Dr. Wright’s Quick Guide to Blue-tongue Skinks

Blue-tongue skinks are among the best reptile pets available. They are a great choice if you don’t want to feed live insects to your pet lizard. A well-started, healthy, captive-bred baby blue-tongue skink grow up to be a “lap lizard” with appropriate attention and care. Typically, a well-kept blue-tongue skink live 10 to 20 years, often longer.

I recommend that you have your new blue-tongue skink examined by an experienced reptile veterinarian within the first few days or even before you bring it home. The veterinarian may find a hidden health problem that needs to be helped and will discuss what your new blue-tongue skink needs to be healthy.

I’ll give you a $25 discount if you schedule an appointment within 7 days of getting your blue-tongue skink and present your proof-of-purchase from the pet store or breeder.

WELLNESS PROGRAM: I offer a wellness program to help your blue-tongue skink live a long healthy life.

2 year old Eastern Blue-tongue skink

Dr. Wright and one of his captive-bred 2-year old Eastern blue-tongue skinks.

PICKING YOUR BLUE-TONGUE SKINK: Blue-tongues skinks  are by far the most popular hardy pet skink. A captive-bred baby Northern blue-tongue skink or Irian Jaya blue-tongue skink is a good choice. They are commonly available and grow up into large tame skinks. Eastern blue-tongue skinks, New Guinea blue-tongue skinks, Tanimbar Island blue-tongue skinks, and a few others species are occasionally available as captive-bred babies.  An excellent pictorial guide to the blue-tongue skinks is available at http://www.bluetongueskinks.net/

Wild-collected blue-tongue skinks are more commonly available in pet stores and reptile shows. The most commonly imported species are the New Guinea blue-tongue skinks and the Irian Jaya blue-tongue skink. Unlike their captive-bred counterparts, wild-collected blue-tongue skinks are often fussy about their diet and not particularly pleasant in disposition. They may hiss, wriggle wildly, and void their cloacal contents when picked up, and some will not hesitate to bite. Many never settle down to become calm handleable pets.  Wild-collected blue-tongue skinks often have internal parasites that need veterinary care.

Northern Blue-tongue skink
Northern blue-tongue skinks are one of the most commonly available as captive-bred babies.

CARE: Blue-tongue skinks are solitary reptiles outside of mating season so your new blue-tongue skink is best kept by itself. If you just want a pet it will not mind being kept alone. Many pet blue-tongue skinks will become quite friendly and beg to come out when they spot their main care-giver and some people have even given their blue-tongue skinks free reign of their home (which I do not recommend).

An adult blue-tongue skink needs a cage about 36 to 48 inches long, 18 to 24 inches deep, and 18 to 24 inches high. It should be well-ventilated. They will climb rocks and thick branches but do well in cages without a lot of height. Some people raise and breed them in sweater box racks designed for small boas and pythons but I prefer a more spacious and visible enclosure.

Baby blue-tongue skink

Dr, Wright with one of his captive-bred baby blue tongue skinks

In drier climates like Phoenix, Arizona, a mix of damp sphagnum moss and cypress mulch works well as a substrate while in more humid areas aspen shavings or newspapers may be good choices. A humid hide box should be provided (filled with damp sphagnum) even in wetter climates; this is essential in Arizona and other dry climates!

A daytime hot spot of 90 to 95°F at one end of the cage is important and may be provided by a white basking spotlight. The cool end of the cage should be in the mid-70s. At night the warm end of the cage should be between 80 to 85°F. This may be provided by an undertank heating element attached to a thermostat, an overhead ceramic heat element with a thermostat, or a red basking light bulb.

Ultraviolet-B light is very important for babies and growing skinks.  I recommend using a UVB light bulb such as ZooMed’s Repti-sun 5.0 compact bulb and having it on for 8 to 10 hours a day. This UVB light bulb should be no more than 18 inches above the bottom of the cage and will not work as well if there is screen between the bulb and your blue-tongue skink. It will not work at all if there is glass or plastic between the UVB bulb and your skink. If a baby does not get enough UVB and calcium it will develop kinks in its spine and other deformities.

A sturdy untippable crock works well for a water bowl. Keep the water bowl at the cool end of the cage. When the skink is in shed, the crock should be large enough for it to soak its whole body; at other times a smaller crock will do. Rinse well before placing it back in the cage. A shallow bath outside the cage two or three times a week is helpful.

Many blue-tongue skinks learn to drink from a spray of water. Spray until your blue-tongue skink is full but not so long that the cage becomes damp.

FEEDING: Blue-tongue skinks do not require live food and do well on a pellet-and-salad diet supplemented with vitamins.

I’ve kept and bred his blue-tongue skinks with the following diet:

Purina Kitten Chow (kibble) offered twice a week. Harrison’s High Potency Bird Pellets, Repto-Min, and Purina Beneful Playful Life (kibble) are offered occasionally. Thawed frozen mixed vegetables dusted with ZooMed’s Reptivite with D3 once a week Chopped fruit and chopped romaine dusted with calcium once a week

Blue tongue skinks

Baby blue tongue skinks feeding on a mix of baby food and soaked Harrison’s Bird Food pellets

Baby blue-tongue skinks usually will accept meat babyfood as a first meal. A small jaw of turkey baby food (2 ounces) should have 1/8 teaspoon of ZooMed’s Reptivite with D3 added to it. It may be placed on a plate. Some babies may need encouragement such as placing it on a spoon and touching it to their lips. Canned cat food may work for other babies. Once a baby blue-tongue skink has eaten its first meal, it will usually try other foods.  Crushed Purina Kitten Chow, Harrison’s High Potency Fine Pellets, and Repto-Min should be offered four times a week with chopped salad dusted with Reptivite with D3 three times a week.  Chop dark green leafy vegetables like romaine, escarole, collard greens, kale, or mustard greens into tiny pieces. Add shredded or finely grated carrots or sweet potato and small pieces of soft fruit. Most babies will ignore the salad at first but over time will start to sample it. Their appetite for salad seems to kick in once a baby is about 8 inches long.

If you smoke, do not smoke while holding your blue-tongue skink or in the same room as your blue-tongue skink. Better yet, smoke outside so that your blue-tongue skink doesn’t inhale any second-hand smoke.

COMMON PROBLEMS: As a general rule, if you think something is different with your blue-tongue skink you should schedule an appointment with a veterinarian. Most veterinary offices will listen to what’s wrong with your blue-tongue skink and let you know if your pet seems to have an emergency requiring immediate attention or if it has something that may wait for a scheduled appointment.

Blue-tongue skinks may lose their appetite or have diarrhea from a variety of conditions including bacterial infections, internal parasites, liver and kidney disease, and many other conditions.

Young blue-tongue skinks may develop deformed legs and kinked tails from low calcium (nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism or “metabolic bone disease”), low levels of ultraviolet-B light, or low cage temperatures.  lThis may also cause them to lose their appetite, limp or not move much, twitch, and seizure.

SEEK IMMEDIATE CARE for your blue-tongue skink if you see any of the following life-threatening conditions:

  • Not moving or moving weakly, not responding to touch or noise
  • Attacked by another animal, such as a cat or dog, or struck by an object
  • Open-mouth breathing, wheezes or clicks, forms bubbles in the nostrils or mouth
  • Seizures, twitches or rolls uncontrollably, frantically moves its legs and tails, staggers, has a head tilt or has its head rolled back
  • Bleeding that doesn’t stop, a broken bone or leg that is held in an odd position, an eye injury, or a cut in the skin that has a flap or exposes muscle or internal organs
  • Entire cage is above 95°F and it is open-mouth breathing or collapsed Something is coming out of its cloaca (vent) that is red, pink, white, black, green, or oozing blood, or it is straining to pass something
  • Swallowed a rock, large piece of mulch, or other indigestible object, or poisonous plant
  • Seems painful and refuses to move or bites at a body part

While the following signs may not be life-threatening, your blue-tongue skink needs veterinary care as soon as possible and no later than by the next day after you noticed the condition:

  • Hiding a lot or sleeping a lot
  • Excessive sneezing or crusty nose or eyes
  • Swelling or growth anywhere on its body
  • Crusts or other changes in the skin
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Stops eating or becomes fussy about what it eats
  • Has a dark or discolored toe or tail tip
Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians
Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians
American Board of Veterinary Practitioners
American Board of Veterinary Practitioners

Copyright 2012, Dr. Kevin Wright, DABVP (Reptile & Amphibian Specialist) Member of the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians Wright Bird & Exotic Pet House Calls Distinctive Veterinary Care for Unusual Pets (480) 495 3420 drkevinwright@q.com

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