For seven months of the year, the prairie skink take refuge underground, when the air temperature becomes too cold to ensure its survival. It locates or excavates a burrow, where it will hibernate for several months, using stored body fat as its only means of energy. The prairie skink emerges from hibernation in the spring, usually sometime between late April and early May (4).
The male prairie skink emerges first and begins to prepare for the breeding season. The jaws and throat of the male skink take on a bright orange colouration, which is at its most vibrant at the start of the breeding season. The prairie skink continues to breed throughout the spring and early summer. During courtship, the male shows interest in a female by arching his tail and gently nudging and biting the female’s torso. This display may continue for up to 15 minutes, after which copulation then takes place (4).
The pregnant female digs a shallow nest site in an area of loose, moist soil in preparation for her eggs (1). After a gestation period of about 40 days (4), the female prairie skink lays a clutch of 4 to 18 eggs, with larger females laying bigger clutches (5). During incubation, the female is able to sense subtle alterations in humidity levels, and will move the eggs around the nest site, rolling them with her nose, or using her mouth or tail. After an incubation period of about 30 days, the hatchlings begin to emerge. At this time, the female will leave the nest and the young are on their own (4). The young continue to grow at a rate of about one millimetre per day (4) and reach sexual maturity in two years (5).
Outside of the breeding season, the prairie skink spends most of its time under cover, becoming more active from mid-morning to mid-afternoon when temperatures increase (4). This species feeds on a variety of prey, including spiders, snails, insects and small lizards (5). Cannibalism has also been noted, with adults eating juveniles (4).
When threatened by a predator, the prairie skink has an unusual escape mechanism. It will present its tail and shake it vigorously, allowing the predator to grab hold of the tail. When it does, the tail drops off, enabling the skink to scurry for cover. After dropping the tail, the wound quickly heals and a new tail begins to grow (4).