Blue-tongue skinks are awesome animals. Don’t believe me? Then these 15 facts may just change your mind. Some of these just might shock you!
#1 – There are 1,500 Skink Species in the World – But Only 1 Has a Blue-Tongue
Blue-tongue skinks belong to the skink lizard family, known by its scientific name scincidae. And believe it or not, scincidae is the largest lizard, and one of the most diverse, lizard families in the world. Skink-like lizards started showing up in the fossil record about 140 million years ago, so they’ve definitely got some history behind them.
Skinks basically look like snakes, but with cute little legs.
They come in tons of different shapes, sizes, colors and abilities:
- some skinks can climb
- some skinks can run fast
- some skinks lay eggs, and others give birth to live young
And, they can be found just about anywhere! There are skink species living on every continent in the world except for Antarctica.
Despite all that insane diversity, one and one species alone sports that famous blue-tongue, Tiliqua!
Blue-tongue skinks are broken down into several species.
- Adelaide pygmy blue-tongue skinks
- Indonesian blue-tongue skinks
- Centralian blue-tongue skinks
- Blotched blue-tongue skinks
- Western blue-tongue skinks
- Shingleback blue-tongue skinks
- Irian Jaya blue-tongue skinks
#2 They Use Their Blue-Tongues to Ward Off Predators
The blue-tongue skink has a HUGE problem.
- it can’t run fast and escape from predators
- it has little puny legs so it can’t really use them to fight back
- it doesn’t have teeth so it’s bite isn’t that dangerous
- it can’t climb trees to escape
- it can’t emit poison, or an odorous-cloud of funk or roll into a ball of prickly needles
In the wild, where Mother Nature is often merciless, the blue-tongue skink isn’t exactly packing a big punch of leave-me-alone.
Or is it?
A lot of times Mother Nature has indeed given these animals a means to fight back. They are called deimatic displays.
A deimatic display is something that has the purpose of momentarily stunning, confusing or saying “leave me alone!” to a would-be predator.
Examples of deimatic displays are:
- when a frilled lizard unveils its large frills around its head
- when a cat hisses
- when an octopus ejects a stream of black-ink
And how do blue-tongue skinks scream “Don’t touch me!”?
Through flicking their bright blue tongues!
You see, in the wild, bright colors usually scream “dangerous” or “poison“. Usually just the mere sight of them are able to scare or ward off would-be predators.
blue-tongue skinks use their blue-tongue to ward off predators, in the wild bright colors usually mean “dangerous” or “poison”.
But it seems that Mother Nature has given blue-tongues an “extra boost” to this special-power.
According to new research from Macquarie University in Australia, the back of a blue-tongue skink’s tongue is brighter and loaded with tons of UV.
Why is this important?
Because this is the part of the tongue that the skink will flick and show when backed up against a wall and fearful of being attacked. It’s thought that many of the blue-tongue’s common predators, such as certain birds and snakes, are able to see these UV rays.
So imagine being a snake, getting ready to devour a seemingly helpless blue-tongue, when all of the sudden he starts flicking his entire tongue out, completely surprising you!
#3 They Cannot Climb
At first glance, you might think that blue-tongue skinks can climb.
After all, snakes can climb trees, although they do fall from time to time.
There are lots of skinks species that can climb. Pink-tongue skinks for instance, which look quite similar to blue-tongues, except for the fact that they are a lot smaller and, like their name suggests, sport pink rather than blue-tongues, can rather easily climb trees.
But not blue-tongues.
It’s probably due to the fact their legs, relative to their body, are incredibly short. They are also quite fragile, as evidenced by how easy it is for their toes to fall off.
Whatever the case may be, blue-tongues are just straight-up terrible climbers.
Trees are out of the question, as is anything that is quite steep. In terms of what they can climb, it’s very limited.
Basically, rocks, stones, logs and branches that can support their weight while also be mostly level to the ground.
#4 They Will Eat Anything
Blue-tongues are what are known as “omnivore generalists“. That’s basically a fancy term for “will eat almost anything and everything that it can shove into its mouth.”
Another common omnivore generalist is the dog.
Because blue-tongues are quite limited in their ability to hunt; they are slow, flight-less animals that lack strong claws and a strong bite, they basically have to eat what they can.
A common blue-tongue skink diet in the wild will often consist of:
- carrion (dead rotted meat)
- insects that are easy to catch, like worms
- trampled or rotting flowers and vegetables
And they will thrive on it. This is perhaps why we think of blue-tongues as such hardy animals. They subsist on a garbage diet (sometimes quite literally), rarely get sick and manage to survive just fine.
Whatever you put inside your blue-tongue’s cage, your skink will eat it. As long as it can fit it in its mouth.
Interestingly enough, one of the best foods you can give a blue-tongue (and in my opinion, the best overall staple food), is a good, high-quality wet premium canned dog food.
It’s actually unbelievably healthy for them, and gives them an excellent “base” on which to supplement other foods.
#5 They Don’t Lay Eggs, But Give Live Birth
One of the biggest differences between mammals and reptiles is that the former give live birth while the latter lay eggs (usually).
Reptiles in general lay 2 types of eggs, hard and soft. Reptiles that lay hard eggs, like the kind you would eat, are animals such as:
Whereas a lot of other reptiles give birth to soft-shelled eggs, such as:
- most snake species
But did you know that blue-tongue skinks join a very short list of reptiles that give live birth? This very short list includes:
- garter snakes
- the jackson’s chameleon
Typically, many blue-tongue species will breed in the fall months, around April, May and June and begin brumation during the Australian winter, which takes place during North America’s summer.
After their brumation ends, often times female skinks will emerge with a new litter of blue-tongue skinks!
#6 They Sneeze to Clear Out Their Nostrils
If you are around blue-tongue skinks, you will inevitably hear them sneeze.
At first glance, you may be tempted to think that just like humans, they are dealing with a cold.
The truth is almost every time their sneeze isn’t because a reaction to some kind of infection, but because they are clearing and cleaning out their nostrils!
The substrates and beddings that blue-tongues live on, things such as:
- aspen wood chips
…get dusty and dirty. These fine dust particles then make their way into the skink’s nose, which can cause irritation.
Their sneeze is simply a means to clear this out.
That being said, a sneeze can sometimes signal something serious going on with your skink, usually some type of respiratory infection. The tell-tale sign of this is kind of a “wet sneeze”. For more information on blue-tongues and sneezing, check out this article I wrote here.
#7 Albino Blue-Tongues Have Pink Tongues
Every once in a while 2 perfectly healthy, normal-colored blue-tongues will breed and out will pop an albino skink.
Albinos are called “blizzard lizards” and are quite rare in the blue-tongue skink world. This is because not only is albinism itself rare, but because to date no one (that I know of) has successfully bred an albino blue-tongue on purpose.
But when you do come across them, they are quite a sight to see!
It’s easy to identify them. They will usually have be white with cream-colored stripes or completely white with tinges of gold around their scales. Their eyes will be red, but most interestingly, they will have pink rather than blue-tongues!
What’s really crazy though is that there are also blue-tongues which are leucistic. Essentially, these guys are all white or very lightly-colored, with no stripes or markings AND they sport blue or black eyes.
These awesome little guys are NOT the same thing as albinos, which you can easily identify through their red eyes and pink tongues.
#8 Most Blue-Tongues Can Drop Their Tail
Many lizard and reptile species are able to drop their tail, something that in the animal world is known as autonomy.
Mother Nature has given them this special ability as a last-ditch means to escape from the clutches of a predator. Often, a dropped tail will continue to wiggle and move about, further distracting the would-be predator.
For blue-tongue skinks, this is an exceptionally handy defense-mechanism, as this species in general is pretty-much unarmed in the wild.
- blue-tongues lack the ability to climb and run away fast
- their legs are small, fragile and lack any real threatening claws
- they lack sharp teeth to tear out a chunk of their opponent’s body
- they lack poison
Because they are so defense-less, often times predators get the better of them. But, with this special ability, at least they have a fighting chance!
The really cool thing is that even after a blue-tongue has dropped its tail, it will eventually regenerate and grow back, though not quite to its original size and shape.
Every blue-tongue skink species has this ability save for the Shingleback skink.
I wrote a more in-depth article about this very topic which you can find here.
#9 Their Nickname Is “The Cadillac of the Pet Lizard World”
I have to admit, I first chuckled as well the first time I heard this one. I also wasn’t quite sure what it meant.
There isn’t a whole lot of information out on the net about why they are referred to as this, or when this seems to have started. It just seems to be a thing I guess.
I suppose they are called this as these animals are quite sleek, refined, gentle and hardy, much the same as a Cadillac (?).
I don’t know, I’ve never owned a Cadillac so I can’t really tell you.
The name is funny though.
#10 Scientists Still Aren’t Sure About Irian Jayas
Irian Jaya is the old name for West Papau, which is a province in Indonesia close to Australia. It’s also known as Western New Guinea.
Scientifically, they are referred to simply as tiliqua sp. The sp here just means species. So whereas other species, such as Northerns, get an actual scientific classification (tiliqua scincoides) these guys don’t, and that is because scientists still don’t know a whole lot about them!
One of the reasons for this is because they are incredibly hard to identify. Whereas Northerns and Indonesians are quite easy to identify, Irian Jayas have a huge variance in their appearance. For instance:
- they can be lighter or darker in color
- they can have thick or thin bands
- they can look like Meraukes or Easterns
So what often happens is among breeders and owners is that they identify Irian Jayas through a process of elimination. Basically, first determine it can’t be an Indonesian, it can’t be a Meruake, etc.
There are a few theories about how these little-understood creatures came about. One theory is that millions of years ago, there was a common ancestor to both Indonesian and Australian Blue-Tongues. After these different species spread out and became isolated, differences started to appear. Eventually, Northern Blue-Tongues crossed the land bridge from Australia to New Guinea and interbred with the Indonesians there, created tiliqua sp.
Whatever the case, you cannot breed an Irian Jaya, as in, create them. They are naturally occurring in the wild.
Moreover, the only way you can get them is via Indonesia, due to Australia’s export laws.
#11 The Pygmy Blue-Tongue Is Endangered
The Adelaide Pygmy Blue-Tongue Skink is the smallest of all the blue-tongues, and the most threatened.
They are insanely small, less than 11 centimeters from snout to vent and only live in a very small region north of the Australian city of Adelaide, in South Australia.
They are currently listed as endangered by the Australian government and were actually once thought to be extinct a few decades ago. However, in 1992 they were rediscovered, and soon thereafter began to be extensively studied.
The interesting thing about these tiny blue-tongues is that they live in wolf and trapdoor spider burrows. Yikes! The will inhabit a spider burrow, kick out the original tenant and then lay and wait at the edge for passing by spiders and insects. Other times they will burrow in deeper, relaxing and hiding from any danger from above.
They are listed as endangered as there are only 10 current populations of these beautiful creatures, numbering some 5 to 7,000 in total.
The biggest threat to them has been the cultivation of farmland.
Adelaide Pygmy Skinks are illegal to own and to export, so unfortunately, you and I can never own one.
However, the good news is that thanks to conversation efforts the Pygmy Blue-Tongue Skink is on its way to being listed as “vulnerable“, down from “endangered” as its population slowly begins to build.
#12 Cars are a HUGE Threat to Blue-Tongues
As Blue-Tongues are relatively slow, unable to climb and often have difficulty fighting back against their predators, some of their biggest threats include:
- feral cats and dogs
- birds of prey
- any larger, hungry animal
However, this list is by no means exhaustive, as every year literally thousands of skinks are maimed or killed on…
…roads, particularly in their native Australian environment.
The biggest reason for this is that roads make excellent basking spots for blue-tongues. They are easily accessible and do a great job of soaking up and reflecting heat. Thus, it’s not rare to see these animals basking on a hot day on a road somewhere.
And when that happens, accidents happen.
This is made worse as humans continually develop and expand farmland, cities and suburbs into what was once untainted habitats and areas.
#13 There are All Black Blue-Tongue Skinks
While you might’ve been aware of albino blue-tongues, here’s something that is going to totally shock you. I know because it shocked me the first time I saw one!
There are blue-tongue skinks that are entirely black. And by black, I mean a deep, dark black with deep, dark black eyes.
They are known as hyper-melanistic blue-tongue skinks.
These hyper-melanistic skinks do not occur in nature as far as I am aware, and instead are bred this way. They are basically “upgraded” versions of heterozygos blue-tongues.
Heteroozygos blue-tongue skinks are essentially skinks that are naturally darker and blacker than normal. They often have black spots or black bands throughout their body.
A hyper-melanistic blue-tongue is created by pairing two heterozygos skinks together and…out pops an all-black skink!
As more and more blue-tongues are interbred and bred with the intention of creating new colors, I would expect to see even wilder color patterns in the future.
#14 One of Australia’s First Identified Lizards Was a Blue-Tongue
European explorers first started entering Australian waters in the 1600’s, but it wasn’t until Captain Cook’s voyage in 1790 when the Brits claimed the giant continent-country as their own.
Right around the same time, zoology was increasingly becoming a professional scientific discipline, so it wasn’t a surprise when the blue-tongue skink was logged as one of the first Australian reptiles to be seen in the new land in 1790, during John White’s ‘Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales.’
In the journal, it is called the ‘scincoid’ or scink-formed lizard’ and is given the following description:
“Now if it was a monster, arising either from accident, or originally so formed, it would hardly be so common as to be taken notice of. The…… animal is of a dark iron-grey colour, which is of different shades in different parts, forming a kind of stripes across the back and tail….. Its legs are short and strong, covered with the same kind of scales as the body, but the scales of the feet are not.”
#15 Some Blue-Tongue Species Can Cost Over $5,000!
Lastly, did you know that some of these animals can be had for as much as $5,000? Even more!
For instance, this albino adult blue-tongue has an asking price of $7,000!
Typically, a captive-born and bred Northern for instance will generally run you under a $1,000 or so pretty easily. It really just depends on location, the breeder and the species that you want.
However, as more and more blue-tongues are cross-bred and come out in wilder and wilder colors (like those hyper-melanistic skinks), they have started to become wildly popular in reptile shows around the world. And with that, comes insane prices!
In terms of pricing, generally:
- Indonesian species are the cheapest (as they are wild caught and exported)
- Northerns and Irian Jayas are a step up in price
- Shinglebacks, centralians, blotcheds, albinos, heterozygos and hyper-melanistic skinks are a jump up in price from that
Basically, the rarer and less common the animal, the more you’re going to pay. But, you probably didn’t know it would cost you that much!
I hope you enjoyed this article, and I hope that at least a few of these facts surprised you. If so, drop a line at the bottom!