Hello, my name is Tia and I am the latest addition to Bonnie & Colin's collection.
The blue tongue skink gets its name (unsurprisingly) from our brilliant blue tongue. The bright blue contrasts starkly with the pink inside of our mouth, and if startled or threatened, we will puff it up, open our mouth wide and display our bright blue tongue. This is rarely seen in captive bred skinks as we tame quickly.
Skinks are not found in pet shops as commonly as lizards such as geckos, iguanas and bearded dragons, which is a shame, because we make terrifically good pets. We are readily tamed, easy to handle and live for up to 20 years.
The reason we are not found so often is that we are not very cost effective to breed. Unlike most lizards, blue tongue skinks do not lay eggs, but give birth to live young. A female will only produce around 5-15 young a year. Compare this to the 30-60 eggs per clutch produced by the iguana, and you can see why many more of these (unsuitable for most keepers) lizards are sold.
Most blue tongue skinks come from Australia and Indonesia. There are many sub-species of blue tongue skinks, and the ones most commonly found in captivity are the Tiliqua species, which include:
Tiliqua scincoides intermedia - Northern blue tongue skink
Tiliqua scincoides scincoides - Eastern blue tongue skink
Tiliqua occipitalis - Western blue tongue skink
Tiliqua scincoides sp. - Irian Jaya
Tiliqua gigas - Indonesian blue tongue skink
I am an 18 month old, 18 inch long, Irian Jaya.
The Northern is generally considered to be the largest of the blue tongue skinks and can grow up to about 25-30 inches long. Skinks are not climbers, so a vivarium needs more floor space than it does height. An adult’s enclosure is recommended to be AT LEAST 3 feet long by 18 inches deep. Tia lives in an enclosure that is 6 feet long, 2 feet deep and 2 feet high - We have made use of the height by building a ramp up to her basking shelf - and personally think anything much less than this would be too small for these sizable lizards.
Skinks are best kept on their own as they can fight and cause terrible damage to one another with their powerful jaws. Of course, you will find those who tell you that their blueys live happily with each other, but you will also find plenty of people who tell you how they have had one bluey killed by another - my personal preference is not to take the risk, but if you DO want to keep more than one, then do be sure that your enclosure is very large with plenty of hides so that they can escape each other easily.
The enclosure should be well ventilated with plenty of hides and a heating gradient of around 75 degrees Fahrenheit in the cool end, up to about 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the basking spot. Heat mats and heat lamps are used to achieve the required temperatures. Your local reptile store will usually stock a good range of these products and help you decide which is best for your size of vivarium.
If you start reading around about skinks, you will find a lot of conflicting information on the best type of substrate for them. For this reason I am not going to recommend any substrate in particular, but will just tell you what we use. Skinks are burrowers, and even though giving them a substrate that allows them to do this, means that as an owner, you tend to see less of your pet, we think it is important to allow them as many natural urges as is possible in captivity. Tia is kept on shredded paper - not newspaper, which constantly gives off ink, but ordinary shredded paper, such as you might get from an office. However, because some of the food that she eats is wet, we was concerned that the paper could stick to this and get ingested, so, at the cool end of her enclosure – where she has her food and water - we have just used plain, flat newspaper. This is working very well, as she tends to defecate on the newspaper, so it is easy to see and easy to clean - just remove and replace the newspaper.
Obviously, keeping your skink’s home clean is of utmost importance. I ‘spot clean’ daily - that is, remove any faeces that I can see (or smell!) and give the enclosure a thorough clean with a reptile disinfectant every fortnight.
Other things that you will find conflicting information on are the necessity of UV lighting, and humidity. We have take the option of giving Tia UV lighting, because we would rather she had it and didn’t need it, than didn’t have it and DID need it! Humidity is a bit trickier, some say they need it, particularly during shedding, others say humidity can actually be dangerous and cause scale rot! In the end, we decided to do our own thing. We bought a Tupperware container large enough for Tia to fit inside, and cut an opening. We put sphagnum moss in the container and put it at the hot end of her enclosure, spraying it daily to keep it moist. However, we only do this when she is due to shed.
Skinks shed their skin regularly. You can tell when your skink is due to shed because they get very dull, and their belly will go very milky looking. They may also hide away more and even stop eating. It is important that when it has shed, you check your skink over. If the skink has not shed its toes or tip of its tail properly this can cause damage to the tail and possible toe loss. If skin remains DO NOT FORCE IT OFF. Soaking the area in warm water will usually help to soften and remove the skin.
Skinks are omnivorous and enjoy a varied diet of meat, fruit and vegetables. Each skink tends to have its own personal preferences, so you may need to experiment to find out what yours likes, but some commonly fed items are; Meal worms, crickets, slugs, snails, earthworms, pinky mice, dog food, cat food, baby food, cooked turkey mince, bananas, strawberries, blueberries, grapes, mango, kiwi, cabbage, dandelion leaves, butternut squash, collard greens, mustard greens and kale.
Babies will require daily feeding, and will probably want more meat than fruit and veg. Adults need feeding every 2-3 days, and usually have about 60% fruit and veg to 40% meat.
Be sure that all fresh food is washed thoroughly before being offered, cut things into bite sized pieces, and add a vitamin and mineral supplement 2-3 times a week.
A shallow water bowl should be available to your skink at all times. The bowl should be large enough for your skink to soak in and water should be changed daily to keep it fresh (especially as some skinks like to defecate in their water!)
Skinks have a powerful jaw and (I have been told) that a bite from a skink is quite painful - however, it is also unusual. Skinks are readily tamed and seem to enjoy being handled. They are quite docile lizards who will happily sit on your lap while you are watching telly - particularly if you have a jumper or something on your lap that they can burrow under. Once a skink is tame and happy to be handled, you can also take them out and about with you (weather permitting, remember, they are cold blooded animals who need a heat source to regulate their body temperature) to meet people (most will then give you the “Is that a snake” comment!) and to get the benefit of some real sunlight. Some people give their skinks outdoor enclosures, but here in England there are not usually too many days that such an enclosure would be usable for any length of time. It is a good idea to wash your hands before handling your skink - particularly if you have been handling foodstuff - and also to wash your hands after handling your skink.
Some skinks (such as the five lined skink, three lined skink, broad-headed skink and the ground skink lay a clutch of eggs which then hatch into young. However, none of the blue tongue skinks reproduce this way. All blue tongue skinks are ovoviviparous. This means that the young develop in an egg INSIDE the female, who then gives birth to live young.
Photos of an Eastern blue tongue skink giving birth can be seen at: http://bluetongueskinks.net
The most difficult part of breeding skinks, is getting two skinks of the opposite sex!! Sexing skinks is extremely difficult, there are some physical differences between the sexes, for example, the males normally have a larger, broader head, BUT these methods are not reliable unless you have two known sex skinks to compare!
It is recommended to brumate skinks before attempting to breed. Brumation is a period of inactivity that many reptiles naturally go through in winter. In captivity, it will be necessary to lower temperatures and give the skink shorter daylight hours in order for them to enter brumation. Prior to brumating a skink, you will need to stop feeding, so that they will not enter brumation with undigested food in their stomachs. Brumation normally occurs between November and mid-February, when you would begin to raise the temperatures and increase light again. Once the skink is fully out of brumation and feeding normally again, the female is introduced to the male’s enclosure. When skinks mate, the male bites the female on the back of the neck, and the female will lift her tail to cooperate with the male. Mating between skinks can look quite brutal, but this is normal, though they should be watched in case they are injuring each other.
Gestation lasts around 3 months depending on the species. The amount of babies born varies between species and the female may give birth to between 5 and 20 live young.
Each baby skink will be enclosed in a clear placenta, which they wiggle out of and consume. The placenta is the babies first meal. Newborn skinks are not dependant on their mother who will have nothing to do with them once they are born - her job is done!
Like most reptiles, the setting up is the expensive part - expect to pay around £100-£200 for the skink (depending on the sub-species, some may be more and some may be less than this) and allow another £200-£300 for setting up the vivarium. After this, they are relatively cheap to keep.
Vet bills for exotics can be very costly, but reptiles are usually pretty hardy if well looked after. Be sure to only buy a healthy looking skink and always get a new pet checked over by the veterinarian. It is essential to know where your local exotic vet is, before embarking on keeping any reptile, you don’t want to be frantically poring through the yellow pages trying to find one while your pet is already sick.
To sum up, blue tongue skinks are friendly, fun, inquisitive lizards, who are long lived and easy to care for. They can make great pets for both experienced reptile keepers, and those looking for a good first time lizard.