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Shingleback Skink Care Sheet

Scientific Facts

Common Name:Shingleback Skink
Scientific Name:Tiliqua rugose
Life Span:Up to 50 years
Size:10 to 12 inches length 
Habitat:Arid and semi-arid regions
Country of Origin:Southern and Western Australia

Physical Description

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The shingleback skink is a slow-moving lizard that belongs to the blue-tongued skin that’s native in Australia. The name shingleback is commonly used to refer to this lizard, and this is the only subspecies that are native to Australia. 

The shingleback skink has an armored body and is available in different colors from dark brown to cream-colored. This has a short but wide tail that looks like its head. Predators are mostly confused as to where the head is in a skink.

The head is triangular with a bright blue tongue, hence its name locally. The tail appears the same size and shape as its head, and some say that it is a defense mechanism against predators. The tail is fat and contains fat reserves, which the lizard uses when it bromates during wintertime. And just like other skinks, the shinglebacks are unable to shed their tails when they feel threatened or stressed.

Other names are also used to refer to the shingle back like the bogeye, skink, pinecone lizard, and the sleepy lizard. It is also known in the aboriginal tribes as Yoorn. The shingleback is a very popular pet among Australian lizard enthusiasts. A permit may be required in some areas and countries if you want to keep a shingleback skink for a pet.

Types

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The shingleback is a species first described by John Edward Gray way back in 1825. It was named Trachydosaurus rugosus and now Tiliqua ruugosa. Experts say that this lizard has the most common names than any other species.

Subspecies that are currently recognized are as follows

  • T. r. rugose – bobtail or western shingleback found in Western Australia
  • T. r. asper – the eastern shingleback from eastern Australia   
  • T. r. konowi – called the Rottnest Island Bobtail or the Rottnest Island shingleback from Rottnest Island in Western Australia. 
  • T. r. palarra – called the northern bobtail or the Shark Bay shingleback native to Shark Bay in Western Australia.                                                                                     

Life Span 

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The Shingleback Skink has three life stages similar to most lizard species:

Newborn

Hatchlings are large-bodied with very significant designs and color, very similar to its parent. Despite just a few hours or days old, the hatchlings can look for food, move about without any hesitation, and will explore its surroundings despite moving slowly. Skinks give birth to live young and not eggs. 

Juvenile

During the juvenile stage, both male and female Shingleback Skinks will grow at the same rate and size. The male and female may have the same weight and size. The skin décor and body have completely resembled their parents with a large tail that looks similar to its head. 

Adult

Adult Shingleback Skinks are larger and ready to bear the next generations of skinks. The distinct tail that looks like the lizard’s head is just one of the many features of this lizard.

Eating Habits

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The Shingleback skink has a unique appearance because it uses its tail as storage for fat reserves. This creature eats a lot of insects in the wild. In captivity, these will eat almost anything such as live food like mealworms and crickets. You may also feed waxworms, silkworms, and pinkie mice. 

Gut load the insects you feed with a suitable commercial gut load mix, or you may 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 to pass nutrients to your pet. Use calcium powder to dust food before giving it to your pet. 

Some skinks are nocturnal, while some are diurnal. Observe your pet for a few weeks so you can determine its feeding habits. Feed it during the time when it’s more active. Never leave its prey roaming inside the tank when it’s asleep. Just load it in when the lizard is awake.  

Some skinks are known to eat human food like sausages, chicken, fruits, and vegetables.

Water

Shingleback Skinks need fresh water to drink. Water dishes inside a skink’s enclosure may easily accumulate sand and dirt, so be sure to clean and replace this often. This will prevent bacterial contamination of the enclosure.

Skinks can swim, but they are not very good at it. If you want to keep your skink in a large enclosure, you can make an artificial pond where it can swim or wade in.

Development, Reproduction, and Breeding

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Female skinks will give birth after three or five months it has mated.  This happens usually between December and April. The skink will give birth to live young encased in individual placentas. The embryos start to develop inside the mother’s oviduct. The placenta helps the babies get food, nutrition, and air.

At birth, the young skinks eat the placental membrane, which is their first meal. These will shed their skin for the first time after just a few days after birth. These youngsters can look after themselves, hunt food, and check out its surroundings. The siblings will usually disperse after just a few days.

Shinglebacks give birth to two or three babies that are 220 mm in length and can weigh up to 200 grams. The father of the brood usually eats less as he protects its children. It remains alert and will be ready to rescue his babies in case there is any trouble.

Shingleback females and males live alone most of the year but meet during breeding time as monogamous pairs. Breeding happens between September and November. The “meet up” is a tender moment to witness. You can see pairs of shinglebacks crossing roads in Western New South Wales. The male usually follows the female skink. After the breeding season, the two-part ways and will meet again at the same time next year.

Common Health Problems

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Here are the five common problems that Shingleback Skinks may experience:

Metabolic Bone Disease

Lizards need calcium for strong bones and vitamin D3 to use calcium. Calcium supplements are available, while vitamin D3 is achieved by basking under a good UVB lamp inside the tank. 

MBD is the lack of calcium in bones. Symptoms are deformities in the lizard’s skeletal system like bowed legs, rubbery jaw, and kinks in the spine.

Also, female lizards that hatch their eggs require more calcium because of egg-laying exhausts calcium reserves. MBD is reversible by increasing vitamin D3 and calcium intake. You can use calcium supplements and by using a UVB lamp for daily vitamin D3 intake. 

Parasites

Lizards have low levels of parasites that may not affect their health. But if it becomes stressed or has an immune system condition, the parasites can multiply and affect the lizard’s health. Also, these can affect people as well.

So, to avoid the spread of parasites and infections, quarantine a new lizard before introducing inside the tank. Always check signs of parasitic infections such as smelly or runny poop, weight loss, an enlarged abdomen, lack of appetite, and lethargy.  

If you notice any of these, take your pet to the vet. Afterward, clean and disinfect your lizard’s enclosure to avoid reinfection. 

Poor shedding

Healthy lizards and skinks will need a good environment to shed regularly. Shedding difficulty like flaking, skin clinging on the tail, or the eyes and restlessness could mean incomplete shedding. 

Any stuck skin must be removed right away because this can cling on the extremity and constrict the extremity. And to remedy incomplete shedding, soak your lizard in warm water for a few minutes. This will soften the dead skin and help ease symptoms of incomplete shedding. 

But for severe conditions, consult a vet at once. Never attempt to use tweezers or cut stuck skin because this can lead to injuries and cuts. 

Wounds

Lizards can have confrontations with other cagemates, and any fights usually don’t end well since these lizards may bite each other and scratch their skin, causing deep wounds and infections.

Take note that any kind of wound must be treated right away. Small cuts and wounds should be washed with clean water and disinfected using any kind of disinfectant. And for deeper and worse cuts, take your skink to the vet at once.

Stress 

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.

Predators

Skinks are victims of several predators, including reptile ticks. These are pests that often attach themselves under the scales of reptiles and also inside the ear canal. Ticks suck blood and can be fatal if these multiplies and are not removed right away. This is common in wild shinglebacks, and captive specimens need not worry.  

Large birds in the bush are the main predators of shinglebacks. Birds like the Brown Falcon and the Laughing Kookaburras love to snatch a skink for a meal. Also, snakes like large Eastern Brown Snakes, Mulga Snake, and the Red-Bellied Black Snake also eat skinks. Some feral cats and dogs also eat shinglebacks.

When skinks find themselves in urban areas, their main predators are suburban dogs and cats. A large number of suburban cats and dogs have reduced the population of skinks in these areas. Also, pet skinks probably have not reached adulthood because of these suburban predators.  

The skink looks vicious, especially when it is in its threatened mode. Its tough bony scales have also protected them from bites of many large animals but not all the time.  

Preventing Illness

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To prevent illnesses and other health conditions, keep the tank temperature and humidity at the ideal levels. This is the most common reason why Shingleback Skink suffers from illnesses. Place a bowl of water inside the tank. This will not just serve as a water dish but also improves humidity inside the tank.

Keep the tank clean. All good handlers know that a dirty, unkempt tank can affect the health of your lizard. Clean the tank with a good cleaning product, cleaning products that leave residue and toxins in the tank. 

Give the best food for your skink and feed it organic food. Use live insects and mice to gut load your lizard with supplements and nutrients. And to prevent illness coming from outside sources, quarantine new lizards. 

New pets may introduce mites and illness to your lizard. Placing a newbie in quarantine will help you rule out diseases and health conditions. 

Behavior

To better understand your pet Shingleback Skink, get to know its many unique behaviors

Threatened behavior

When a skink feels threatened, it will turn towards the thing and open its mouth very wide to stick out its blue tongue. It looks very vicious as it does this, and this instantly frightens predators. 

If the threat remains, it will hiss and flatten out its entire body to make themselves bigger. Also, if you try to pick up a frightened shingleback, it will bite you.

Shedding

Lizards shed regularly. This is the skin’s way of adjusting itself because of a lizard’s growing body. Naturally, smaller, juvenile Shingleback Skinks will shed more frequently than an adult or mature ones. And when your lizard is shedding, increase humidity inside the tank with a bowl of water. Avoid handling your pet and just monitor for signs of incomplete shedding. 

Docile behavior

One of the reasons why the Shingleback Skink is a popular pet is because of its docile nature. Much first-time lizard or lizard owners prefer this species to a leopard lizard because of its even temperament and good nature. It won’t bite and won’t wiggle out of your hand, as well.

Do not climb walls

Shingleback Skinks don’t have sticky feet or adhesive lamellae, unlike other lizard species. This is why you can keep this lizard on a tank with lower walls rather than a tall tank with tight covers. 

Will not grow its tailback

One of the adaptations of a lizard is its ability to shed off its tail when it feels attacked, stressed, or threatened. The lost tail will be replaced with a rounded tail that looks like its head. However, a few species of lizards don’t have this adaptation, and one of these is the shingleback skink. 

Not a nocturnal animal

This lizard has developed new traits over the years and years of living with humans or near human communities. Experts say that this lizard may have been nocturnal once, but it has eventually adapted to staying awake and active in the mornings and resting in the evenings.

Dangerous to Humans

If you ever meet a wild shingleback on the road or as you walk through the forest, don’t provoke it. Just move as if you did not notice that it’s around. Shinglebacks can become very stressed if you confront it and will show its threatening stance. 

The most danger is a bite from a skink. It is painful, can break the skin, and may leave a large bruise. Don’t worry because there’s no poison, and there is no long term danger to you. But you must clean a bite at once because lizards can carry parasites and diseases which can infect the wound. The wound should be cleaned with a disinfectant and dressed. If there is too much bleeding or there is severe pain, consult your doctor at once. 

Shedding

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Shedding is usually complete for reptiles, especially for those cared for in the ideal environment. But some lizards may have incomplete shedding where parts of the tail, hands, feet, and eyes have a difficult time to completely shed.

To prevent incomplete shedding and to help skinks shed completely, improve humidity levels inside the tank. If you can hold your pet well, soak it in warm water for a few minutes to hydrate and remove dead skin. After this, dead skin will be easily removed. 

Shedding happens regularly in juveniles and less frequently in adults and in senior lizards. Shedding can be stressful, so it’s always best to put the lizard in a quiet environment and to take it to the vet in case of shedding problems. Otherwise, just let it be.

Habitat

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In the wild, skinks live in open country with a lot of ground over like grasses and leaf litter. These lizards shelter among the leaf litter or under rocks and other large objects. Early in the day, these lizards emerge from their hiding place to bask and to forage for food.

Shinglebacks do these during the warmest times of the day. Just like other lizards, shinglebacks are cold-blooded. These are unable to produce body heat and thus needs the sun to stay warm. Over the course of the day, the skink has a body temperature of 30 to 35 degrees when it’s active. During the cold hours of the day, it remains in its hole or hiding place where it buries itself nice and warm. It will emerge from this once the day is sunny.

In captivity, the right tank size is a 10-gallon tank, but a larger 20-gallon one would certainly suffice. One or two lizards can stay in one tank, but during breeding time, one male is to two or more females per tank for better breeding success. 

When buying the right tank, choose one that is still roomy enough for accessories, food, and water dishes. There must be natural features like rocks, branches, and areas where the lizard can sit and bask. But try to limit the vegetation inside the tank so you can easily spot your lizard.  

Place a lock on the cover to secure the tank. This must be placed in a quiet environment, preferably a spare room, basement, or attic, so your pet won’t be disturbed in case it needs to sleep or recuperate. 

Lighting, Humidity, and Temperature

You must have an efficient and effective lighting system for your lizard. Incandescent light is the best, and most lizard owners recommend it. Also, you must expose your lizard to a minimum of 12 hours of light to mimic daylight. 

Good incandescent lighting is a good source of heat. Use an under-cage heating pad. This combination will keep the tank interiors at 75 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the morning and between 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit at night.

Use a mister with water and spray water inside the tank to maintain humidity. Use a humidifier for accurate humidity levels. A bowl of water should be placed inside the tank to serve as a drinking water source and to improve humidity inside the enclosure.

Tank Bedding and Accessories

Shingleback Skinks should have hidden inside the tank where it can sleep in the morning or in the evening. You can have a very elaborate setting or a simple one, but make sure that your pet’s safety is kept as a priority. 

You may also use DIY accessories like a turned over clay pot, a plastic container and old cardboard box, etc. Place the lizard’s shelter near the heat source and another hideaway from the lamp in case it wants a cooler temperature to sleep. 

A substrate made of paper is the best for easy cleaning. Use newspaper, packing paper, or paper towel. Never use substrate materials with too much smell or with glossy ink because this can also affect the health of your pet lizard.                                                                                                     

Sanitation

You can use bleach, dishwashing soap, and water to clean your lizard’s cage. But make sure to rinse everything before you place the lizard inside the enclosure. You may also use part baking soda and water to clean the tank and remove foul smells. 

To use commercial chemical cleaners, follow the instructions on the bottle or packaging carefully. Never use two products at a time and wear protective clothing in cleaning your tank. Rinse this well with running water. Dry the tank using paper towels before placing your pet in. 

Availability – Where to Get One?

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You can get a Shingleback Skink from a local pet store or reptile trade shop. This lizard is usually ordered from a trader or supplier online. The price for a regular Shingleback Skink is around $20 to $30, while skinks with more interesting designs and colors may cost around $250 to $300.

How to Care for a Shingleback Skink

Care for your Shingleback Skink with the following techniques:

  • Always maintain good humidity levels inside the tank. This will prevent many illnesses, improve shedding, and keep your lizard healthy and happy. Humidity may be maintained using a spray bottle, a dish of water inside the tank, and a humidifier. Also, use a digital thermometer and hygrometer for a more accurate reading. 
  • Place the tank in a quiet area and maintain peace when your skink is asleep. The ideal places to install your tank would be a spare room, attic, or basement. Be sure to secure your tank always to prevent your skinks from escaping and from other animals getting in.
  • Handle your lizard as much as you can so it can develop trust. This is the key to learning how to handle a skink and how to prevent accidents when handling a lizard. Do this as early as the hatchling phase. 
  • Handle your lizard well to avoid stress. Any stress can affect your lizard’s health, so keep it healthy inside the tank.
  • Remember to avoid overcrowding. Only two lizards in a tank are possible. Use smaller tanks for breeding and for laying eggs, and don’t forget to improve humidity and temperature inside these separate tanks as well.
  • Change your substrate regularly to prevent mold, bacteria, and other dangerous parasites. Change the water inside the bowl frequently. Skinks are just like other reptiles that can also poop in the water.
  • Feed your skink the best kind of food and use this as a good way to feed supplements and nutrients. Dust food with calcium and other supplements; these are available in most reptile supplies store.
  • Take your pet to the vet for any problems. Shingleback skinks should be taken to a reptile specialist for any concern. 

FAQ Section

What do Shingleback skinks eat?

This lizard is an omnivore; therefore, it will eat small animals and insects like snails, crickets, and mice and will also eat plants. It will spend a large amount of time foraging for food through vegetation in forests and near water.

Are skinks dangerous to humans?

The bite of the shingleback skink is painful, can break the skin near the wound, and can leave a large bruise. There is no venom and won’t cause any dangerous, long-term effect. If you were bitten by a skink, apply first aid to the wound and consult a doctor at once. 

Do lizards eat snakes?

Yes, shinglebacks can eat snakes, especially small, young snakes. But large or adult snakes may also eat skinks.

Do skinks lay eggs?

No, skinks don’t lay eggs. The female gives birth to young with a placental membrane, which they eat right after they are born.

How long can a shingleback lizard live?

This lizard can live for up to 20 years and can grow up to 50 cm in length. This lizard can live longer when it is in captivity because despite looking ferocious, this lizard is the prey of many animals.

Do shinglebacks come out at night?

Shinglebacks prefer to sleep at night because it’s too cold to come out. They will come out of their hiding place when the climate is cooler, usually to look for food and forage on vegetation.

Why do blue tongue lizards have blue tongues?

The tongue of a shingleback is colored deep blue and contrasting a bright pink mouth. This is the effects of melanin pigments on the skin; this tongue may also be flattened or even expanded if the shingleback feels threatened or in danger.

How do you feed a skink?

Skinks are fed just like a regular lizard. Just load the prey inside the tank and let it find it on its own. You may also place food in a dish like maggots, mealworms, pinkie mice, and fruits. 

How do you give supplements to lizards?

There are powdered supplements that you can dust over their food. Powdered calcium is one of the most common supplements which may be smeared on the food of shinglebacks.

Do skinks drink water?

All animals need water. Skinks need water to drink and water to improve humidity inside its enclosure if you are keeping it inside a tank. You may also add an artificial pond feature inside your skink’s enclosure if you want your lizard to play in shallow water. 

Do you need to make a nest for a skink?

You don’t need to make a nest for a skink, but you can make a bed where it can deliver its babies. A bed made of moss or leaves is the best material; the skink will find this soft and perfect for holding her precious little ones. 

How do you clean a tank of a skink?

To clean a tank or an enclosure, use cleaning products that will clean, disinfect, and deodorize. Also, choose products that are natural to prevent toxic chemicals from affecting your lizard’s health.

Should you take care of a skink indoors or outdoors?

It’s up to you. You can house it indoors inside a large terrarium or outdoors in a caged or screened enclosure. Most pet owners decide on an indoor enclosure to completely eliminate possible predators like cats, dogs, and snakes.

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