In order to properly set-up a blue-tongue skink enclosure, you’ll need to follow a few steps. But fear not, because it’s quite straightforward. 

Basically, the steps that you want to take will look like this:

  1. Clean the tank / paint / installing the heat pad
  2. Prepare and place the substrate inside
  3. Figure out where to place the water bowl
  4. Figure out where to place the hide-ins
  5. Place any extra accessories
  6. Set up the humidity, temperature and lighting

Now, I wish it were that simple, but it’s not. It’s not overly complicated either, it’s just that each of these points needs to a little more explaining (some more than others!).

Step 1: Cleaning the Tank / Installing the Heat Pad 

Before you even think about placing anything inside your brand new (or used) terrarium, you’ll need to properly clean it.

You’ll need to clean it first as:

  • there is sometimes gunk and junk still attached to parts of the tank from the manufacturer or shipping process
  • there is often residue from unhealthy chemicals or dust from the manufacturer or shipping process

Now, before I get into how to properly clean it, I want to make a real important point here, and that is regarding the size of your tank.

It’s extremely important.

Ideally, you should purchase or obtain the largest tank you can get or put inside your home. 

I know that tanks can be quite pricey, so if you are struggling with being able to afford a larger tank, I would also suggest looking into used tanks from a place like craigslist.

That being said, here are some very basic guidelines to follow:

  • a single adult blue-tongue should be housed in a terrarium from 55 to 75 gallons
  • baby blue-tongues can be put into smaller, 20-gallon tanks for the time being

Although some people suggest that it is better to just get the biggest tank you can get, there are still some people (I am not one of them) that say that it might be better to get a smaller tank while your blue-tongue is still a baby, as he or she is likely to “get lost” in a larger tank, or feel less secure.

In my opinion, this is wrong for 2 reasons:

  • I think it’s silly to buy a temporary tank as blue-tongues mature very fast (in a few years)
  • If you think a 75 gallon tank is too large, what about when they are born in the wild?

Anyways, the main point here, is get the biggest tank you can possibly afford.

Secondly, you don’t need a tall tank, as it’s not gallons that matter, but floor space.

The more floor space = the better. 

Just 10 inches tall is more than enough to house any blue-tongue skink, as they are quite terrible at climbing. The chances of them escaping are very small.

That being said, it’s still better to have some kind of top to the tank. This can almost anything, but it will also contribute to your skink feeling safe and secure inside.

Obviously, if you have more than 1 blue-tongue, your total floor space should be increased accordingly.

Basically:

  • get the tank with the most floor space you can afford and keep inside your house
  • clean the tank to remove any potentially toxic residue or left-over gunk
  • consider painting the back side a black or dark-color (this will also contribute to your blue-tongue feeling safe and secure, as they like “cramped” spaces)

At this point, you will also need to attack a heat pad to the bottom of your tank. These are quite inexpensive and they are also easy to install.

It’s at this point that you will need to think about how you will divide your tank, as the heat pad should be one end of your tank. 

After your tank is cleaned, we can get to the fun stuff.

Step 2: Adding the Substrate

The substrate that you choose and add into your terrarium has a huge effect on your blue-tongue’s health and well-being.

I wrote a pretty comprehensive post on the best substrates for your particular species over here, which I would implore you to check out if you are totally clueless about the subject.

Essentially, different blue-tongue species will require different substrates.

For Australian species, the best substrates are:

  • aspen wood shavings
  • sani-chips
  • care-fresh
  • topsoil

For Indonesian species, the best beddings are:

  • cypress mulch
  • topsoil
  • coco-fiber and coco-husk
  • sphagnum moss
  • fir bark

It’s a very good idea to mix and match these, to provide a more “natural” bedding environment. 

Things that you never want to use as bedding are:

  • cedar chips
  • cat litter
  • sand or gravel
  • paper
  • carpet
  • pine or cedar
  • any type of shell

In the link above, I briefly explain why each of these are terrible for your skink.

A common question that I see from new blue-tongue enthusiasts is “How much bedding should I put in? How many inches?”

Basically, the more bedding in your tank, the better (up to a degree). 

Blue-tongues love and need to burrow into the earth. It helps immensely to de-stress, and “get away” from their environment.

Without this ability, they are liable to develop harmful behaviors.

Ideally, I would recommend at least a few inches of substrate. Obviously, when it gets around 5 or so inches is when it starts to be too much, and starts to “fill in” too much of your tank.

Just enough that allows them to completely burrow themselves I would say is sufficient. 

Step 3: Adding the Water Bowl 

The next step in our process is to add your water bowl.

Now, there is a reason why this steps come third, and not last, or next to last.

You can place your water bowl theoretically anywhere, but I would highly advise you to place it in a location where:

  • it is easy to get in and out of
  • it is away from the basking area (you don’t want your water heated up)

As long as these 2 conditions are met, you are good.

So, what kind of water bowls work best with blue-tongue skinks?

In my experience, ceramic dog bowls work amazingly well. 

  • they are too heavy for your skink to knock over
  • they come in tons of different sizes
  • they are high-sided, this keeps substrate out of the water and turning it into slush

You can burrow it a tad into the substrate to keep it rock solid. Again, make sure there is an area where your blue-tongue can easily access it.

I would also suggest to put an empty, clean water bowl into your terrarium first, and then add water.

It’s super common to spill water elsewhere when you are adding water, and if there is any bit of wetness anywhere, your skink will make a complete mess of everything soon enough.

Bottled water is ideal, but tap or well water is also OK. However, I would suggest adding a water conditioner first, to remove chlorines from the water and make it safer for your bluey.

Lastly, you will need to clean and detoxify your water bowl before placing it inside.

You can do this in a variety of ways:

  • pour boiling water over it and letting it sit inside
  • mix a bleach/water solution and let it sit in that for at least a few hours
  • coat it with a permathrin spray (you should be able to find this in your local supermarket) and wash by hand or the dishwasher

You’ll want to use something a little stronger than just dish soap, as mites and bacteria are your enemy here. If they get inside, it will make your life a lot more miserable.

Step 4: Add Hide-ins 

A hide-in is just what its name suggests, a place for your blue-tongue to hide and completely get away from being seen.

In every bluey terrarium, you will need at least one.

Here’s a few basic guidelines to follow:

  • the more natural looking, the better (so things like half-logs and stone-looking caves work great)
  • the more compacted, the better (sometimes big is bad here, as skinks love to burrow and hide in compact, tight places)
  • the more hide-ins you have, the better 
  • your hide-ins can be placed pretty much anywhere 

I’m partial to half-logs, as you can do quite a bit with these:

  • they look natural
  • you can easily switch their position and stance to give a bit of variety in the tank
  • you can bury them into the substrate, to make your blue-tongue feel even more secure, compact and dark
  • they are cheap, easy to find online and come in a bunch of different sizes

Flat cave looking hide-ins also work well, as you can use the top of these as a basking area, while burrowing it a bit under the substrate to keep the hiding place cooler.

This is the easy and fun part, just make sure that you thoroughly disinfect the hide-in before putting it into the terrarium.

Step 5: Adding Accessories 

Accessories, as their name suggests, are not necessary.

These are things such as:

  • artificial or live plants or tiny trees
  • branches or logs
  • rocks
  • anything else you may want to put inside for decorative purposes

Generally, I wouldn’t really advise to put any of these into your terrarium unless you have a very large tank, bigger than 75 gallons. 

If your tank is 75 gallons or smaller, I think it’s better to use a second hide-in.

The reasons for this is simple:

  • blue-tongues prefer plenty of open space (remember it’s floor space that matters)
  • blue-tongues are fairly terrible climbers, so it’s not like they will be able to actually use a lot of accessories
  • they could be potentially dangerous to your blue-tongue (if the skink climbs on top of a high rock and falls, for instance)

However, at the end of the day, this is your call and if you’ve got a bigger tank, by all means decorate it as you wish!

Just remember, as with hide-ins and the water bowl to disinfect and clean anything before using it.

Step 6: Setting Up Lighting 

Last, but certainly not least, we need to set up lighting.

I must forewarn you, this will take a bit of experimentation to get right, as it requires a little bit of testing.

Basically, you will need to do a few things here:

  • create a basking area for your skink at one end of your terrarium
  • make sure that this is basking area is easily accessible
  • make sure that your water bowl is far away from this area
  • make sure that this area is the correct temperature

You want to create a temperature gradient inside your terrarium, where one side is hot, the other cool and there is a nice gradient of temperatures in between.

This is because blue-tongue skinks control their body temperature through thermo-regulation, the outside environment. They will need both temperature zones (hot and cool) to stay healthy and fight off disease. 

For temperature zones, here are some good guidelines that will cover almost every species:

  • 85 to 95 degrees in the basking area
  • 75 to 82 on the cool side

Obviously, you will need to tinker with these a bit to see how hot and how cool your skink prefers it.

If he or she stays too long in one particular area, that probably means that your temperatures are off.

Personally, I wouldn’t recommend setting the basking area hotter than 95 degrees, as sometimes the outside temperature can affect this and make it a lot hotter than it’s supposed to be. Once the temperature starts getting past 105 to 110, your skink can sometimes start to burn.

Humidity will also play a factor here:

  • humidity level should be around 25% for Australians species
  • this should be higher for Indonesian species, around 40%

For recommended UV lights, check out this quick article (it’s not long and good quality ones can be found for not much money).

If you live in colder climates, you will also need a heat pad to put on the bottom of your tank. These can also be found quite cheap.

The purpose of these is to provide a warmer area at night, when the UV lights are turned off (keep them on for a maximum of 12 hours per day).

I know that video is a lot better than text when it comes to figuring setting something up, so I looked around a bit for informative, but short videos on good, comprehensive skink set-ups.

Here’s a good set-up explanation that I like.

And that’s all there really is to it!

Setting up a bluey skink isn’t all that complicated, and should take a few hours at the absolute most.

To recap:

  1. Clean the tank / paint / installing the heat pad
  2. Prepare and place the substrate inside
  3. Figure out where to place the water bowl
  4. Figure out where to place the hide-ins
  5. Place any extra accessories
  6. Set up the humidity, temperature and lighting

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