(WKBN) — Did you know that there are lizards in Ohio? No, not salamanders — actual lizards — and they play an important part in Ohio’s ecosystem.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources details the difference, as well as highlights other native reptilian species in its Reptiles of Ohio Field Guide.
What is the difference between salamanders and lizards?
Salamanders are part of the amphibian family with frogs while lizards are part of the reptile family along with snakes and turtles. Salamanders can be differentiated from lizards by their smooth, slimy skin and clawless toes.
Lizards are most closely related to snakes, with the difference that lizards have four legs, external ear openings, movable eyelids and several rows of scales on their undersides.
Lizards are beneficial to their native ecosystems by feeding on insects and insect larvae, helping to keep the bug population under control.
Also part of the lizard family are skinks, some species of which are commonly misidentified as salamanders. Skinks are among the fastest reptiles in the world.
What type of lizards are in Ohio?
There are four native lizard species in Ohio: Eastern Fence Lizards, Little Brown Skinks (aka Ground Skinks), Common Five-Lined Skinks and Broad-Headed Skinks. There is also one invasive species: the Common (European) Wall Lizard.
Eastern Fence Lizards can grow between 4″ to 7.27″ in length and are common. Their preferred habitat consists of dry wooded hillsides and rocky cliffs, though they can be found in a variety of environments. This species of lizard is prone to climbing trees, and if you encounter one on the ground, it will likely dart to the nearest tree, making its way up the trunk as a pursuer nears.
Little Brown Skinks, or Ground Skinks, can grow between 3″ to 5.75″ in length and are uncommon. They can be identified by a dark brown stripe down the length of their bodies, bordered by dark brown or black. This skink lives only in the southernmost portion of the state, preferring to frequent open areas near, or in, woods. They may be found under large stones or under piles of fallen leaves.
Common Five-Lined Skinks can grow between 5″ to 8.5″ in length and are commonly found across the state. The tails of Five-Lined Skinks are blue and serve as a defense mechanism, breaking off if a skink is grabbed by the tail, allowing it to escape. The tail will eventually regrow, but in a less vibrant shade than the original. This variety of skink can be found under the bark of decaying logs, in stumps, hidden amongst decaying plant material or found at abandoned farm buildings.
Broad-Headed Skinks are the largest of the group, growing between 6.5″ and 12.75″ in length. Female Broad-Headed Skinks as well as young ones look similar to Five-Lined Skinks, also boasting a bright blue tail. Males are an olive-brown color with red coloration around their heads. These uncommon skinks live in woodland habitats in the southwestern and southeastern parts of the state.
If you are very lucky, you may also spot the Common (European) Wall Lizard — don’t let the name fool you, though, this species is anything but common in most parts of Ohio. Ranging in length from 5.5″ to just over 8″, the species was introduced to Cincinnati in the 1950s. Also referred to as Lazarus Lizards, the species was introduced to Ohio from northern Italy after a resident picked them up while vacationing in Milan. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources says their impacts on native species have yet to be determined, but says their spread should be discouraged. This invasive species is most likely to be spotted along rock walls, railroad tracks and occasionally in rocky ravines.