The Intelligent Blue-tongued Skink

The Intelligent Blue-tongued Skink

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Blue-Tongued Skinks have to be one of the best pet lizards. They are very docile and easy to handle, they are hardy and easy to feed, they are average in size, and they have a beautiful appearance with a brilliant blue tongue which they are always sliding in and out of their mouths. What more could you want from a skink!

These lizards are diurnal and are intelligent, laid back and sturdy. The adult size can vary between species but not by much. They average around 45 – 55cm. The Northern Blue-Tongued Skink (T.scincoides intermedia) can easily reach lengths of 60cm and the Meruka (T.gigas evanescens) can also measure up to 60cm, with occasional reports of sizes up to 65cm. Blue-Tongued Skinks have a longer life span than most lizards and can live anywhere between 20 and 30 years.

Species and sub-species

So you thought there was only one Blue-Tongued Skink…wrong! There are 12 different species and sub-species of the Blue-Tongued Skink in the genus Tiliqua. The three most commonly available in the pet trade are the Indonesian, the scientifically undesignated Iran Jaya, and the Northern. The 12 species and sub-species are as follows:

1. Northern (T. scincoides) from Australia

2. Western (T. occipitalis) from Australia

3. Eastern (T. s. scincoides) from Australia

4. Centralian (T. multifasciata) from Australia

5. Merauke (T. gigas evanescens) from eastern Indonesia (mostly in Papua New Guinea)

6. Tanimbar Island (T.scincoides chimaerea) from Indonesia

7. Iran Jaya (Tiliqua spp.) from eastern Indonesia

8. Indonesian (T. g. gigas)

9. Kei Island ( T. gigas keiensis) from Indonesia

10. Blotched (T. nigrolutea) from southern Australia and Tasmania

11. Shingleback (T. r. rugosa) From Australia

12. Pygmy (T. adelaidensis) from Adelaide, Australia

Housing

Floor space is an important factor when housing Blue-Tongued Skinks and not height, and the more floor space the better. One adult Blue-Tongued Skink will require a enclosure with a floor space of at least 100 x 30cm. Smaller enclosures are suitable for babies, but remember that they grow fast so it might be a better option to buy a large cage once off. Contrary to popular belief, baby Blue-Tongues do well in large enclosures. When considering an enclosure, keep in mind that these lizards are diurnal and make great display animals, so ideally you would like a display enclosure with a glass front that allows you to watch your Blue-Tongued Skink patrolling his cage, and basking at his hotspot.

It is important that you include a basking spot in your enclosure, which ideally should consist of a large smooth rock like surface which is placed under a heat bulb like the Zoomed Repti Basking Spot Lamp which should be around 100w, depending on the size of the enclosure. Make sure that the rock or whatever surface you choose to use is large enough for your lizard to stretch out on. Also place many hiding places in your skink’s enclosure. I use an artificial half log, which works very well and looks very attractive. Substrates can include sand, newspaper and sawdust.

Albino & Melanistic Eastern Blue Tongue Skinks (Tiliqua scincoides scincoides)

Albino & Melanistic Eastern Blue Tongue Skinks (Tiliqua scincoides scincoides)

Lighting

Blue-Tongued Skinks require a wide temperature gradient, consisting of a hot side, a cool side and a middle range. Regular day time temperatures on the basking end should be between 32-37˚C, with the cooler end being around 22-25˚C. It has been said that Blue-Tongued Skinks do not require ultraviolet lighting, although I would recommend using it. Having a UVB bulb like the ZooMed Reptisun 5.0, lights up the enclosure nicely and provides ideal UVB rays. I find it hard to believe that these skinks are excluded from the benefits of ultraviolet rays. Even better, try and get your lizard out into the natural sunlight. I have known people that have successfully kept and bred Blue-Tongued Skinks in outdoor aviaries in KZN. They created artificial burrows and had protected heating lamps for those colder days. Whatever lighting you choose to use, you will need to make sure that it is off for at least 12 hours a day. A natural night time cool down period is part of the natural daily temperature cycle that they experience in the wild, but make sure that the temperature doesn’t get lower than 13˚C as they will go into brumation.

Diet

These omnivorous lizards require a balanced diet. Supply a diet that consists of 50% greens and vegetables, 40% meat and 10% fruit. Vegetables can consist of mulberry leaves, nasturtium leaves, baby marrow, grated butternut and mixed vegetables. The meat serving can consist of crickets, roaches and mealworms or tinned cat food. Any snails you find in your garden can be fed to your Blue-Tongued Skink, who will love these and will eat them without delay, leaving only the shell behind. If feeding cat food do not over-feed, as they can become obese. Fruits of all varieties are accepted, including baby food. Provide a large, sturdy shallow water bowl with clean water at all times.

Sexing and Breeding

One of the biggest problems faced when it comes to breeding Blue-Tongued Skinks is sexing them. Some people have attempted popping them when they are young, at times you may get to see the hemipenes which means that your skink is a male. Unfortunately this is not always reliable as often the hemipenes will not pop out and you think that the animal is a female but it is actually a male. The only reliable way to tell the difference between sexes is when your lizards are mature. Male animals should be older than a year and females should be older than two years. One method to determine sex, but which is not always accurate, is by looking at the base of the tail for hemi-penile bulges. Look straight at the flap and if you see two bulges to the left and right then there is a good chance you have a male.

Another method that is 100% accurate is by inspecting your skink’s droppings for a sperm plug. This only happens at random and usually during the winter months, but if you see a sperm plug then you know for sure that you have a male. Unfortunately the sperm plugs are often missed or absorbed by the substrate.

The sex of the animal can also be determining during mating time. Once animals are introduced to each other the females with generally react with a frantic whipping of their tail and males will attempt to bite the females on back of the neck. If you have two males they will most likely end up fighting and if you have two females then they will do nothing.

When your Blue-Tongued Skinks are old enough to breed you will need to put them through a ‘cooling period’, called brumation, that lasts through the cooler months from May through to August. In May, stop all feeding and begin to lower temperatures slowly over a period of two weeks until temperatures are maintained between 6-15˚C. These temperatures are maintained until the end of August when they are slowly increased over two weeks back to normal temperatures. Once temperatures are back to normal feeding can resume as usual. During the cooling period no food is offered, only clean water. Leave your skinks undisturbed at this time of the year and don’t handle them. If you are using lighting reduce your hours down to 8 hours instead of 12. Once temperatures and feeding have been back to normal for a few weeks, you can start bringing your skinks together. If you know the sexes, introduce the female into the male’s cage. If you don’t, just put the one that you think is the female into the other ones cage. All you have to do is make sure that you watch them carefully so that you can intervene and separate them if there is any overly aggressive behaviour. Breeding behaviour usually begins right away, with the male biting the back of the female’s neck. Ensure that your lizards are never left together for more then 5 – 10 minutes. If left together unattended for long periods of time the male can end up causing damage to the female as she cannot escape from him like they can in the wild. At times nothing may happen, which could mean that you have two females, or that your pair are just not yet ready to breed. Don’t stress; just try again in a couple days and see how it goes.

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Once your skinks have mated the female will start to gain weight as her babies begin to develop. Blue-Tongued Skinks are viviparous (give birth to live young) and their gestation period lasts around 100 days, after which she will give birth to 5 -15 young (larger females have known to give birth up to 25 babies).

Conclusion

If you are looking for a high-energy animal then this probably isn’t the lizard for you. They are, however, very inquisitive and when in the right mood love to explore. Set up some news paper, blankets and empty ceramic boxes as they will enjoy searching every nook and cranny in their enclosure, with big blue tongues flicking faster and faster. Owners of Blue-Tongued Skinks will quickly discover their Blue-Tongued Skinks favourite foods and likes and dislikes. These intelligent lizards will learn to recognize their owners, certain sounds and gestures. It seems that each Blue-Tongued Skink has its own personality and it can be a great experience interacting with these beautiful skinks!

Conclusion

Choose your species carefully, make sure you can provide the correct food in sufficient quantities and you will have an interesting and unusual pet snake. Make sure that you have the relevant permits to keep the indigenous snake species mentioned in this article.

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