and reproducing in New York.
Plestiodon anthracinus Baird, 1849 [or 1850]
Gibbs, J.P., A.R. Breisch, P.K. Ducey, G. Johnson, J.L. Behler, and R.C. Bothner. 2007. The amphibians and reptiles of New York State. Oxford University Press, NY.
Mitchell, J.C., A.R. Breisch, and K.A. Buhlmann. 2006. Habitat management guidelines for amphibians and reptiles of the northeastern United States. Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, Technical Publication HMG-3, Montgomery, Alabama. 108 pp.
Mount, R. H. 1975. The reptiles and amphibians of Alabama. Auburn University Agricultural Experiment Station, Auburn, Alabama. vii + 347 pp.
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2021. New York Natural Heritage Program Databases. Albany, NY.
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. 1985. Checklist of the amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals of New York State, including their protective status. Nongame Unit. Wildlife Resources Center. Delmar, NY.
Titus, Christopher M., Christopher Norment, and Joseph Makarewicz. 2010. The coal skinks of western and central New York: habitat use and population status. Final report and data files submitted to the New York Natural Heritage Program. Contract #: NYHER 080812. Research Foundation of State University of New York College at Brockport.
This guide was authored by: Ashley R. Ballou
Information for this guide was last updated on: November 30, 2018
Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2021. Online Conservation Guide for Plestiodon anthracinus. Available from: https://guides.nynhp.org/coal-skink/. Accessed May 7, 2021.