Often called the "blue-tailed" skink, this is Missouri's most common skink. It has shiny scales and a dark ground color with light stripes. Color varies with sex and age. Adult males are uniform olive or tan with a faint dark side stripe and a few light stripes, but during breeding season, the male's head is bright red orange. Adult females are normally brown with a dark brown side stripe, five tan stripes that are more pronounced than in males, and a blue or blue-gray tail. Juveniles are black with five yellow stripes running from head to base of tail, and they have a brilliant, cobalt-blue tail.
Similar species: Broad-headed skinks are very similar, but they lack postlabial scales, or only have one. The five-lined skink, however, has two postlabial scales: these are the scales positioned, one on top of the other, in the space between the lip scales and the ear hole.