Last updated 21 March 2014: corrected some scientific names.

Lizards of Europe - SKINKS

The skinks are found all around the world, although there are fewer in the Americas than in Africa, Asia and Australia, and Europe has but a handful. They are the largest family of lizards with over 1,200 species listed. Typically, a skink has smooth and shiny scales and small, reduced and sometimes absent limbs. Most are small, but there are a very few largeish species, all now found in Australia.

As befitting such a ubiquitous family, the skinks have several species in Europe, although most are confined to the southern parts. Most if not all show the reduced limbs or leglessness so typical of this family.

European holidaymakers are most likely to encounter one of the ubiquitous Chalcides species, which are found around most of the Mediterranean basin on both sides. Chalcides ocellatus is also kept in captivity by some keepers and is normally a hardy and reproductive species. In south-east Europe, Ablepharus kitaibelli is also fairly widespread but is quite shy, so may go unnoticed. Eumeces schneideri (Cyprus and North Africa) and Trachylepis vittata (Cyprus, Rhodes, Turkey and North Africa and the Middle East) are somewhat larger species.

KKS in the notes below refers to Kabisch, Kästle and Schleich: see Bibliography.




Ablepharus kitaibelli, Snake-Eyed Skink

Chalcides bedriagae, Bedriaga's Skink

Chalcides chalcides, Three-Toed Skink

Chalcides moseri

Chalcides ocellatus, Ocellated Skink

Eumeces schneideri, Schneider's Skink

Ophiomorus punctatissimus, Snake-Eyed Skink

Trachylepis vittata, Bridled Skink


Scientific Name

Common Name





Ablepharus kitaibelli

Snake-eyed Skink

Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, former Yugoslavia, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Egypt (Sinai)


Small and timid but very territorial skink, this is the most northerly of its family. Like many skinks of this size it is a forest dweller, living in leaf litter and preying on small insects and spiders. They normally hibernate from October to April, depending on the climate. Males normally have longer limbs, but otherwise the sexes are hard to distinguish. 2-4 eggs are laid in a hole in the ground. The genus Ablepharus is characterised by the fused and transparent eyelids (like those of the true geckos or snakes), hence the common name.

A. k. kitaibelli

Greece, Aegean Islands, Turkey, Cyprus, Israel, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt (Sinai) 

A. k. budaki


A. k. chernovi

Armenia, Turkey

A. k. fabichi

Aegean islands

A. k. fitzingeri

Slovakia, Hungary, Greece (Corfu)

A. k. stepaneki

Bulgaria, Romania

Chalcides bedriagai

Bedriagai's Skink





Similar-shaped but differently marked and smaller to Ocellated Skink, but found in similar habitats, ie low sandy ground with sparse vegetation. Colouring is an overall coffee colour. Females give birth to 2-3 live young.

C. b. albaredae


C. b. bedriagai


Chalcides chalcides

Three-toed Skink

Italy, Sicily, Elba; NW Africa


Interesting example of reduced limbs in the skink family. This skink actually moves like a snake or slow-worm, the limbs being almost vestigial. However it is very agile and can catch flying insects. In contrast to other European skinks this one prefers lowlands, lush vegetation and damp meadows. Its main prey is invertebrates. The female gives birth to 15-23 live young. C. c. concolor is not recognised as a subspecies by EMBL database.

C. c. chalcides

Tunisia, Libya, Italy and neighbouring islands

C. c. concolor

Vicinity of Rome

C. c. mertensi

N Africa (extreme W Tunisia to Morocco)

C. c. striatus

S. France, Iberia

C. c. vittatus


Chalcides moseri


Santorin (Gk. is.)


Exceedingly rare and possibly extinct skink, found only on Santorin and last seen in 1937. Distinguished by two toes on forelimbs but four toes on hind limbs.

Chalcides ocellatus

Ocellated Skink

S. Europe, NW Africa, W. Asia


Small to medium-sized skink sometimes offered for sale and a good terrarium subject. The colouring is attractive, normally light olive with darker spots. Ocellated Skinks prefer very dry lowland with sandy or loamy ground. Skinks are often more colonial than other lizards, and Ocellated Skinks are often found in large numbers in one place. They are diurnal and bask on stones or rocks: when hiding, they use stones, burrows or loose topsoil. Normal prey is invertebrates but large specimens occasionally attack smaller lizards. Females give birth to 6-15 or more live young. Males have larger heads than females but otherwise there is little sexual differentiation in these lizards.

C. o. linosae

Linosa island


C. o. ocellatus

Much of N Africa and E Mediterranean


C. o. subtypicus

Souss Valley, Presahara and E Morocco


C. o. tiligugu

NW Africa, Sardinia, Malta, Sicily and Pantelleria


C. o. zavattarii

Lampedusa, Isola del Conigli


Eumeces schneideri

Berber Skink/ Schneider's Skink/Gold Skink/ Orange-Tailed Skink



N Africa via Middle East and C Asia to Indian subcontinent




Hardy skink that is a popular terrarium subject. In the wild it is tolerant of a wide range of humidities and is thus found in moist grass, herbaceous vegetation around oases, bush and Artemisia steppe, isolated sandy hills, dry cultivated land and semidesert. It makes long burrows between the roots of thorn-shrubs, and during the hottest part of the day will retire to its burrow. It is a fast runner, and if fleeing is not afraid to enter water. Diet consists of snails, spiders, hard Coleoptera and other insects and also smaller lizards: captive specimens are known to take cat food (sufficiently moistened) and overripe soft fruit (bananas and peaches). Males are very territorial. Scalation details: 1-2 pairs of nuchals, of which 1st pair may or may not contact interparietal: nasal contacts 2 anterior supralabials: 1st loreal much higher than long, 2nd loreal slightly or much longer than high: 1st & 2nd suboculars larger than those following: subocular labial larger than anterior labials and equally high and wide: 3-4 lobules on ear, of which the upper lobules are larger. Dorsal scales: smooth (no striations): 22-28 midbody rows: 24-26 dorsal scales between axilla and groin, of which the 2 middorsal scales are very broad: 61-63 from occipital to vent region. Ventral scales: 64-67 from mental to precloacal. Other: 14-18 subdigital lamellae under 4th toe, no intercalated scales on fingers and toes. Coloration: overall brownish or olive-grey, may have dorsal pattern of interspersed golden-yellow scales which form regular transverse stripes on the tail. There are 2 rows of irregular orange spots on the middorsal scale rows: these may persist into adulthood. A lateral yellow or orange stripe starts on the 6th labial, passes through the ear and runs above the limbs to end some distance along the tail. Ventral surfaces are yellowish-white. Above 30 deg C the background colour becomes much lighter, sometimes to the point of becoming whitish-grey. Juveniles have a much greater number of distinct ocelli: these fade with age. Reproduction: males fight vigorously during the mating period and also are aggressive towards would-be mates. Copulation may last up to 10 minutes. Females lay 3-20 eggs under cover in moist sand and coil around them for the 5-6 weeks before hatching.

E. s. schneideri



E. s. aldrovandii

N Africa and Sinai


Ophiomorus punctatissimus

Greek Legless Skink

Greece, Kithira, SW Asia


Limbless skink that lives in grassy localities and feeds on insects. If attacked it tries to divert the attacker's attention to its tail, which is more brightly coloured than its head.

Trachylepis vittata

Bridled Skink

N Africa (E Algeria to Egypt), Cyprus, Rhodes, Asia Minor & Middle East to W Iran


This skinks was formerly known as Mabuya vittata but is now classified as Trachylepis vittata. Easily distinguished in its home areas as it is the only N African skink with longitudinal stripes [KKS]: the only species with which it might be confused is E. quinquetaenia in Egypt. T. vittata occupies a range of habitats provided there is cover available, including gardens. Local populations may have quite a high density [KKS]. These skinks feed mainly on insects but also on small lizards, including juveniles of their own species [KKS]. KKS suggest offering small grasshoppers, small mantids and flies to new-born young in captivity. Hibernation takes place in cool areas, usually those above 1000m altitude. These are good climbers, so an escape-proof tank for captive specimens is a must. Scalation details (from KKS): prefrontals in broad, small or no contact: 4 supraoculars: parietals usually touch behind interparietal: nostril pierces the nasal, usually no postnasal. 7 supralabials, of which 5th is below the orbit: ear opening is oval with 2-3 lobules, of which 1 is usually elongated. Dorsal scales: three keeled, slightly larger than lateral or ventral scales, in 32-34 rows at midbody. Other: lower eyelid has undivided transparent disk. Coloration: dorsally olive cream or brown, with light vertebral stripe and two whitish lines on each side: the lower line begins below the eye and passes through the ear. The lines may be edged with black lines or bands. Venter is whitish grey, yellowish or greenish. Reproduction: one of the viviparous members of the genus. Males are aggressive during the mating period, which would seem to suggest that keeping one male per tank in captivity is a wise course. Mating seems to be dependent on elevation and/or hibernation, but KKS do not give details other than mating taking place in mid-June at 1200m elevation inland. They do note that birth times are variable according to local climates and take place between June and September. An average of 6 young are born per litter. SOURCE: KKS B I


Collins Field Guide: Reptiles & Amphibians of Europe, Arnold, Burton & Ovenden, Collins 1978, revised edition 2002/4.

Lurche und Kriechtiere Europas [Amphibians and Reptiles of Europe], Dr Wolf-Eberhard Engelmann, Jürgen Fritzsche, Dr sc. Rainer Günther and Dipl.Biol. Fritz Jürgen Obst, Ferdinand Enke Verlag, Stuttgart 1986. A German-language equivalent but with a rather wider definition of Europe which includes the Transcaucasus, and useful details on the distribution of subspecies. Now apparently out of print.

Amphibians and Reptiles of North Africa, W Kästle, H H Schleich and K Kabisch, Koeltz Scientific Books, Germany 1996. Outstanding review of N African herpetofauna giving detailed account of each species.

Guia de campo de los anfibios y reptiles de la peninsula iberica, islas baleares y canarias [Field Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of the Iberian Peninsula, Balearic and Canary Islands], Alfredo Salvador, Madrid. ISBN: 84-86238-07-2. Excellent book covering all reptiles and amphibians in the aforementioned areas. The one drawback for English speakers is that the text is Spanish. This book is unfortunately now out of print, but well worth purchasing if you can get a second hand copy.

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