Indiana has a large number of snake species and a varied turtle population, but it is very deficient in lizard species. If you want to find many kinds of lizards you will have to go to the southwestern United States or Florida. The latter state, in addition to its native lizards, now has 20 species of alien lizards, most move-ins from southern nations.
Indiana only has seven species of these fast-moving reptiles that most people seem to like, and even these are scattered about the state. Some are only found in a very limited segment of Hoosierland. Here in southern Indiana we have the northern fence lizard, broadhead skink, ground skink and five-lined skink.
In extreme northwestern Indiana are the western slender glass lizard, six-lined race runner and a subspecies of the glass lizard known as the ophisaur.
The latter three are rare in southwestern Indiana, but have been reported from the sand sections of Knox, Gibson and Posey counties. In addition, there is a small isolated population of the six-lined race runner in the knobs area of Floyd and possibly Harrison County.
Now all of our lizards are rather small in size and don’t expect to find one the size of the Komodo dragon, which can reach a length of over 10 feet and a weight of around 300 pounds. Monitor lizards, of which there are several species, and the iguana family, which also can grow to a large size, are other very large lizards.
Our lizards are very mild-mannered, fast when they feel threatened, and fun to watch. The fence lizard and five-lined skink also make good pets. I kept a fence lizard in a glass terrarium with sand and rocks on the bottom for several years. I would catch insects for it to eat and it became tame enough to eat out of my hand.
In its natural habitat the northern fence lizard likes a sunny place to sit and take in the sun. A rock outcropping or a fallen tree is a good place to look for this five- to six-inch long lizard. Once rail fences were a rather common sight in southern Indiana and this was another place they used to sit and sun themselves.
The five-lined skink, while it likes a wooded area, also can be found around buildings. We have several that live around our house and can often be observed on our front steps, where they like to take in the sun can catch our insects.
The male five-lined skinks have a bright blue tail and during breeding season has a very orange-colored head. This combination of the blue tail and orange head makes it hard to miss.
Strange to say some of the residents who live in southern Indiana have the mistaken belief that this harmless lizard is poisonous and are very afraid of it.
Another lizard we have on our property is the broadhead skink. This is a large skink and males can reach a length of up to a foot. As with the five-lined, the male broadhead skink has a right orange-red head, and in some sites in southern Hoosierland has been given the name “red-headed scorpion” and is said to be deadly poisonous. It is not poisonous and is not a scorpion. How all this misinformation came to be taken as fact is probably the result of local lore, which over the years I have often found hard to believe and is short on facts.
The broadhead likes a wooded area and I must admit seeing an orange-red headed, large lizard in a tree can be a shock to someone. This very interesting lizard has only recently moved onto our property and has taken up home sites in two large trees near our backyard.
The lizards of Indiana, while not rich in species, are nevertheless a most interesting segment of our Hoosier natural heritage.