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Carlton: That snake-like thing living under your refrigerator? It's a skink. Welcome to Florida

The ground skink tends to hang out in leaf litter, but are sometimes found lurking in Florida homes.[Photo provided by Steve A. Johnson, University of Florida, IFAS]
The ground skink tends to hang out in leaf litter, but are sometimes found lurking in Florida homes.[Photo provided by Steve A. Johnson, University of Florida, IFAS]
Published Jun. 22, 2018

At first I thought it was a snake.

Because wouldn't it be typically Florida to come home and find a snake poking its nose out from under your stove? Which wouldn't be a problem or anything. I would just have to move out is all.

But no, the creature that was there and gone as soon as I opened the door turned out to be, after subsequent and equally brief viewings, a skink.

If you are Florida born, you may have a passing acquaintance with skinks. They are notably different from the geckos and the green and brown anole lizards you see everywhere — round of body, smooth of skin, short of leg. Research revealed some skinks get a foot long — but please not under my stove — while others sport neon blue tails. Miami skinks, maybe.

This appeared to be a more modest brown variety called a ground skink, described on one scientific site as a "shy skink."

No kidding. My husband is an expert rescuer of house lizards — he has perfected a technique involving a dish towel — but the skink proved elusive.

How could he possibly survive? The websites said skinks eat insects, but I didn't think I was a bad enough housekeeper to keep him in kibble. Then again, we periodically dump out a variety of tiny bugs from the globe over the kitchen ceiling light, so there's obviously more going on than I know.

I grew up in a home in which you did not kill something just because it found its way into the house. Spiders, my parents always reminded you, kill bugs. The unspoken exception was palmetto bugs, particularly the kind that fly and strafe you. I think the right to kill a palmetto bug that flies at you is somewhere in the Florida Constitution.

I've always lived in cities, which does not mean there's not always plenty of Florida around. Raccoons have concerts in the alley behind us. In our backyard every summer is a black racer snake we call Jake, though by now it's probably Jake XXII. Once a fruit rat that liked our sour orange tree decided he also liked our attic (it sounds so much nicer to say "fruit" rat, the Disney version of a regular rat.). The morning the pest control guy came, a very large snake had left its skin on the front porch steps. Pest control guy said if only we could get him (pointing to the snake skin) up there (pointing to the attic) my problem would be solved. Thanks, but no.

The kitchen skink's days stretched into weeks. Every time we thought he must have made a jailbreak and gotten out, there he'd be on your midnight trip to the kitchen for water, poking out from under the fridge. I worried the dog would discover him in some corner of the kitchen and scarf him down like a found potato chip — an inglorious end, and were skinks poisonous to dogs?

We started calling him Skip.

At last the stars aligned. In an elaborate rescue mission involving every possible door open and not just a dish towel but also a flip flop, Skip was out the door and back to the world where he belonged. I got a glimpse as he shimmied off in the backyard, not skinny from his time in the hole but the fattest, slickest skink you ever saw. Not exactly a testament to my housekeeping skills, just proof that I live in Florida.