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Blue Tongue Skink

Tiliqua scincidae

Blue Tongue Skink

LIFE SPAN:

10 to 20 years

AVERAGE SIZE:

18 - 20 inches

CAGE TEMPS:

Warm side - 85-90℉
Basking - 95℉
Cool side - 75℉
* If temp falls below 70℉ at night, may need supplemental infrared or ceramic heat for night-time

CAGE HUMIDITY:

Low(desert dweller)

WILD HISTORY:

Blue tongue skinks are from the open woodland and forest and field areas of Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea. There are quite a few species of blue tongue skink, and several kinds may be available in the pet trade.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS:

Blue tongue skinks have long, slim, smooth and chubby bodies. The scales are smooth. The legs are small and short, seemingly unsuitable for carrying the chunky body. The tongue is, of course, blue in color. It is thought that this unusual tongue is used to scare of would-be predators and to find food. They are generally a caramel-tan in color with black bands across the back.

NORMAL BEHAVIOR & INTERACTION:

Very social & engaging and generally very gregarious. Blue tongue skinks handle well and often seem to actually enjoy being held & petted. In nature, males become territorial and can engage in ritualized dominance struggles. Females may also have trouble getting along. For this reason, it is easiest for the pet owner to keep only one per enclosure.

Housing male skinks together will create a dominant/submissive hierarchy and will result in one skink becoming stressed to the point of illness, anorexia, and possibly death. Male skinks also tend to be extremely aggressive toward one another and will fight, sometimes to the death.
Female skinks may be housed together IF there is ample space and food for each skink.
Males and females should NOT be housed together, as the male skinks will continually try to mate with the females, leaving the females exhausted, aggravated, and stressed. The female may stop eating and become extremely ill.

NOTE: DO NOT house blue tongue skink with other species due to the differences in care, temperatures, and the fact that some species can be highly stressed in the presence of other species.

FEEDING:

Blue tongues are omnivorous, which means they eat both meat and vegetables. About 60% of an adult’s diet should be made up of plant matter, the remaining percentage being protein. Feed as much as your skink will eat, the majority being vegetation and fruit, they seldom over-eat.

VEGETABLES: Dark leafy vegetables such as collard and mustard greens, kale and red tip leaf lettuce are good for a dragon, as are alfalfa pellets, clover, parsley, and broccoli, green beans, peas, squash, grated carrots and sweet potatoes. Spinach and iceberg lettuce should never be fed. Remember to wash vegetables thoroughly, then cut or shred to make it easier to ingest. Remove any uneaten vegetables before turning the lights off at night.

FRUIT: Blue tongue skinks seem to love berries and fruit. Be sure to offer a good amount as often as possible. Fruits such as figs, kiwi, apples, raspberries, strawberries and melons can be fed.

PROTEIN: Protein sources such as: gut-loaded crickets, mealworms, cockroaches, kingworms, wax worms and pinkie mice dusted with a supplement should also be part of their diet. Wild caught insects should never be fed, since they can carry disease. All insects should be gut loaded (fed a nutritious diet about 24-hours before being offered to your skink - see our cricket care sheet). Be careful to feed the proper size prey for your skink’s size. A good rule of thumb is that a cricket should be never be larger than the distance between the lizard's eyes, or the distance from its eyes to its nose. When feeding larger insects to your pet, try to make sure the insects have recently molted, as an insect with a large, hard exoskeleton is difficult to digest and may cause impactions.

LIGHTNING BUGS MUST NEVER BE FED TO A BLUE TONGUE SKINK. THEY ARE POISONOUS.

All uneaten insects should be removed from the enclosure as they can bite your skink and cause injury, especially to the eyes. Some blue tongue skink owners find it easier to feed their pet in a separate enclosure, free of bedding and furniture, this way you can be sure your lizard eats all its insects, the prey cannot hide, and the lizard will not pick up any bedding when grabbing prey and mistakenly ingest it along with the prey. Commercially prepared skink diets are available, but they should never constitute the whole diet of your lizard. They can be left in the enclosure (on the cool side) in case your pet is hungry between meals.

SHEDDING:

Unlike snakes, lizards shed their skin in patches, not all in one piece. Your pet will become an overall dull color, and the skin over the eyelids may ‘pop’ at a certain point and make your lizard look like a bug-eyed bullfrog. Do not peel off the skin if it is not ready to come off. This can be dangerous and painful. Most lizard species will shed every 4-6 weeks. If the enclosure environment is ideal, the keeper often has no idea that their pet has shed, as it will happen more quickly and the lizard will often eat its own shed skin. In the wild, reptiles have a much easier time with their sheds, as they are generally in a more naturally humid environment and have access to pools or bodies of water in which they can soak at will. Even reptiles from arid areas find humid places to go during the shedding process, such as cold, moist burrows under the sand or caves. The shedding process happens when the lizard’s body begins to grow a new layer of skin. That new layer begins to separate from the old and a very thin layer of fluid forms between the two layers. If your pet’s enclosure is too dry, this fluid layer will not form properly, making it difficult for your reptile to shed properly. To create more humidity, the entire tank can be lightly spray misted twice a day during shedding time. Spray once in the morning and once later in the day. Make sure the later spray dries completely before lights go off for the night. Some lizards may also benefit from a ‘moist box’ during shedding time. This can be a Tupperware-like container (with the cover on) containing a bed of moist reptile terrarium moss. The container should be big enough for the entire lizard to be inside with an entry door cut in the side just large enough for the lizard to come and go at will. Keep the moss moist but not watery, and place the box on the heating pad in the tank. If your lizard still has a hard time getting the shed completely off its toes, tail or head help him by spraying the area with water and gently massaging the skin until it peels off. If the retained shed is severe and cannot be removed easily, see your exotic veterinarian.

SUPPLEMENTS:

Dust food with calcium supplement and vitamin supplements. As a rule, a growing juvenile's food (and a pregnant/gravid female’s) should be dusted more often than an adult's. Follow your veterinarian’s instructions for applying supplements to avoid over-supplementing food. Our veterinarian recommends dusting insects with a good quality calcium supplement fortified with vitamin D3, 2-3 times a week. (Avoid using a calcium supplement with added phosphorous, unless specifically directed by your veterinarian, since this can promote kidney disease.) As your pet matures and eats more greens, you can supplement either the vegetables or insects. Always consult your veterinarian for specific directions on supplementing your pet’s food, since there are many variables that go into determining the best supplementation regimen for each animal.

WATER:

All water given to reptiles for bathing, swimming or drinking, as well as water used for misting must be 100% free of chlorine and heavy metals. (Not all home water filtration systems remove 100% of the chlorine and heavy metals from tap water). We recommend that you use unflavored bottled drinking water or bottled natural spring water; never untreated tap water. If tap water is used, you should treat it with a de-chlorinating treatment. If you do not want to chemically de-chlorinate the water, you can leave an open container of tap water out for at least 24 hours. The chlorine will naturally dissipate. Do not use distilled water, which can cause severe medical problems, since it lacks minerals that are essential to important body functions. Change the water in your skink’s enclosure every one to two days. A daily misting or two with chlorine-free water will also be appreciated. However, care should be taken not to allow the enclosure to become damp. Also, do not mist less than two hours before turning the heat lamps off for the day.

SOAKING:

Lizards can benefit greatly from a good deep-water soak at least once a week. A Tupperware container makes a good reptile bathtub. Fill the container deep enough so the entire lizard’s body can be submerged under water, but the head can be out of water. The water should be nice and warm (about 68-70 degrees). Soak your lizard for about a half hour at a time. This is especially helpful during a bad shed or when your dragon might be a bit constipated.

RECOMMENDED SUPPLIES:

55 - 100 gallon reptile tank with very secure mesh top with clips.
(20 L (20x13) tank is acceptable for babies.)
lg. dome and 100 watt bulb for 40 gal (36x18 tank)
lg. dome and 150 watt bulb for 75 gal (48x18 tank)

A couple basking lamps may be necessary to raise the proper temperatures for tanks larger than 55 gallons Sm. Dome and 50-75 watt bulb for 20L baby tanks
Under tank heater. Placed under same side of tank as basking light. Temperature / humidity gauge - do not stick to side of tank.
At least one dry hide house. Shredded aspen bedding, newspaper or paper towels for the bottom of the tank.
Blue tongues like to dig, so aspen bedding may be the better choice.
Large water bowl big enough to soak in. UVB Bulb and housing

HOUSING & ENVIRONMENT:

Reptiles are ectothermic, or cold-blooded, which means they are dependent on the temperature of their immediate environment to regulate their body temperature. Therefore, we must create an environment with several heat gradients - warm on one end and cool on the other. With this set-up, your pet can go to either end depending on whether he needs to be warmer or cooler.

ENCLOSURE SIZE: The enclosure should be a solid glass sided tank long enough to create the two separate temperature gradients (warm and cool); a blue tongue skink tank should be at least 55 gallons or larger for an adult and at least 20L for a baby. IT IS NOT TRUE THAT A REPTILE WILL ONLY GROW AS LARGE AS ITS ENCLOSURE!!

COVER: Make sure the cage has an escape-proof metal mesh top. It should fit snugly onto the tank and have strong clips locking it on. It is important that the top is METAL mesh, as you will place the heat lamp directly on top of this cover.

HEAT PAD: Reptile heat pads can be adhered directly onto the underside of the glass bottom of the tank. Stick it on the glass on one of the very far ends of the tank. For safety reasons, make sure to attach the rubber feet (contained in the box) at all four corners of the underside of the tank. This will allow air to circulate underneath the tank and prevent the heat from being trapped under the tank. NOTE!!:DO NOT use reptile heat rocks. They heat unevenly and have caused severe thermal burns in reptiles. Heat pads specifically manufactured for reptiles are safe for pets to be in contact with and are safe to leave on 24 hours a day.

HEAT LAMP: Place the heat dome with the basking bulb on top of the cage directly over where the reptile heat pad has been placed on the underside of one end of the tank. NOTE!!: Follow directions carefully with all products - READ THE INSTRUCTION SHEET!! Always choose fixtures with ceramic sockets and be careful to choose the socket that is properly rated for the wattage bulb that you will be using. Do not place the fixtures by dry wood or flammable fabrics. All heaters should be placed out of the reach of children and all pets - including cats and dogs. Be very careful to make sure that your caged pet cannot reach and touch the heating device in its own cage. A thermal burn to the face or body can be painful and life threatening.

UVB LIGHT: Exposure to UVB (ultraviolet B) light is critical in allowing an animal to synthesize vitamin D3 in their skin and metabolize calcium in their body. If an animal is not exposed to an adequate level of UVB light, it will gradually develop physical problems from the result of mineral deficiencies such as low blood calcium (hypocalcaemia), soft eggs (females), stunted growth and metabolic bone disorder, which can be fatal if left untreated. In addition, recent studies have linked sub-optimal vitamin D levels with poor immune system function.

All day-active (diurnal) indoor reptiles, amphibians, birds and hermit crabs should be allowed self-selected exposure to UVB lighting for up to 8-12 hours a day. This means they should be able to bask in the light but also get away if desired, much as they might in the wild. Many twilight-active (crepuscular) and night-active (nocturnal) species do get some exposure to the sun and may also benefit from low levels of UVB, which helps regulate their photoperiod and vitamin D levels as well.

Please see our additional “UVB Lighting for Companion Birds and Reptiles” for specific instructions for your particular pet and the UVB bulb that we recommend for him or her.

WATER BOWL: The large water crock can be placed on the opposite end of the cage, along with another hide house, if desired.

BEDDING: We recommend a shredded aspen bedding since it will not cause impactions in the skink if it is ingested by mistake and it is easy to clean - daily spot cleaning becomes easy by just removing the soiled portion of aspen. Newspaper, paper towels can also be used. If “reptile carpeting” is used, it MUST be kept extremely clean. The carpeting can foster the growth of bacteria and fungus, which can in turn be very dangerous to your pet. If you insist on using the carpet, purchase two so you can interchange them regularly. Do keep in mind that blue tongue skinks love to burrow, so they will most enjoy a thick layer of shredded aspen.

BRANCHES & PLANTS: Blue tongue skinks are not arboreal; however, they do enjoy climbing over braches and plants and exploring in their enclosures. They also enjoy burrowing and hiding. Sand blasted grape vine branches are available in the pet store; these serve as good sturdy climbing branches. Be careful of bringing in branches from outside, as they can house parasites. Your blue tongue will most likely trample live plants, so, plastic plants will be most suitable for your enclosure.

TEMPERATURES: Cage temperatures should be monitored daily and kept at the temperatures listed at the top of this page. Use your reptile thermometer to check the temperatures in different places in the cage regularly to make sure they continually match the listed proper temperatures. * If the room temperature falls below 70 degrees at night, a supplemental infrared or ceramic heat fixture may be necessary. (These fixtures do not emit a light spectrum that is visible to the lizard, so it will not disturb him at night, but they WILL provide the necessary supplemental heat.) If your lizard does not receive the proper heat at the proper temperatures along with UVB light, he may become sick with issues such as respiratory disease or MBD and may stop eating, as lizards have a hard time digesting their food without proper heat and light.

DAY/NIGHT LIGHT CYCLES AND HEATING:

All reptiles must have distinct day and night periods in their enclosure to maintain their biological rhythms. Blue tongue skinks need 8-12 hours of daytime and 8-12 hours of nighttime. However, as the daylight hours change seasonally outside, daylight hours inside the tank should reflect the same.

The day period must be light, and the night period must be dark.
A timer should be used to set day/night periods.

HABITAT MAINTENANCE:

Daily maintenance should consist of spot cleaning by removing soiled substrate, cleaning water bowl thoroughly and wiping glass clean.

The entire tank should be cleaned thoroughly at least once every couple months with:

  • A mild dishwashing liquid (a weak dilution) in warm water, THEN
  • Vinegar & water (1:8) OR bleach and warm water (1:32)
  • Cage “furniture” should also be scrubbed clean with the same dilution.
  • RINSE OFF ALL SOAP AND BLEACH THOROUGHLY WITH PLAIN WATER BEFORE RE-INTRODUCING YOUR PET TO ITS ENCLOSURE!!
  • NEVER MIX VINEGAR AND BLEACH - IT CREATES A TOXIC SOLUTION

GROOMING & HYGIENE:

To reduce the risk of contracting and spreading salmonella poisoning, all handlers should wash their hands after handling any reptile.

SIGNS OF A HEALTHY ANIMAL:

smooth, even skin; no traces of mites (small, reddish brown spots around nostrils, near ears and eyes); clear eyes, rounded, full body; strong, even, smooth jaw line; bright eyes; regular record of healthy feeding and defecating schedule. It is very important to keep a journal for each animal that records feeding, refusing, defecation, shedding, unusual behavior, changes in behavior and dates of bulb changes. This will help your veterinarian trouble-shoot any health issues. We recommend physical exams every year or two years with an exotic pet veterinarian for pet reptiles and amphibians. If your vet sees your pet regularly, many common conditions that afflict pet reptiles and amphibians can be caught and treated early. If not caught early enough or if left untreated, many of these conditions can become far worse if not fatal.

SIGNS OF ILLNESS:

Irregular scales; small reddish brown spots (mites) around mouth, eye area, ear area; irregular jaw line, ‘dents’ in mouth with (or without) cottage cheese-like material (mouth rot); cloudy eyes or dull colored body when not in a shed; dark patches on body; thinned body; irregular feeding and defecating habits. Limp, lethargic, sunken eyes; obvious bite marks or wounds from cage mate or prey. Red, fluid filled patches may indicate thermal burns.

SOME COMMON PROBLEMS INCLUDE:

HEALTH ISSUE: SYMPTOMS: TREATMENT:
Calcium/phosphorus imbalance; MBD Failure to grow, weakness, limb deformities and fractures, seizures See exotic pet veterinarian and, ensure optimal diet with proper calcium supplementation and UV light.
Intestinal parasites (coccidia and pinworms are common) Failure to grow, loss of appetite, abnormal stools See exotic pet veterinarian (fecal parasite evaluation and appropriate medication).
Egg binding in females Abdominal enlargement, decreased appetite, difficulty defecating See an exotic pet veterinarian immediately.

©2012 Dawn M. Trainor-Scalise

Courtesy of: Specialized Care for Avian & Exotic Pets

In conjunction with Pet Supplies “Plus”

10882 Main Street, Clarence, NY 14031

Ph (716) 759-0144

www.buffalobirdnerd.com