Are you interested in blue-tongue skinks, or thinking or owning one? Or maybe you’re not sure what to do first. If so this is the perfect guide for you.
In this beginner’s guide, you’ll learn:
- Basic information about the blue-tongued skink
- What you will need for a proper blue-tongued skink terrarium
- How to handle, feed and care for these wonderful creatures
Let’s first get started with some basic information about these little guys.
The scientific name for these creatures is Tiliqua, and they go by a few different names:
- Blue-tongued skinks
- Blue-tongued lizards
- Blueys (a common name for them in Australia)
Native to Australia and Indonesia, they were originally called “skinks” from the Classical Greek word “skinkos”.
There are 8 different species of blueys:
- Adelaide pygmy blue-tongued skink
- Blotched blue-tongued skink
- Centralian blue-tongued skink
- Australian blue tongued skink
- Indonesian blue-tongued skink
- Western blue-tongued skink
- Irian Jaya blue-tongued skink
In terms of pets however, most skink owners have either an Indonesian or Australian skink, with the latter being far, far more preferable.
The reason for this is quite simple; Australian blue-tongues are hardier (it’s more difficult for them to succumb to illness and die) and are more docile around humans.
A lot of pet stores have the Indonesian, rather than Australian variety as they can be brought in year-round (whereas the Australian variety are usually limited to the summer months).
Whatever you do, don’t get an Indonesian blue-tongued skink! They are often caught in the wild, are not used to humans and more easily die!
The Australian bluey can be further divided into 3 sub-species, two of which are commonly used as pets.
- Eastern blue tonged skink
- Northern blue tongue skink
Of these, you will want to look for the northern blue-tongued skink. They are the most popular skink pets, are very hardy and friendly with humans.
In most pet stores, a genuine northern blue-tongued skink will run anywhere from $150 or so to $250, depending on your season, availability and location.
Some of the other species, such as shinglebacks and centralians, easily go for thousands of dollars.
Northern blue-tongues usually live from 10 to 20 years in captivity, and can grow from 12 to 24 inches in length.
Unlike a lot of other lizard species, they are also diurnal, which means that they are active during the day and quiet in the night.
In the wild, skinks are mostly carnivorous, with most of the prey caught being insects.
Crickets, beetles, grasshoppers, flies, grasshoppers, earthworms, snails, slugs, smaller lizards and rodents and anything else they can get their small hands on, they will eat.
In captivity however, a bluey’s diet is much more balanced and well-rounded.
Basically, a good rule of thumb is to feed your blue-tongue a balanced diet of roughly 60% vegetables and 40% protein and meats.
Some of the vegetables which you can give a (northern) blue-tongued skink include:
- Leafy greens
- Green beans
- Collard, turnip and mustard greens
- Peas and brussel sprouts
And here are some common protein sources:
- Canned premium dog or cat food (really!)
- Boiled chicken
- Cooked lean turkey or beef
- Pinkie mice
- Canned insects
On top of this, captive blue-tongued skinks need a healthy amount of the vitamin D3, as well as a calcium mineral supplement.
A healthy amount of calcium is needed to help prevent metabolic bone disease in skinks, as well as maintain healthy teeth and bones, a healthy heart, good blood coagulation and maintaining a healthy nervous system.
The vitamin D3 is achieved through UV-B light, which they get from natural sunlight in the wild or a UV-B producing artificial light. Basically, this vitamin helps metabolise the calcium that they have in their stomach.
Skinks also need a healthy amount of the mineral phosphorous, which helps with bone and teeth formation. They can get the necessary amount of phosphorous through the meats that you give them.
Purchasing the Right Blue-Tongued Skink
Hopefully, you either haven’t purchased the wrong kind of skink yet, because what I wish that more people knew about this before going out and buying their skink.
As a beginner, don’t buy any skink except for a northern blue-tongued!
For one, the other species, such as shinglebacks and Indonesians, are often are either caught in the wild (usually illegally) or they are the offspring of a wild-mother, and as such, have a difficult time being docile around humans. Safe yourself a ton of headaches, and just go with a captive northern blue-tongued skink.
Here’s a little bit of information that you will save you a lot of trouble:
All northern blue-tongued skinks are captive-bred, as it is extremely difficult (and not worth the trouble) to try to smuggle illegal skinks out of Australia.
Half of any future trouble you might have with your skink will come down to this and this alone, so make sure that your skink is a true northern.
Secondly, purchase your bluey from a reputable breeder.
Don’t purchase one from a pet store!
Pet store salesmen often don’t half of what they are talking about, and are usually just looking to get a sale. Instead, talk to a reputable, honest breeder and he or she will set your straight from there.
To find a good bluey breeder, I would suggest joining one of these two Facebook groups, asking for an invite, and then inquiring. You’ll get a ton of responses and help.
You can expect to pay around $200 from a decent breeder.
The most expensive piece of equipment that you will need in order to properly own a blue-tongued skink is easily the housing.
Blue-tongued skinks can be housed in plastic reptile enclosures, terrariums and glass aquariums but ideally, wooden vivariums. A vivarium just means a type of enclosure that is used to house pets for observation and living purposes.
The reason wooden vivariums are the best type of housing for blueys is because wood is a better heat insulator, and does a better job of keeping the enclosure warm. Heat can escape from glass aquariums a lot easier.
Below I’ll go a little bit more in-depth to explain the importance of the temperature, but for now, the most important piece of information that you should know when it comes to housing these creatures is that space is the #1 priority.
Blue-tongued skinks do not like to climb, and instead prefer to roam around on the ground. The more space they have to move around, the better.
At a minimum, try to get a housing enclosure that is at least 46″ in length, or 3 feet and 8 inches long.
The minimum width should be at least 18″ inches, or 1 foot and 6 inches with at least 10 inches of depth.
The enclosure will also need a screen or ventilated lid of some sort, to help keep the temperature stable, as well as keep the little guy or gal from getting out.
There are two reasons for this minimum amount of space:
- Skinks need as much space as they can get in order to live happily
- Your housing needs to be big enough in order to have a temperature gradient
Lighting & Temperature
Blue-tongues are native to the arid, dry climate of Ausralia, and bask daily in its hot sunshine.
To recreate this, you’ll need to do a few things:
- Create a temperature gradient in its housing enclosure
- Provide a UV-B light
A temperature gradient just means that the temperature should slowly decrease as you get further and further from its basking area, instead of suddenly plummeting.
Here are some rough guidelines:
- Basking Area – 95 degrees
- ~1 foot from the hot end – 87 degrees
- ~2 feet from the hot end – 81 degrees
- ~3 feet from the hot end – 75 degrees
Basically, the temperature should slowly drop off.
Now, in order to do this blue-tongued owners usually do a few things:
- Use a UV-B producing light and possibly a heat producing bulb at the basking area
- Use under-tank heating to make sure the cool end is the right temperature
- Use thermometers and hygrometers to make sure the temperature and humidity are on point
As I noted above, skinks absolutely need UV-A and UV-B light.
These animals often lay out on rocks in the hot Australian sun to soak up all those rays, so it’s a good idea to make sure that the UV-B bulb that you get is strong enough to replicate this.
A good rule of thumb is to look for any bulb that produces UV-A and UV-B, and make sure that it’s producing at least 10% UV-B.
They will need this UV-B light on for at least 4 hours a day, but you can keep it on for longer, up to 8 to 10 hours a day.
However, you don’t need to just have the temperature on point, but the humidity as well.
As blueys come from a hot, but dry, arid environment, you’ll need to mimic a hot, dry and arid humidity level as well.
You’ll need to use a combination of the lighting, temperature and vivarium environment to keep the humidity at 25 to 40%. Other species, just as the Irian Jaya, need a higher humidity level, around 40 to 45%.
Substrate is another word for the bedding of your lizard vivarium, or what your bluey will walk on.
Being out in the open will stress them out so they need something to be able to burrow into and hide, just like back home in their native Australian habitat.
For bedding, you have a lot of options, the best of which are:
- Aspen wood shavings
- Cypress mulch
- Shredded newspaper
- Beech woodchips
I (and my lizard) have always been very partial to the aspen wood shavings, as have quite a few other bluey owners. Cypress mulch and beech woodchips are other good options however.
Whatever you use, never ever ever use:
- Cedar woodchips
- Cat litter
- Orchid bark
Basically, you don’t want to use anything that is potentially toxic to the animals, such as cat litter, or anything that can potentially hurt them (such as the bark and wood chips), or anything (like sand or cat litter) that can cause something called impaction, which happens when their internal system becomes clogged through ingesting foreign objects.
You can also put things such as low-level logs, branches or stones in their enclosure, but just make sure that it’s something that they actually can climb on and over, and not something they can fall off of or have fallen on top of them.
Handling & Feeding
One of the reasons why blue-tongued skinks are so darn popular is because they are so easy to handle.
Although blueys are some of the most personable lizards in the entire world, you will still need to acclimate them to being handled.
It’s always a good idea to limit handling to around 10 minutes or so per session when you first get a blue-tongue, and then slowly ramp it up from there.
When picking them up, always try to handle them by keeping your hand underneath their body, so that they feel calm and stable at all times.
It’s also always a good idea to only handle them above soft or short distances, just in case you drop them.
That being said, blue-tongues often develop very fast bonds with their owners, being able to recognise their faces and voices. They are also one of the only lizard species that look directly at you with both eyes, giving them a more “personable” feel and familiarity.
They also really seem to like their heads and chins being rubbed, unlike virtually every other lizard I have ever handled!
This article has a lot to digest, and if it’s your first foray into the wonderful world of being a blue-tongued skink owner, it can initially feel overwhelming.
And I haven’t even gotten to things such as how to feed these awesome lizards, and how often, as well as how to set-up your terrarium.
Below is a quick-guide to reinforce the most important points from this article and hopefully, burn them into your memory.
- Only choose Australian northern blue-tongues
- Captive blueys live from 10 to 20 years
- Only buy from a reputable breeder (it will run you around $200)
- Captive blueys need a balanced diet of around 60% vegetables and 40% meats
- Pet blue-tongues also need a calcium supplement
- A wooden enclosure is the best, for temperature and humidity purposes
- The minimum recommended size is 48″ long, 18″ wide with 10″ tall
Lighting & Temperature
- You’ll need to create a temperature gradient, from 95 to 100 degrees on one side, to 75 to 80 degrees on the other
- You’ll need a UV-A and UV-B producing light, as well as undertank heating to maintain the gradient
- Humidity should be kept at 25 to 40%
- Blue-tongued skinks need substrate to burry and hide in
- Aspen wood shavings, cypress mulch and old newspaper are good options
- Stay clear of sand and cat litter
- Blueys are very personable and friendly with humans, but they will need an acclimatisation period
- Always pick up skinks carefully, keeping your arm or hand underneath their body for stability