Tyrannosaurus Pets

Blue Tongue Skink (Tiliqua sp.) Care Sheet

Blue tongue skinks are a medium sized lizard from Australia and Indonesia.  They are hardy, and easy to tame.  This has increased their popularity in recent years, and they are becoming far more common in the pet trade.  A well settled blue tongue is a good alternative to a bearded dragon, made more popular by the greater variety of foods which they will consume, reducing (though not eliminating) the need for live insect prey.

Blue Tongue Skink

Housing Your Bluey

The diagram above shows roughly how the tank should be set up.

Blue tongues are diurnal (day time active) tropical lizards.  They require a reasonable basking temperature, with only a small drop at night. They also require access to a good quality source of UV.

As they need a night temperature of between 24’c and 26’c the easiest way to heat the tank is with a ceramic heat system plugged into a thermostat.  Once the ceramic fitting has been wired, it needs to hang from a picture hook in the roof of the tank.  Place the bulb in the fitting and fit the guard around it.  It is easier to fit the guard if the tank is upside down, but make sure that you take the glass out first.

The sensor for the thermostat needs to come into the tank about one third in from the hot end, and hang down to 2” above the substrate.  To make the tank look neater you can run the cable through some conduit, but make sure that the black section of the sensor is exposed to the air in the tank to make sure that you are getting an accurate reading.  The basking temperature for these lizards is 33’c – 35’c, while the cool end needs to drop down to 23’c – 25’c.  Set the thermostat to 28’c, this estimate will get the tank close to the desired temperatures but some adjustment may be needed.  The thermostat will heat the tank where the sensor is to 28’c, past the sensor the cool end should be 4’c – 5’c cooler, while under the lamp it should be 5’c – 8’c warmer.  Leave the tank running for two hours and then check the temperatures.  Always place the thermometer where the animal will be sitting.  If the basking and cool end temperatures are correct leave the tank for two more hours to ensure that the tank is stable.  If the temperatures are incorrect adjust the thermostat.  Leave the tank for two hours and recheck the temperatures.  Keep checking and adjusting until the temperatures are correct.  When adjusting the temperatures only make a small change to the thermostat, as even a little tweak can make a large difference to the temperatures in the tank.

The best UV to use is a 12% desert rated tube.  The UV output from the tubes is quite low, and most only have an effective range of about nine inches.  Using a reflector greatly increases the amount of available UV and can nearly double the range.  The UV out put from the tubes has a very finite life span.  While the tube will still be bright after a year the UV output will have dropped to zero.  In order to remain effective the tubes need to be replaced every six months.

Blue tongue skinks are tropical lizards and benefit from 12 – 14 hours of daylight per day.  The easiest way to maintain this is to plug the UV into an appropriate time switch.  The lizard will only be active during the hours of daylight.  There is no point in the lights going off at 7pm if you get home at 6pm, the skink will be going to sleep just as you walk in the door.  If the lights in the tank go off at 11pm or 12pm, then the lizard will be active and seeking food when you get home.

Feeding Your Blue Tongued Skink

Blue tongues are opportunistic omnivores.  In the wild they will eat a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, together with a mix of live insects and carrion.  In captivity it is essential to replicate their natural diet as close as possible.  This means ensuring that the lizard has constant access to a mix of green leafy vegetables (spring cabbage, bok choi, Chinese leaf, and frise) other vegetables (squash, sweet potato, courgette, peppers, peas, carrots) and fruits (berries, mango, pineapple, small quantities of banana).  Do not use spinach, the other varieties of cabbage, or kale.  These all contain chemicals which are harmful to reptiles.  Also avoid vegetables with a high water content (cucumber, iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, and celery) these tend to have a low nutritional value.

They also need to be fed a range of high protein foods.  The best source of this is live insects.  All the usual pet shop foods can be provided, in addition earthworms, slugs and particularly snails from the garden are all readily consumed.  If taking food from outside make sure no one in the area has been spraying any toxins around.  The live food provides the skink with a much needed source of exercise, as well as being high protein and low fat.  They will also take pre-prepared dead or prepared insects (such as canned or freeze dried insects).  This can be of benefit to squeamish keepers, but the benefit of hunting the live insects will be lost.  As a treat the skink can be fed a small quantity of chopped raw steak, cooked chicken breast, cooked egg, or defrosted pinkies.  This treat is no more than once every three to four weeks as they can quickly become obese on the higher fat content of these food items.  Other health problems can quickly arise if fed too much fat or protein foods, so offer the treats sparingly.  Never offer cat or dog food to a skink.  The fat and protein content in this food makes it totally unsuitable for any reptile.

A baby blue tongue will require live food daily, and over half its diet will consist of this high protein growth food.  As the animal grows it will require less protein, so can be fed fewer insects.  An adult skink only requires insects two or three times per week.

While we try to offer the skink as varied a diet as possible, it is still not as varied as the foods available in the wild.  To ensure that the animal receives all the vitamins and minerals it needs, we have to supplement the food.  For a baby skink use a full spectrum vitamin powder twice per week, and use a pure calcium supplement a further three times per week.  An adult skink needs the full spectrum vitamins once per week, and the calcium twice per week.  When supplementing food it is easier to dust the live foods, the lizard will always eat these, so we know it is getting the vitamins.  Put eight to ten prey items in a clear sandwich bag or a measuring jug.  Add a pinch of powder and shake to coat the insects.  Feed these to your pet.  The animal should readily consume this quantity.  If it is still hungry offer a few more food items.  These additional prey items do not need dusting with powder.  Keep offering the food a few at a time until the lizard is full.  This allows you to keep track of roughly what the skink is eating.

Caring For Your Skink

The skink should be offered fresh water every day.  When changing the water look around the tank and remove any mess.  If the spot cleaning is done regularly then the tank will only need to be fully cleaned out once every four to six weeks.  When cleaning the tank place the lizard somewhere safe and secure.  Remove and clean all the décor and dishes.  Remove all the old substrate.  Clean and dry the tank.  Refill the tank with clean substrate and return all the décor and dishes.  When cleaning the tank don’t use household detergents and disinfectants as they can be highly toxic to reptiles.  Any good pet shop will carry a range of reptile specific pet disinfectants. 

Most blue tongues currently available are from semi tropical regions of south east Asia.  This means that they need to be maintained at a moderate level of humidity.  Use an absorbent substrate such as orchid bark.  This should be at least two inches deep as the skinks love to burrow.  Gently spray the tank with tepid water two or three times per week this should keep the humidity around the desired level.  When the lizard is in shed spray the tank daily.  This extra humidity will help to get all the scales off.

It can take some time to make sure that the temperatures are stable and all the equipment is working properly.  It is a good idea to get the tank running before taking your new pet home.  This allows you to spend a couple of days getting it right and removes any panic because you can’t get the temperatures right, or the lights aren’t working how you want.  Then when the lizard goes into its new vivarium you can be confident that everything is as it should be.

The first couple of weeks can be a stressful time for the lizard, and it will need time to adjust to a new territory.  During this time keep disturbances to a minimum, simply change the water, offer fresh food, and spot clean the tank.  When the skink is feeding well and settled you can start handling it, and begin to tame them.

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