Basic Information Sheet: Northern Blue-Tongued Skink

Northern Blue-Tongued Skink (Tiliqua spp.)

BTS close-up

Photo credit: Conor Lawless via Flickr Creative Commons

Download the Skink Client Handout

Natural history


The blue-tongued skinks are represented by a variety of species, subspecies and races native to Australia, New Guinea and Indonesia. Two of the more common varieties in the pet trade are the northern, Tiliqua scincoides intermedia, and Irian Jaya, an undescribed T. scincoides. These ground-dwelling diurnal skinks have tiny legs and feet, heavy bodies, and a large, blue tongue that can be bared as a warning to potential enemies.

Some blue-tongued skinks are domestically bred, however many are imported from Indonesia and New Guinea.


Taxonomy


Class: Reptilia

Order: Squamata

Family: Scincidae-skinks, sandfish

Color and size


This large, heavy-bodied skink has ridged or “keeled” scales and dark crossbands. Pink to orange coloring is often found on the sides.

Adults reach 12-15 in (30-38 cm) in length.


Diet


Blue-tongued skinks are omnivores. They needs are best met by feeding a wide variety of foods:

  • The bulk of the diet (45-60%) should consist of greens. Feed dark, leafy greens like mustard, kale, dandelion and collard greens. Mix vegetables with the salad such as peas, green beans, corn, squash, carrots, sweet potato, cucumber, zucchini, green peppers, and parsley.
  • Also offer a protein source such as gut-loaded crickets, mealworms, and kingworms, snails, and the occasional pinky mouse. Some skinks may also accept earthworms. Juveniles eat more prey items than adults. Download the client handout: Feeding Insect Eating Reptiles for additional information.
  • Fruit and blossoms may be offered as treats. Dust the non-breeding adult’s diet with a calcium carbonate or calcium gluconate supplement once weekly. Calcium supplements should be devoid or low in phosphorus with a minimum Ca:P ratio of 2:1. A general vitamin/mineral supplement may also be offered once weekly.

Feed adults every 1-2 days.


Husbandry


Temperature Provide a temperature gradient with a cool end of 70-85°F (21-29°C) and a basking spot of 92-100°F (33-38°C) at the opposite end.
Humidity/water Maintain approximately 30% relative humidity
Fresh drinking water should always be available. The bowl or tub should be large enough for the skink to easily access.
Cage size and design At minimum, provide adults with a 40-55 gallon aquarium (or a cage of equivalent size), however these lizards have wide ranges in the wild and they will do best with much larger enclosures.
Cage furniture/supplies
  • Provide a full-spectrum light source for normal absorption of dietary calcium.
  • Provide hiding places at both ends of the enclosure.
  • Place a basking rock at the warm end of the cage.
  • Aspen shavings make an excellent cage substrate that allow the skink to burrow
Social structure Must be housed alone; even juveniles will fight savagely.

Lifespan


20+ years
Blue-tongued skinks are usually sexually mature by 2-3 years of age.

Anatomy/ physiology


Dermatologic: Unlike snakes, lizards normally exhibit a patchy shed or “ecdysis”.
Respiratory: Lizards have incomplete tracheal rings.
Sexual dimorphism: It can be difficult (and often impossible) to determine gender in skinks. Body size and head shape are typically evaluated, but there is considerable overlap between males and females. Mature males are more robust and larger. Females have a longer and finer head and males tend to have wider heads than females, but this distinction can be subtle.

Restraint


Blue-tongue skinks are considered to be very docile lizards, however always wash your hands before handling a skink to minimize the risk of smelling like one of their food items. Rawhide gloves help prevent scratches and give skinks a toe-hold while being held.

Never grasp a skink by the tail. Skinks possess tail autotomy, a defense mechanism that utilizes tail loss. A vertical fracture plane of fibroconnective tissue and cartilage runs through the body and part of the neural arch of each caudal vertebrae. The tail can fall off and will regrow as a cartilaginous rod, however skinks do not lose their tails easily.


Venipuncture



Preventive medicine


  • Regular physical examinations
  • Fecal parasite testing
  • Quarantine

Important medical conditions


      Blue-tongued skinks are relatively hardy, however common problems include:

      • Bite wounds (group housing)
      • Nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism or metabolic bone disease
      • Obesity
      • Cachexia from improper husbandry

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References