There are a large number of Tiliqua subspecies and with this comes different recommendations for how to care for them in captivity. This sheet is compiled to give a basic overview of the recommendations with a focus on Tiliqua scincoides scincoides, Eastern Blue Tongued Skink.
- scincoides scincoides – The Common/Eastern Blue-Tongued Skink averages 45 cm in length but can reach 60cm. In the wild, they are known to feed on small animals, insects, carion and plant material. They are commonly found in suburbia and do well in captivity. They give birth to live young and on average produce 6-12 offspring.
Other subspecies include:
- adelaidensis found in South Australia/Tasmania,
- nigrolutea Blotched Blue-Tongued Skink found in Southern Australia and Tasmania,
- occipitalis – Western Blue-Tongued Skink found in New South Wales, North Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria, West Australia,
- rugosa, the Shingleback Skink found in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria, West Australia.
- scincoides intermedia – Northern Blue-Tongued Skink are quite handelable, T Mustifaciata, the central blue tongued skink produce only 2-5 live younG and are found North Territory, Queensland, South Australia, West Australia.
- gigas New Guinea Blue Tongue Skink -. Distribution: Indonesia Papua New Guinea, Jobi, Admirality Islands, New Britain, Bismarck Archipelago.
The Eastern Blue tongued skink has adapted well to woodlands, bushland, suburban and even urban living, often inhabiting backyards.
Blue tongued skinks have been known to live up to 30 years but in captivity average 15-20 years.
Blue-tongue skinks are docile and tolerant to handling which have allowed them to become popular pets. With careful handling they can tame easily. It is important to support the centre body of your bluetongue to minimise stress and reduce the risk of dropping or damaging them. Although it is uncommon for blue tongued skinks to bite, human fingers can be mistaken for food and an accidental bite with their powerful jaws can be very painful.
Never grab a skink by the tail. Many skinks can drop their tail with a process called tail autotomy. Tail autotomy occurs as a defense mechanism and although the tail will regrow it will be at a large cost of energy and will not be the same as before.
The enclosure for an adult, blue tongued skink should measure no less than 120-180 cm long (4-6 feet) and around 45-60 cm high (1.5-2 feet) but larger is ideal. Good ventilation is essential to manage air circulation, temperature and humidity. It must be secure and it is recommended to keep it out of draughty areas. When picking the enclosure, consider how you will achieve the, Preferred Optimal Temperature Zone (see POTZ further down), lighting requirements, humidity, hiding spots, basking areas, air circulation and environmental enrichment. It should be able to be cleaned and disinfected regularly and the materials it is made from should not absorb moisture. The authors preferred disinfectant is F10 SC which can be diluted 1ml concentrate for every 250 ml of water. All debris must be cleaned out first and the solution will need to allowed to stay on the area for a minimum of 15 minutes or based on the companies recommendations for the required disinfecting time of the organism in question.
Blue tongued skinks should be housed alone as even juveniles are known to fight, causing serious injury.
There are many suitable substrates and they all have their good and bad properties. A dry substrate that can absorb humidity well is essential for your Shingleback. Substrates that are often used include sand, peat, bark, leaf litter, recycled paper pellets and critter crumbles. These all have the tendency to have issues with water absorption and can be difficult to clean. Newspaper, butchers paper of paper towels are easy to clean, pose no risk for obstruction but do not allow for digging, look unnatural and absorb humidity poorly. Aspen, hemp or vermiculite can be used and do well with humidity while being easy to spot clean. Reptile carpet is an option but ensure a replacement is handy to allow regular cleaning. Any water spillage needs to be addressed immediately.
Having a rough surface in part of the enclosure will help to keep your blue tongues nails from overgrowing (a common problem).
To reduce stress and to provide shade, hiding areas should be provided. This can be accomplished using hollowed out logs, purpose built containers, paper towel rolls or PVC tubing. Branches and rocks can also be provided to aid in shedding. Although, your blue tongued skink has short legs they can climb over these obstacles quite well. What ever you choose, these furnishings should be easily cleaned or replaced. It is important to avoid over crowing the enclosure with these items. Similar concepts can be used for outdoor enclosures. Using non-toxic plants to give shade and dappled sun areas will help with providing a gradient of temperatures. In outdoor set ups there must also be an area of permanent shade that can be kept dry at all times
It is recommended that you supply a day-night cycle for your Blue Tongued Skink of 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness but adjusting this cycle to match natural cycles is also possible and may contribute to more natural behaviours. Full spectrum lighting containing ultraviolet B radiation (UVB; 290–320 nm) and infrared heat (basking area: 34–36°C; 93–95°F) is recommended. These provisions are needed to ensure proper metabolic function and development (Stahl 1999). The UVB output will degrade over time and requires routine replacement every 6-12 months depending on manufactures recommendations. Alternatively, the UVB output can be measured using a radiometer. At our clinic, we offer a service where, for minimal cost, bulbs can be tested to ensure adequate UVB is being provided in your skinks enclosure. This can also save on bulb costs over the life of your skink. Remember, UVB not only needs to be available but also needs to be accessible. This means that the light will need to be positioned where your skink is basking and at a distance where the UV will still reach your lizard. Ensure there is no glass or plastic between the light and the skink as in most cases, this will block out all UVA and B. Certain screens can block and reflect up to 80% of usable UV so take this in to account when designing the enclosure. It is also possible to provide too much UV. If this occurs, it has been linked to eye inflammation, skin diseases and possibly, some cancers. UV bulbs made and tested specifically for reptiles should be the only bulbs used.
UVB is important to assist your skink to produce Vitamin D3 in the skin. Vitamin D is needed to absorb calcium from the diet to use for proper skeletal growth, muscle function, and the immune system. The condition, nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism, often called metabolic bone disease (MBD), is one of the most common ailments seen in practice and is preventable though proper diet and husbandry practices
All reptiles have a preferred optimal temperature zone (POTZ). For your blue tongued skink the range is 28-33 °C. A temperature gradient with a cool end of 21-26°C (70-80°F) a warm end of 28-33 °C (82-90°F), and basking spot of 33-38°C (92-100°F) will ensure your skink has the ability to choose their preferred temperature. In some enclosures and climates, under tank heating can be used. As always, these are guidelines. It is essential to observe your skink for signs of temperature related stress, and adjust accordingly. It is essential that a thermostat be used with all heating elements and thermometers should be placed in multiple areas and checked regularly to monitor temperatures. An infrared thermometer is recommended to assess the different temeratures throughout the enclosure. Additional ventilation or extractions fans can help reduce the risk of overheating and as mentioned, in outdoor enclosures, careful selection of location and provision of permanent shade areas is critical.
Don’t forget about the sun!
There is no better source of UVA and UVB than the sun. Allowing your Blue tongued skink to have access to natural sunlight daily or even weekly will be beneficial. Your skink should be supervised when taken outside. They can escape quickly, get snatched up by birds and eat things they shouldn’t. An outdoor basking enclosure can be constructed to ensure safe access to the sun. In all situations, it is important to make sure your skink has access to a hide for safety and a suitable area to escape the sun to avoid overheating.
Blue-tongued skinks are omnivorous reptiles that eat a wide variety of vegetables and animal protein. As juveniles half of their diet comes from insects, whereas adults should eat proportionately more plant matter. Adult Blue Tongued skinks can be fed every one to two days while juveniles can be fed daily. The bulk of the diet (45-60%) should consist of greens. Feed dark, leafy greens like mustard, kale, dandelion, endive, romaine, chicory, mustard greens, beet tops, bok choy, and collard greens. Carrots, pumpkin, squash, and zucchini can also be added. There are published lists of plant matter that are suitable for daily and occasional consumption.
Fruit may be offered as a treat but can lead to dental issues if fed too regularly.
Offer a protein source such as farm raised snails, earthworms, gut-loaded crickets, black soldier fly larvae, mealworms, and the occasional pinky mouse.
The use of wet dog food is controversial. Dogs and blue tongued skinks are omnivorous so there is thought that these diets may be suitable for your Blue Tongue. Many have used these diets and have had healthy appearing lizards that thrive and reproduce. Users should be cautious about the quantitiy of these foods fed diets and if used should only make up a portion of the overall food intake.
Food should be cut into pieces that the lizards are able to swallow; don’t cut the food too small as this increases the surface area to volume ratio and the food will dry out faster (Phipps pers. comm.).
You are what you eat!
It not only important to feed your skink the right proportion of food but to also offer the highest quality food. Often foods sold by breeders and pet stores, have had a limited diet and therefore are of limited nutritional value. The practice of feeding the food source a good quality diet has been term “gut loading”. It has been found that the prey items should be fed to your lizard no later than 48 hours after being fed a high quality diet, as the benefits will no longer be present within them after this period. A mixture of veggies with a vitamin supplement is one way to achieve this. In our hospital, we use a product called Bug Burger made by Repashy® to help balance the insect protein component of the diet. The gut-loaded insects, can then be lightly dusted 2-3 times per week with a calcium powder that does not contain Vitamin D or phosphorus and should be offered immediately after dusting. This will aid in maintaining the ideal calcium phosphorus balance of approximately 2:1. Alternatively, a liquid calcium supplement can be administered at a prescribed dose.
For those fussy lizards, there are some well formulated diets on the market that appear to meet their needs well. Repashy, Grub Pie and Veggie Burger are good supplemental diets but should make up no more than 50% of the overall diet.
It is recommended to offer food in the mornings so that digestion occurs during the warmest part of the day. A multivitamin powder can be sprinkled on the vegetables every one to two weeks but with a good balanced diet this is often unnecessary.
Fresh clean drinking water should be provided daily for your Blue tongued lizard
During the cooler months, wild Blue tongue skinks will often slow their metabolism down in response to the lower temperatures, shorter day length and decreased availability of food and water. Despite a more controlled environment in captivity, millions of years of instinct can still take over and cause your blue tongue to enter this slowed state. During this period your blue tongue may not eat, drink, defecate, or move for several weeks. They may bury themselves completely underground; go to the darkest coolest part of the enclosure becoming very unresponsive. A healthy skink can safely undergo brumation but young skinks (under 12 months old) or those that are not in top physical condition should not be allowed to enter this state.
In those animals deemed suitable, brumation can be achieved by slowly cooling the adults for 4–6 weeks to night temperatures of 16–21°C (60–75°F) with a reduced light cycle to 10 h during the late autumn or early winter (Strimple and Strimple, 1998; Stahl, 1999). A proper basking area should be provided to allow your skink to bask if desired and especially if they are being fed. Water should also be provided during this time. The ambient temperature should be gradually increased to maintenance temperatures over a period of 2–3 weeks. Your skink should be routinely checked and weighed during brumation to identify any concerns before they become larger problems.
Quarantine – click here for more reading on quarantine
My current recommendation for Blue tongue skinks quarantine is a minimum of 3 months but a 6-month quarantine period may be safer. Quarantine periods can be shortened if certain screening tests are performed. These include a physical exam, internal/external parasite checks and viral testing are performed. Click on “Quarantine” to understand more about this important practice.
As this is a basic care sheet, breeding is beyond the scope of this article. However some reproductive emergencies are discussed in the links below. Future articles will discuss breeding of reptiles in greater detail.
It can be difficult to determine gender in skinks. There are many reports of using Body size and head shape to differentiate males and females with males being larger and having wider heads but there is an overlap in these features, which can lead to misidentification. Other methods used throughout the years have been probing the hemipenal or hemiclitoral fossa and eversion or “popping” of hemipenes. Both of these methods have risks of damaging the lizard if not performed properly and also can be misinterpreted
Ultrasound can be used to view the gonads and the presence of ovaries, follicles or testes is an accurate test. However, the thick scales and the large amount of air in the lung and gastrointesintal tract can impede the ultrasound waves making this mode of detection problematic.
Endoscopy, CT or MRI are other imaging modalities used although the latter two modalities are impractical for most keepers. At this stage there are no DNA tests available to determine gender (Hitz et al 2004).
Recent work using a water-soluble dye instilled into the hemipenal pockets followed by x-rays of the area has shown promise as is the authors preferred method.
Of course, visualisation of the hemipenes confirms an individual as a male and partuition or excretion of unfertilized yolks can be used as a means of sex identification in females.
Common Medical Conditions
Nutritional Secondary hyperparathyroidism (Nutritional Metabolic Bone Disease)
Hemipenal fossa impaction
Fatty Liver (Hepatic lipidosis)
Coronavirus (Bob tail flu)