Can Blue-Tongue Skinks Swim?

I came across a Youtube video of a couple watching their blue-tongue skink swim, which surprised me because I had always believed they weren’t able to. Just what exactly is the truth? 

So, can blue-tongue skinks swim?

The answer is yes, they can. However, they are not strong swimmers at all and often look very awkward or worse yet, very stressed out when put into deep water. Although they look “snake-like”, they aren’t able to swim as a lot of snakes do, by wiggling their bodies back and forth. 

There is a little bit more too this however, as although they can swim, they are only able to for short periods. I have seen people mistakenly put their blue-tongue in a deep pool and watch it swim for a bit, and then erroneously conclude that they can swim just fine.

The truth is a little more complicated than that.

Can Blue-Tongue Skinks Swim?

Here’s the thing.

Blue-tongue skinks CAN swim, but they certainly can’t swim well.

They can seem to float however, as evidenced by this video below.

As you can see, that particular blue-tongue looked somewhat comfortable in the water.

In other videos I’ve come across however, it’s pretty clear that they are struggling and trying to do everything they can to get out of the water, as evidenced by these next 2 videos.

In their natural environment, blue-tongues almost always stay on dry land, only venturing to water to drink.

Their short, stubby limbs and thick bodies make them fairly poor swimmers.

Thus, I would hold off on putting them in any pool if I were you, as it most likely stresses them out and moreover, the chlorine from the pool would undoubtedly be harmful to them.

But what about shallow pools where they can touch the bottom? Does that mean you can’t bathe them?

The answer is that you can bathe blue-tongues every now and again, but that you should adhere to the following guideline:

Only put them into a kiddie pool or large bucket with a few inches of water and that’s it. The water should NOT reach up to their head. 

You’ll also want to use warm-water as blueys are cold-blooded lizards and chilly water will drop their metabolism.

This will ensure that:

  • your lizard isn’t stressed out
  • your lizard won’t be at risk of drowning

If kept in a deep-enough body of water without supervision, the chances of your bluey drowning increase dramatically. Always be around your bluey during baths, just in case.

This brings up another question you may be interested in. If blue-tongue skinks can swim, what about other lizards? Can all lizards swim?

Can Lizards Swim?

Most lizard species are able to swim, although the vast majority rarely do so.

They are able to for one simple reason; they have four legs and 5 toes with enables them to do so.

Some lizards are even semi-aquatic, such as the marine iguana (or saltwater iguana).

They live exclusively in the Galapagos Islands and despite their fierce exterior, they are actually herbivores who live on underwater algae and seaweed. They look a lot like crocodiles when they swim. Their population is not known and they are listed as a vulnerable species.

Another lizard native to Africa, the Nile monitor, is even scarier.

These lizards have been known to grow freakishly long, up to nearly 7 feet! Their nostrils are placed up high on their noses, an adaptation which greatly helps them in the water.

Brought over by traders, these massive monitors now have spread throughout parts of Florida, where humans, dogs and cats often run into them.

Other lizards that have been known to swim are:

  • water dragons
  • basilisks
  • sailfin dragons

Can Lizards Breathe Underwater? 

There is no species of lizard that is able to breathe underwater, but there are a few species that are able to hold their breathe for an impressive amount of time.

In order to breathe underwater, you would need a special adaptation, such as gills (with fish) or skin that would enable you to absorb oxygen from the water.

Lizards have neither of these adaptations, and, like most other humans, instead have lungs.

That being said, there are some species of lizard which can stay beneath the surface of the water for quite a bit of time.

Monitor lizards for instance have been known to stay submerged for over 20 minutes in captivity.

Interestingly, monitor lizards are able to breathe uni-directionally, which means that their breathe can capture oxygen from the air both when they inhale and exhale. This is an adaptation that is normally associated with birds, and may partially explain why they are so successful as a lizard species.

However, the King of the Holding Breathe crown goes to the marine iguana, which are able to stay submerged for over 40 minutes on dives.

In fact, Charles Darwin himself, on his famous visit to the Galapagos Islands, witnessed a marine iquana stay underneath the water for over an hour.

Can You Drown a Lizard? 

In light of everything said above, namely that:

  • lizards lack gills or any special adaptation to extract oxygen from water
  • many species can swim but most are land-based

Lizards can absolutely drown in water. 

In fact, many pet owners make the mistakes of putting them into bowls or buckets of water that are too deep to bathe or soak in, and come back to a dead animal.

As lizards are cold-blooded animals, the outside temperature and humidity regulates their metabolism. When it gets cold, they slow down.

Putting a lizard into a deep bucket or pool of cold water exponentially increases the chances of a drowning occurring. 

How long does it take for a lizard to drown?

It depends on several factors, such as the species, how big it is, and what the temperature of the water is, but it can range from over 20 minutes to just a few minutes, particularly for a lot of smaller lizard species. 

Thus, it is imperative that you supervise your pet at all times when around water. 

To summarize everything in this article:

  • blue-tongue skinks can swim, however they are quite poor at it due to their physiology
  • swimming often stresses them out
  • to bathe them, put them in a shallow bucket or pool that is only 1 or 2 inches deep of warm water
  • most other lizard species are able to swim, some quite well, such as the marine iguana and Nile monitor
  • lizards are unable to breathe underwater, but some species, such as the marine iguana, can stay submerged for over 40 minutes
  • lizards can easily drown in water given the right circumstances, thus constant supervision is needed

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