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The broad-headed skink gets its name from the wide jaws, giving the head a triangular appearance. Adult males are brown or olive brown in color and have bright orange heads during the mating season in spring. Females have five light stripes running down the back and the tail, similar to the Five-lined Skink. Juveniles are dark brown or black and also striped and have blue tails.
Although they do occur in urban areas, their preferred habitat is humid forest areas with abundant leaf litter, especially oak forests.
Together with the Great Plains skink it is the largest of the "Plestiodon skinks", growing to a total length of 15 centimetres (5.9 in) to nearly 43 centimetres (17 in).