Have you ever heard of a blue-tongue skink? This is a kind of lizard that’s native to Australia under the genus Tiliqua, which are the largest members of the family of skinks. The blue-tongued skink is also known as blue-tongues or blueys.
And while there are some reports that skinks can be a handful and may be very hard to take care of, the blue-tongued skink is very different. This type of lizard is friendly and smart, but the problem is, they grow to a sizeable lizard and may be harder to keep as these grow old.
But given the right care, attention, and training, anyone, even beginner lizard handlers, can learn how to care for a blue-tongued skink. The care of a skink starts with identifying its distant cousins and siblings and understanding the different types of skinks.
There are different types of skinks
The skink is a species first described by explorers back in the 1800s. It was named Trachydosaurus rugosus and later became Tiliqua ruugosa. Experts say that this lizard has the most common names compared to other lizard species.
Subspecies that are recognized are the T. r. rugose or the bobtail or western shingleback found in Western Australia. The T. r. asper or the eastern shingleback skink from eastern Australia, the T. r. konowi or the Rottnest Island Bobtail or the Rottnest Island shingleback from Western Australia and the T. r. palarra called the northern bobtail or the Shark Bay shingleback.
Each of these cousins of the skink has distinct behaviors and may also vary in appearance, but they are often misunderstood because of their behavior. And of all these species, the blue-tongued skink is the friendliest and easiest to handle.
Now, here are the many reasons why a skink is the perfect first-time lizard for new owners.
Skinks can live up to many years
The blue-tongued skink can live up to 20 years in captivity, provided it is given the right care and raised in the best environment. And because of its long lifespan, a pet owner can enjoy the company of their pet skink for a long time.
When you buy a skink from a pet store or shop, you will be getting are baby skinks. These are large-bodied with very significant designs and color and may look similar to their parents. Despite just a few days old, the hatchlings can forage for food, move about without, and will explore its surroundings despite moving very slowly. Mother skinks give birth to live young and not eggs.
During the juvenile stage, both male and female blue—tongued skinks will grow at the same rate and size. It may be difficult to distinguish a male and a female at this time because the male and female may have the same weight and size. The skin décor and body have completely resembled their parents. Meanwhile, adult skinks are larger and ready to mate.
The skink is easy to feed
The skink has a unique appearance because it uses its tail as storage for fat reserves. And to reserve fat, it has to eat a lot. It eats a lot of insects in the wild. In captivity, these will eat anything such as live food like mealworms, waxworms, silkworms, and pinkie mice.
Gut load insects you feed with a suitable commercial gut load mix or use baby cereal, dog food, or cat food. Some pet owners gut-load their insects with romaine lettuce or leafy greens. Gut loading is a method of using prey insects or mice to pass nutrients to your pet. Use calcium powder to dust its food before placing it inside the enclosure.
Take note that some skinks are nocturnal, while some are diurnal. Observe your pet for a few weeks so you can determine its sleeping and feeding habits. Feed it during the time when it’s active and don’t leave its prey inside the tank when it’s asleep. Just place it in when the lizard is awake.
The skink loves water
Blue-tongued skinks need fresh water to drink. Water dishes in the enclosure may accumulate sand and dirt so clean and replace this often. This will prevent bacterially and mold growth inside the enclosure. The skink can swim, but they are not very good at swimming in deep water. If you want to keep your skink in a large enclosure, create an artificial pond where it can swim in.
You can breed skinks at home
Female skinks will give birth after three or five months after mating. They give birth between December and April. The skink will give birth to live young inside individual placentas. The embryos begin to develop inside the mother’s oviduct, and the placenta helps the babies get food, nutrition, and air while inside their mother’s womb.
At birth, young skinks eat the placental membrane, and this is their first meal. The newborns will shed their skin for the first time after a few days after they are born. These can look after themselves, hunt food, and move about their respective cages. The siblings will usually disperse after a few days.
Skinks give birth to two or three babies. The father of the brood usually eats less as he protects its kids. It remains alert and will be ready to rescue his kids when there is trouble or when they call for help.
Skink females and males live alone most of the year but during breeding time as monogamous pairs. Breeding is between September and November. The male usually follows the female skink and, after the breeding season, will part ways and meet again next year.
Dealing with a shedding skink
Skinks shed their skin completely, especially for those cared for in the ideal environment. But some lizards may undergo incomplete shedding where parts of the tail, hands, feet, and eyes have a hard time to shed completely.
To prevent incomplete shedding and to shed completely, improve humidity inside the tank. If you are holding your pet well, soak it in warm water for about 15 minutes just to hydrate and soften skin, and to remove dead skin. After this, dead skin will be removed easily.
Shedding becomes regular in juveniles and less frequently in adults, especially in senior lizards. Shedding can be stressful; therefore, it’s always best to put the lizard in a safe and quiet environment so it can properly shed or to take it to the vet in case of shedding problems.
Skink habitats are easy to make
In the wild, blue-tongued skinks are found in open country with a lot of ground covers such as grasses and leaf litter. These lizards shelter in the leaf litter or under rocks. Early in the day, blue-tongued skinks emerge from their hiding places to bask and to forage.
Skinks do these during the warmest times of the day. Just like other lizards, skinks are cold-blooded. These are unable to make their body heat and thus needs the sun to stay warm. The skink has a body temperature of 30 to 35 degrees when the lizard is active. During the cold times of the day, it remains in its hole where it buries itself to stay warm. It will emerge from the hole when the weather is blissful and okay.
In captivity, the right tank size is a 20-gallon one would do. One or two lizards can stay in one large tank, but during breeding, a male is to two or more females would work perfectly. When buying the right tank, select one that is still roomy to place accessories, food, and water dishes in. Include natural features like rocks, branches, and places where the lizard can sit and bask. Limit the vegetation inside the tank so you can spot your lizard.
Keep a skink’s enclosure under lock and key to secure it from predators. The tank must be placed in a quiet environment, which could be a spare room, basement, or attic, so your pet won’t be disturbed when it forages, relaxes, and sheds its skin.
Maintaining lighting, humidity and temperature is easy
You must have an efficient lighting system for your lizard. Most pet owners recommend an incandescent light. Also, you must expose your lizard to a minimum of 12 hours of daylight or direct sunlight, but don’t let it overheat.
Good incandescent lighting is a good source of heat. Also, place an under-cage heating pad to maintain cage temperature. This will keep the tank interiors at 75 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the morning and 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the evening.
Use a mister with water and spray water in the tank to maintain humidity. Use a humidifier to enhance humidity levels. A bowl of water may work inside the tank to serve as a drinking water source and to enhance humidity in the tank.
Cleaning a skink’s tank is easy
It’s not too hard to clean a skink’s tank. You can clean your lizard’s tank using almost any kind of bleach, dishwashing soap, and water. But rinse everything and wipe the enclosure cage dry before you place the lizard inside. Some pet owners also warm the tank first before they place their lizard in. A homemade cleaning product is a baking soda and water to clean the tank and remove smells.
When you use commercial chemical cleaners, follow the instructions carefully. Never use two products at a time and wear protective clothing when you clean your tank. Rinse this with running water and dry the tank using paper towels.
Tank Bedding and Accessories
Skinks require hides inside the tank where it can sleep in the morning or even in the evenings. You can create a very elaborate setting or a simple enclosure design, but don’t forget that your pet’s safety is your priority over any kind of design.
Some skink and lizard owners use every day things like a turned over clay pot, a plastic container, or an old cardboard box. Place the lizard’s shelter near a heat source and install another hideaway from the lamp in case it wants a cooler area to sleep in.
There are so many kinds of substrates, but the brown paper is the best for easy cleaning. You may also use newspapers, packing paper, or paper towels. Don’t use substrate materials with too much smell or glossy ink because this can significantly affect the health of your pet.
We admit that taking care of a pet skink is also a challenge, especially with some blue-eyed skinks with an attitude. Take note of the following important things when caring for a pet skink
Skinks are not immune to health conditions
Your pet skink is generally healthy but is not immune to the following common health issues:
- Metabolic Bone Disease
Skinks are like other lizards as they need calcium for strong bones and vitamin D3 to be able to absorb calcium. Calcium supplements are available while daily doses of vitamin D3 is taken by basking under a good UVB lamp inside the tank or by taking your pet outdoors.
MBD is a condition wherein there is a lack of calcium in bones. Symptoms of MBD are deformities in the lizard’s skeletal system, such as bowed legs, rubbery jaw, and kinks in the spine.
Take note that female lizards that hatch their eggs need more calcium because egg-laying can significantly lower their calcium reserves. MBD is reversible by increasing vitamin D3 and calcium intake. Provide calcium supplements and by using a UVB lamp for daily intake of vitamin D3.
Skinks may have low levels of parasites that may not affect their health. But if for any reason that it becomes stressed or have an immune system condition because parasites can multiply and affect the lizard’s health. These parasites may also affect people.
To prevent the spread of parasites and infections, quarantine a new lizard before placing it inside its tank together with other lizards. Always observe for parasitic infections such as smelly or wet poop, weight loss, an enlarged abdomen, poor appetite, and lethargy.
If you see any of these, take your pet to the reptile vet at once. You must also clean and disinfect your lizard’s enclosure to prevent reinfection.
- Poor shedding
Healthy skinks will need a good environment to shed regularly. Shedding difficulty or incomplete shedding, flaking, skin clinging on the tail or eyes, and restlessness are common if you don’t improve the humidity levels inside the tank.
Any stuck skin should be removed right away because this can cling and constrict the extremity. And to treat incomplete shedding, soak your lizard in warm water for around 15 minutes. This will soften the dead skin so it can easily peel off and help ease symptoms of incomplete shedding.
For severe shedding conditions, consult a vet at once. Never attempt to use tweezers or cut stuck skin because this can accidentally injure your pet or stress it severely.
Lizards can fight with other cage mates, and this doesn’t end well since these may bite each other and scratch their skin, leading to deep wounds and infections. Keep in mind that any kind of wound must be treated as soon as possible. Small cuts and wounds must be washed with clean water and disinfected. And for deeper cuts and wounds, take your skink to the vet at once.
Lizards are prone to stress, and the causes of stress may be a new environment, a new cage mate, overcrowding, and breeding. Stressed lizards may not eat, mate, or may sleep a lot.
The best way to help stressed lizards is to remove the stressor and give your pet time to adjust to his new environment. Also, too much handling can stress a lizard and make it ill. So practice proper handling, especially for first-time lizard or reptile owners.
Skinks must be protected from predators
Skinks are prey to several predators big and small, including ticks. These are pests that attach themselves under the scales of reptiles and also inside the ear canal. Ticks live by sucking blood and can be fatal if these multiplies and are not removed as soon as possible. This is common in wild skinks.
Large birds of prey that live in the bush are the main predators of skinks. Some feral cats and dogs also eat skinks. When skinks live in urban areas, their main predators are suburban dogs and cats. According to some reports, a large number of suburban cats and dogs have reduced the number of skinks in suburban areas. This may also be one reason that can affect the lifespan of pet skinks.
The blue-tongued skink looks vicious when it is in “threatened mode.” It has tough bony scales that are useful in protecting them from bites of many large animals, but this may not work all the time.
Skinks have unique behaviors
A beginner pet lizard owner can learn a lot from caring for a skink. It has a few unique behaviors that it uses to defend itself being a small lizard, but it also has common reptile and lizard behaviors that you may have observed in other lizard species as well. Here are the most common:
· Threatened behavior
Whenever a blue-tongued skink feels threatened, it will defend itself by turning towards the threat and open its mouth very wide to stick out their blue tongue. In this appearance, it looks very vicious; this behavior surprises predators, and some may even turn around and make a run for it.
If the threat remains, it will hiss and flatten out its body to make themselves bigger. When a skink is like this, do not try to pick up, or it will bite you.
· Docile behavior
One of the reasons why a skink is a popular pet is because of its docile nature. First-time lizard or lizard owners prefer this species over a leopard lizard because of its temperament and good nature. This lizard won’t try to wiggle out of your hand to escape.
· Skinks don’t climb on walls
Skinks maybe lizards, but these don’t have sticky feet or adhesive lamellae like geckos. This is why you can keep this lizard on a tank with lower walls compared to tall tanks with tight covers.
· Skinks will not grow its tailback
One of the ways to evade attacks that a common lizard, such as a gecko uses, is shedding their tails off. The gecko does this when it feels attacked, stressed, or even threatened. The lost tail will be replaced with a rounded that may look like its tail. However, a blue-tongued skink cannot lose its tail or grow it back.
· Shedding for blue-tongued skinks
Reptiles like lizards and snakes will shed regularly. This is the skin’s way of adjusting because of a lizard’s growing body. Usually, a smaller, juvenile blue-tongued skink will shed more frequently than an adult or mature lizards. And when your lizard is shedding, increase humidity inside the tank with a bowl of water. When shedding, avoid handling your pet and just monitor signs of incomplete shedding.
· Skinks are not nocturnal animals
Skinks have developed new traits over the years and years of living with humans or in human communities. Experts say that this lizard may have been nocturnal once, but it has adapted to staying awake and active during mornings and resting during the evening.
Dangerous to Humans
Not all skink species are good for children and also for first-time pet owners. If you see a wild shingleback on the road or through the forest, don’t mind it or provoke it. Wild skinks can become very stressed if you confront them. You will know that the skink if threatened when it displays its open-mouthed stance.
The bite from a skink is dangerous despite not having sharp teeth. It is painful and can break the skin. It may also leave a large scar or bruise when the wound is healing. A skink is not poisonous, so you don’t need to worry. But you must clean the skink’s bite at once because lizards can carry parasites and diseases which can infect the wound. The wound must be cleaned with a disinfectant and dressed. Visit your doctor to have the wound checked.