If you are interested in the Shingleback blue-tongued skink, this quick guide will tell you what you need to know the most.
The Shingleback blue-tongued skink is easily the most recognisable of all skinks. It also has a ton of different names.
The Shingleback is also known as:
- the stumpy-tailed lizard
- the boggi
- the sleepy lizard
- the bobtail lizard
- the two-headed lizard
- the double-headed lizard
- the pinecone lizard
Like the other skink species, it also comes in a few subspecies varieties (subspecies are groups of a species that take on new characteristics. Four subspecies, to be exact.
- The Bobtail or Western Shingleback
- The Rottnest Island bobtail
- The Northern Bobtail
- The Eastern Shingleback
The differences in these subspecies are mostly related to geographic location, as well as their physical size and color. Most importantly however, all of the Western subspecies are known commonly as the “bobtail” lizard.
Visibly, Shingleback lizards are incredibly easy to identify and distinguish from other skinks.
They have a bulky, heavily-armored body made up of pinecone-like scales (hence one of their names) that gives them a rough, gritty appearance.
Although they are found in a wide-selection of colors, they will usually be some shade of brown or cream.
They have short, round tails that from a distance look extremely similar to their heads. In fact, this often confuses would be predators into mistakenly attacking their tails, giving these skinks a slightly higher chance of escape.
Interestingly, unlike the other skinks, the Shingleback doesn’t exhibit something called “tail autonomy”, which is when a lizard sheds its tail. Instead, the Shingleback uses its tail for fat storage and reserves, which it then uses for energy during the winter months.
Because of these fat reserves stashed away in their large, bulbous tails, these skinks are able to go without food for months and months.
Their unique tail also gives them another advantage living in the harsh, arid climate of Australia; surviving through the periodic droughts and famines that often afflict the country’s interior. Their fatty-tails and tough, armored-skin keeps water-loss minimal, and serves as protection against would-be predators.
As far as distribution, they are mostly native to the desert-like regions of Southern and Western Australia. The Eastern Shingleback is present in Eastern Australia, but only in the interior, and not along the coast.
They prefer to roam around the open country, using shrubs, tall grass, dunes and leaf litter as cover and protection.
They are very active in the morning, coming out of their hiding areas to find a basking spot. At night, they will take shelter under piles of leaves, or rocks or logs or any other kind of natural cover.
Typically, the Shingleback, like the other skinks, does not roam very far. They will generally find a small area with some natural cover as their “home”, and stay within that range for around 5 years. Day to day, they will usually stay within 500 meters of their home, only coming out to bask, mate and eat.
As the Shingleback is cold-blooded, just like other lizards, it needs to rely on its environment to warm it up. These sleepy lizards prefer to maintain temperatures of 30 to 35 degrees Celsius, but during the winter months they will burrow themselves in their homes, only coming out when it heats up a bit.
Like all the other skinks, Shinglebacks are omnivores that have quite a wide palette. They love to catch slow-moving snails and insects in their area, and have an intense liking to certain seasonal flowers and blossoms, especially ones yellow in color.
Sausage, chicken, cat food are also among their favorites, as are fruits such as bananas and passionfruit.
Among Australian pet-lizard enthusiasts, Shinglebacks have quite the devoted (but small) following, as they are tame, hardy and inquisitive creatures.
The only problem is cost. If you live outside of Australia and want to own one of these cute little bobtails, you’re going to need to shell out some serious moolah.
In Australia, captive-bred Shinglebacks sell for a few hundred dollars, but outside of Australia’s shores they easily fetch up to more than 10x that amount. Expect to pay a few thousand dollars minimum if you are in North America. In Japan, they have sold for as high as $10,000.
Although they are insanely expensive animals to own, they can live quite long, both in the wild and in captivity. Their average lifespan is around 15 years, with many living past 20, even in the wild.
Another interesting fact about these creatures is that, unlike the vast majority of other animals, Shinglebacks are also largely monogamous.
Once a male and female skink have mated, they will usually form a bond-pair that can last for decades. Their breeding season occurs in early autumn, and during this time period the male and female will spend almost all of their time together. Quite unusual for a lizard!
Even when the skinks go their separate ways after breeding season, they will refrain from mating with other lizards, eventually coming back to find their original mates by using scent trails.
Unlike some of the other skinks, such as the Adelaide pygmy, the Shingleback is not a threatened species. They are quite common in Australia, with most of the threats being feral animals such as dogs and foxes preying upon them.
When they are threatened, they will turn towards their predator, open their mouths as wide as possible, flick out their bright, blue tongues and hiss. This is often enough to deter would-be predators.
Shinglebacks are also threatened from animals such as predatory birds and large snakes, but their biggest killer by far is cars.
Shinglebacks are extremely attracted to paved roads, especially during the summer months, where they allow these lizards to spread out, bask and soak up the sun’s rays. Because of this, thousands of Shinglebacks are killed and maimed each year, being ran over and hurt while they are laying out on the roads.
They are also at risk from reptile ticks, which are commonly found on their bodies, lodged underneath their scales, around their ears, as well as parasitic worms.
If you would like to own a Shingleback, you’ll have to do so by using a reputable breeder, which, unlike the much more common Northern Blue-Tongued Skink, are not easy to find.
I would suggest first starting by joining this Facebook group, asking around on the board and going from there.