DISCLAIMER: There is a further section on Tiliqua Multifasciata, but everything else shared below relates to the care of two specific subspecies of Blue Tongue Skink (BTS), that being Northerns from Australia (Tiliqua Sconcoides Intermedia) and Irian Jayas from Indonesia and Papua New Guinea (Tiliqua Sp.) Many pieces of my care advice are broad and can be applied to all species of Tiliqua, but other pieces of advice may not be applicable and potentially dangerous to the well-being of a different Blue Tongue Skink.
I do not claim to be a zoologist, nor obtained formal education in animal husbandry. Every piece of information shared here I stand by, but that does not mean I know everything. Someone else may care for their skink differently than I do, but that does not mean either of us are wrong. Fortunately, these lizards are quite hardy and have a wide spectrum of what it takes to thrive. I may update this section periodically as I learn more about their needs in captivity.
This is a collection of useful information I have come by from Internet research, various Blue Tongue Skink (BTS) books, tips from other breeders, and evidence-based, trial & error practices from being a pet owner since 2000. What’s shared below is a combination of unsourced facts as well as personal opinions on various aspects of care. I welcome you to do additional external research if you do not find this information sufficient enough.
WHAT IS A BLUE TONGUE SKINK AND ARE THEY RIGHT FOR ME ANYWAY?
The BTS is the largest lizard in the Scincidae family. Adults commonly grow to reach a weight range of 1 lbs – 3.5 lbs and a length range of 16″ – 28″ from snout to tip of tail; roughly the size of your forearm (wrist to elbow). Overall they are a hardy medium-sized lizard. Native to both Australia and Indonesia (and Papua New Guinea), they do quite well in captivity in America. They are slow, curious creatures, that have been in the pet trade (as far as I’m aware) since the turn of the century. They like to burrow and often misidentify your fingers for food – they’ll eat almost anything. Their nicknames include: Blue Tongues, Blueys, Snakes With Legs, Skinkerdoodle, Smooth Noodles, Sausages, and Pinecones – if you have a Shingleback (Tiliqua Rugosa). They will bond with their hooman, generally accept boops on the snoot, but are not afraid to let you know when to leave them alone. They tend to sneeze a few times a day and show gratitude for changing their water bowl by defecting in it. They get sucked into TV shows but are easily distracted by a dark crevice to burrow in – like the corner section of your couch. Even though they may do some things that have you questioning how they managed to outlive the Dodo, they are quite smart and can use that intelligence to be afraid of you if they are not handled regularly. They have long lives, need a fair amount of space, and especially with the Indonesian species – humidity is key. Additional literature about Blue Tongues care in captivity can be found here, here, here, and here – though I cannot vouch for any care section being up to date other than my own. If anything mentioned above or below seems unlikely to jive with your lifestyle, please take all accounts into consideration before adopting one of these majestic creatures into your home.
If you have a surprise litter and don’t know what to do with the babies, separating in individual shoebox-sized containers is ideal but housing multiples in a 20-gallon tank is okay as well. If they are fed live food, it is encouraged they be fed individually because once they get an idea to attack moving food, they may take a bite out of their brother or sister. By their second shed, they get territorial and need to be separated and housed individually for the rest of their lives. By their second shed, they will be itching for more space than the shoebox container has to offer.
Every baby will grow at a different rate. I’ve seen siblings under the same care develop at drastically different rates so keep that in mind with the advice that immediately follows. It is more than okay to go straight for the final adult size enclosure but if you want a baby today and need additional time to acquire or manufacture the final adult enclosure, here are a few pointers I go by:
Babies 0 – 1 sheds: shoebox-sized container
Babies 2 sheds to 6 months old or 250 grams, whichever comes first: 20-gallon long or 20-gallon regular
Juveniles 251 grams to 500 grams or 16″ long, possibly up to 18 months old, whichever comes first: 36″ x 18″
Adults or when they have exceeded 500 grams and 16″long: 48″ x 18″ MINIMUM, don’t be afraid to go bigger
They are considered babies for the first 6 months of life and a juvenile until they reach adult size. Each grows at their own rate and may reach their full size at 8 months… or 30 months – yes.
Every once in a while you get a pair or a group that genuinely enjoy being together as adults, but this is the exception and not the norm. I have also seen BTS housed with bearded dragons and frilled lizards but do not recommend this housing set up to a beginner. They are solitary creatures in the wild and it is best to keep them that way.
Height is less of an issue. Blue Tongue Skinks (BTS) are ground dwellers and burrowers. If a tank is too tall, they tend to engage in a behavior called “wall riding”. The more they do this, the larger of a dip their spine gets which may create health problems later down the line. With that said, they love to climb over stuff and explore. I find an enclosure 13″ – 15″ tall to be ideal.
I used to recommend a 40-gallon long as a minimum example but standard tank productions have changed drastically over the years so now I say, just measure the length and width of the floor and aim for 1000 sq in floor space. 850 sq in will be insufficient for an adult. If you’re having trouble locating a front-facing enclosure or they’re just beyond your budget, a standard 75-gallon tank works just as well and seems pretty easy to find on Craigslist, Marketplace, OfferUp, etc.
There are other breeders and keepers utilizing the barest minimum for survival in captivity and that’s a 36″ x 18″ drawer in a rack system. I disagree with this on so many moral and ethical levels but mostly because it discounts the animal’s intelligence and their rights as any living creature. A collective piece of different perspectives on rack systems for skinks from other breeders is in the works we hope to publish soon. This care guide aims to highlight ethical housing objectives that can be accomplished in any home setting within a reasonable budget.
I recommend materials that are dishwasher safe or inexpensive enough to be readily replaced. If they defecate on their furniture, it needs to be cleaned up and sanitized or risk getting the animal sick or attracting bugs and mites. Natural wood and cork items are notorious for this and difficult to sanitize properly. Purchasing expensive reptile, outdoor-themed items are nice, but also not necessary. There are lots of safe makeshift options available at all Hardware stores. Be mindful these reptiles may prefer to sleep curl up vs rest totally extended or vice versa, so the more options you can provide the better. They require at least one hiding place to feel safe. I recommend adding in fake green vines and plants that allow them to hide. It helps them believe they are in a more natural environment and acts as an additional hide.
A large or extra-large water bowl is most appropriate for an adult. Ceramic water dishes, pyrex glass or even shallow Tupperware suites them fine. While they may not soak or submerge, like a water dragon, they may run their entire body through the water to get clean and hydrate. The water bowl should not be deep enough where they can drown, as these creatures are poor swimmers. Take it from me who lost a baby in 2021 due to this. It stinks more than anything. When shopping for a water bowl, consider weight as well. Skinks are strong and will try to burrow underneath the water dish. If your bowl is too light, this will happen:
I utilize two food dishes, both kept on the cool side. One has dry dog food they can pick at as they please, and the other contains a wet salad mix that gets changed out more frequently. I have also seen people use a third food dish that just has Calcium + D3 powder the skink can dip into whenever they need. Their food bowls should be relatively shallow and can be as small as a ceramic mealworm feeder.
Adding a brick or rough slate to the habitat will be good for their nail maintenance and helps get old skin off during shedding. The bricks should be dispersed throughout the tank but slate can be added under the heat light for a nice basking spot. If slate is added under the basking spot, be wary of just how hot that basking spot gets. A digital laser thermometer is great to have on hand. Don’t need to go crazy expensive.
SUBSTRATES AND HUMIDITY
To start off, going bioactive has been proven very successful with most blue tongue species, especially the higher-humidity Indo species. But I have never ventured down that path so I don’t want to comment or advise how to do it properly. The Bio Dude is who I would refer you to for bioactive questions. What I do is a little different and ends up becoming semi-bioactive…
I prefer the use of all loose and natural substrates. Some of the options that can be used successfully include: Cypress Mulch, Large Aspen Bedding, Reptile Bark, Organic Top Soil, Play Sand, Sphagnum Peat Moss, Coco Husk, and Reptile Floral Moss. Zoo Med Laboratories is the safest and most reliable company but there are other good options too.
For my hot and humid side, I blend together, 60% Zoo Med Forest Floor Cypress Mulch, 30% Zilla’s Jungle Mix (Peat Moss and Sphagnum Moss), there will be Zoo Med Coco Earth with the Irian Jayas, and a few cups of plays and to cap it off. Adding in the play sand has been HUGE in retaining humidity. I used to have this routine of adding humidity to the enclosure every 3-5 days that now I only have to do every 6-9 days just because of the sand addition. The results offer tremendous benefits to retaining humidity in the 50+% range. I put in enough for them to burrow and submerge their entire body. You will often find tunnels they have excavated for themselves. I will also add another type of green, fluffy moss to the surface of an area that gets moisture to create a natural humid hide while adding lush color to the exhibit. They especially like these areas during shedding. Discount options are No Float Cypress Blend sold at Lowes and Home Depot and the Floral Moss from Dollar Tree.
The cool and dry half is 100% Zoo Med Repti Bark. This material does not handle moisture well. It is prone to molding. I think it’s the best option to brumate them in if you separate your skink for brumation
To keep all substrate fresh, till the substrate, all the way down to the floor, every week and every time to the areas you add moisture to as well. This aeration will keep mold away and fluffiness up.
Now because this is a natural substate in a contained ecosystem, and there’s lots of stuff going on, bugs may just appear over time. They can be harmless, they usually are, like fruit flies, or beneficial like springtails, but they can be catastrophic like mites. The general rule is if there’s bugs on your lizard, there’s a problem. If the bugs are just there in the tank, they’re probably helping. Isopods and springtails eat moisture, mold, and feces. They’re the “helper” bugs and many people pay to have them. But if mites invade, they may burrow under your skink’s scales and take over. If you’re still wigged out by in your reptile’s tank at all, use their appearance as a gauge when to change the substrate. I tend to empty out every tank, do a full disinfectant, and replace everything that can’t go in the dishwasher once a year. It is okay if you clean every 2 months, every 6 months, even every several years or never if you have a successful bio active set up, but whenever you do a full take down, be sure to disinfect as well. F10 Veterinary Disinfectant is the best product out there.
No natural product, even from a reputable company, is guaranteed to be risk-free. Buried deep in the bag can hide mold, bacteria, and tiny harmful bugs. The risk is increased with products from a hardware store but as a safety measure, I recommend freezing any substrate for 2 weeks prior to use to kill any bugs and mold. Another safe method is to bake in your oven on a flat baking sheet at 225F for 45 minutes. Please monitor when placing wood chips in the heated oven.
There is this rumor floating around that the ingestion of the coconut husk can be toxic. I think that comes from blue tongues not eating coconut in their diet combined with the knowledge of substrate made from walnut shells is toxic. I still use coco husk in my enclosures but as a precaution, only add it to the hot side while keeping all food on the cool side. Coco Husk is a preferred fiber for all Indo species.
Mixtures of organic top soil, Timothy hay, or alfalfa hay will also work but needs to be changed more readily because they are prone to mold.
WHAT NOT TO DO
Anything made from Walnut Shells, like Zilla’s Desert Blend is indeed toxic and should be avoided even if you have one of the two Blue Tongue desert species. I’m firmly against Aspen Snake bedding. Not the large shavings, but the Fine Excelsior products. It’s ill-advised because the smaller particles can get lodged in their nose and eyes when they burrow which can cause respiratory and vision health problems. It also dries out their skin. I can see a larger aspen cut working in very humid homes, but not so much in the north half of the country. Sand by itself is bad because it can get impacted in their eyes. Paper is bad because it tends to dry out their underbelly skin more readily. Indoor/outdoor carpet does not allow them to burrow, which is a natural part of their life and should be encouraged.
A reminder to everyone reading my care section – what I have listed are my personal endorsements; don’t think to yourself you’re doing things wrong if you care for your skink differently than than the recommendations listed.
We use these substrates as a means to create a more natural environment for skinks so they may rest and burrow comfortably while holding regular humidity levels in the 40 – 70% range. A tutorial video on adding water for humidity and tilling the substrate can be seen here:
What is demonstrated in the video is that routine I was doing every 3-5 days that can now be accomplished every 6-9 days thanks to the addition of play sand. We are trying to create humidity that lasts but is deterred from mold growth. The solution is to add a few cups of water to the substrate on the hot side and mix it in really well. You want the substrate damp but not soupy. You’ll initially receive a humidity spike that may last a few hours or more depending on the airflow in your enclosure but then it will gradually go down until it exceeds the minimum threshold and you’re involvement is required again. This process keeps humidity levels up and mold levels down. Even though I am not adding moisture to the cool side I am still tilling it just in case hidden moisture had been sitting or feces went undiscovered. This helps keep the tank clean at all times. The water used for this doesn’t need to be filtered. Just regular tap water is fine. And room temperature is best. Too hot grows bacteria, and too cold doesn’t generate the humidity you seek. Be cautious how much water you are adding as well. You want the substrate damp but not soupy-wet. Too wet will lead to skin infections. They manifest under the chin and under the belly or hands and look like tiny cigarette burns. A little diluted Betadine and Neosporon, plus drying out the tank resolve the issue in a few days. If it lingers any longer, veterinarian intervention will be required, so remember you can always add more water after mixing up the substrate. You can’t go backward.
The optimal humidity levels for Northerns is 40 – 60%. I notice mine do best around 55%.
50 – 70% for Irian Jayas. I notice mine do best around 65%. Average humidity levels in Sorong are 80% but mine to get antsy if they stay at this level.
It is always okay to bump an additional 10% or more while they shed.
Some of the common mistakes I see are:
1) Not knowing the proper humidity levels. There’ a lot of misconceptions about this and that’s because there’s so many species and subspecies out there ranging from desert dwellers requiring 0% humidity to tropical blue tongues needing 100% humidity, and everything in between. Still don’t want to take my word for it? It is always safe mirroring the climate from where your skink was native to.
2) Misting several times a day, every day to keep humidity levels up. Humidity evaporates from the surface first. And moisture from within the substrate is absorbed while they burrow. Allowing only moisture from the surface increases the chance of dehydration.
3) Using a mister, but not till the substrate. Misters are great for adding moisture to the tank but if the substrate is not routinely getting tossed up with opportunities for air and evaporation, mold and bacteria will grow.
4) Inaccurate hygrometers. The most widely used and least expensive are simple dial meters that stick on the wall. These are notoriously inaccurate and take readings from a physically higher area than your skink spends its time
5) Inaccurate placement of the hygrometers. I move mine all over to take various readings. It can be on the surface, elevated on a brick, or buried halfway down into the substrate. I may put it directly under the basking spot, on the hot side, or cool side. I take all the data points available and decide if the skink has adequate access to the most appropriate humidity levels, and make adjustments accordingly.
Whatever you use, be mindful of temperatures throughout the day.
I put my adult Blue Tongues through all 4 seasons. They have 9 months of Summer, 2 weeks of Fall, 2 months of Winter, and two weeks of Spring. These figures fluctuate as the skinks detect temperature changes in the air, in the home, and how you’re regulating their heat and light exposure. I make the end of summer, fall, and spring the wettest for my Jayas so they can experience a wet and dry season. Most temperatures mentioned elsewhere online refer to summer temps and be mindful about generic advice elsewhere found online as Eastern and Blotched species of blue tongue tolerate lower temperatures better than the two species my care guide focuses on.
There are 4 main and distinctly different points to be checking temperatures.
1) They need a hot side between 80-95°F
2) A basking spot of 110-135°F (Higher end of the spectrum for babies after their first shed. You want babies warm to the touch.)
3) A cool side of 71-80°F during the day
4) Ambient nighttime temps between 70-74°F. Because of this, I highly recommend the heat gun mentioned above, or a probe, to accurately gauge the temperature inside the habitat. Those plastic old-school dials you see stuck on walls are crazy unreliable. Same with their humidity hygrometers. Very inaccurate and misleading readings. The product I recommend can be bought on Amazon.com for $11: https://www.amazon.com/ThermoPro-TP50-Digital-Thermometer-Temperature
During their cool-down season, “brumation”, which will be discussed later, rules change, and temperatures can drop significantly.
Because of the varying temperature zones, I find a powerful heat bulb that delivers UVA and UVB rays garners the most ideal results. If you use a heat lamp, my number one recommendation is either Mega-Ray brand or Zoo Med’s 100 watts Mercury Vapor UVA/UVB bulb. Alternative recommendations for heat include: Belly Heat by way of heat mats, heat tape, and heat wire, Ceramic Heat Emitters, and Radiant Heat Panels. If going with a Radiant Heat Panel, the only brand I trust is ProProducts. They have been around for decades, used internationally, and the only company with a perfect record of not catching fire. If you intend on underbelly heat or anything overhead as your exclusive heat source which does not output the proper UV lighting, it is recommended to add a UVA/UVB florescent light that does not generate heat. The general rule of thumb is spiral bulbs are a complete waste. Better recommendations include: Zoo Med’s T8 ReptiSun 10.0 UVB Fluorescent, Zoo Med’s Zoo Med ReptiSun 10.0 UVB Compact Fluorescent Mini Reptile Lamp, Zoo Med’s ReptiSun 10.0 HO T5 UVB Lamp, or Arcadia’s brand equivalency.
Now if you live in say Florida or Arizona, or another part of the US where it is reasonable to raise your skinks outside under direct sunlight, they will be receiving natural UVA and UVB, but for most people with an indoor set up, using bulbs that produce quality and lasting UV rays is highly, highly, highly recommend. It can be the difference between getting 35 vs 15 years out of your skink companion. They do enjoy the opportunity to come out and bask under the artificial sun part of the day. It is definitely better for the health and wellness of your skink if they have this in their habitat. It also helps their internal clock determine when day and night are. Your skink should receive 11-16 hours of light a day during the active season, and 8 hours or less, all the way down to zero, during their cool down season.
For the mercury vapor heat bulbs, a specialty ceramic socket or Deep Sun Dome Reptile Lamp will be required. Standard sockets and even ceramic ones too small are fire hazards. Some enclosures position the socket on the sidewall. Be wary of this because many bulbs need to be positioned perfectly vertical for safety and function. For the florescent bulbs a T5 output will be better than the T8 but both are good.
If you are using underbelly heat AND a mercury vapor bulb or another heat-producing bulb, please monitor humidity and temperature levels regularly. Too hot and dry of an environment is worse than too cool and moist.
If you are keeping your skink in the basement or in a home that is traditionally kept below 70- 74°F room temperature, a 75-watt nocturnal bulb or low-watt ceramic heat emitter must also be added at night. Letting the ambient temperature inside the enclosure dip below 70°F can cause them to start the brumation cycle. The constant back and forth is risky to their health, especially for a gravid female. An even bigger risk is their digestive organs cease to function below 70°F. Food sitting in their belly will start to rot and your skink may never recover. Otherwise, if your home stays at least 70°F, no additional heat is necessary and just room temperature will be fine at night.
Do not use heat rocks for BTS or any reptile, really. They tend to fall asleep on them and end up burning their belly, frequently. Lizards in general have slow sensory reflexes. They’ll get comfortable and nap on the rock completely unaware its singing a hole through their belly skin.
Zoo Med recently came out with an 80W version of the mercury vapor bulb shown above and Mega-Ray has a 70W version. I have been using it in my more squat habitats and find it works better than the 100W ones I had been using previously, but my largest enclosures still take the 100W bulb. You should evaluate the height from your basking bulb to substrate and determine how much power is necessary.
Initially, it was believed reptiles and skinks could not see red light. So red lights were produced and used regularly. That theory is obsolete. Long-term exposure to red lights can damage the eyes of your skink. I believe they can be of value in instances only used at night and only used temporarily. Mindful, the only homes needing any night heat are ones kept in the 60s°F. But if your main bulb suddenly dies on you and shipping for a new one will be a few days, and this is all your local pet shop has, I’d still go for it. In the temporary times I’ve used red lights I find the skinks volunteering to come out and sleep under the red light. So that is my two cents. But if you need the additional heat and are still concerned, a ceramic heat emitter is great too. Again, the advice on red lights is to shy away from the main daytime heat source.
The Food Section was last updated in January 2021. New experiences, new conversations, new research, and some credit goes directly to Tiliqua-Time who specialize in all Indonesian species, allow us to offer more scientifically proven aspects of previously understood dietary practices.
Food should always be washed and chopped to proportions that are appropriate for the size of your BTS. Babies tend to eat every day to every other day. Adults eat every 3-5 days or even one big meal once a week. While their menu items tend to be the same, babies need 90-70% protein and adults follow a 60/30/10 or 50/40/10 rule of 50-60% protein, 30-40% greens & veggies, and 10% fruit. Because of this, babies, 6 months and under, should receive wet cat food as their staple for its higher protein and fat content. But at 6 months switch over to a wet dog food staple for the rest of their lives because you don’t want that extra fat content anymore. A general rule with BTS is: variety is best. You will also find that each skink has their own personality, preferences, and favorite foods. I recommend staying away from salt, frozen foods, “meal” (like chicken meal or beef meal), and anything rotten. There’s also a list of absolute food items to AVOID.
It is also important to sprinkle on calcium + D3 powder, known as “dusting”, to every meal or keep a bowl of available powder in the habitat at all times. There’s not a perfect amount to recommend here. Every skink is of different weight, may decide to eat only part of the meal, or is receiving calcium from other facets like their lights or natural sunlight. And every brand of product offers different quality and concentrate. There are things to look out for from your skink. In early development, if the tail or spine starts to kink or dip, typically increase the supplement. If at any age, the urates are excessively hard immediately after they are expelled, that can mean too much calcium. If there are gold flakes or crystals in the urate, that is caused by too much D3, and means it’s time to decrease the ratio. Because it is much easier to overdose D3 intake, it can be worthwhile having a “just” Calcium on hand too. Below is a calcium/vitamin combo product I use all the time.
Good To Use Anytime: Arugula, Beet Greens, Collard Greens, Dandelion Greens, Endive, Escarole, and Mustard Greens are best.
Okay Secondary Options: Basil, Butter Lettuce, Bok Choy, Green Cabbage, all types of Kale, Red Cabbage, Red Leaf Lettuce, and Romaine Lettuce are fine but will cause health problems down the line if this is the bulk staple of their diet all the time.
AVOID: Iceberg Lettuce should be avoided since it is low in nutrition and difficult for skinks to digest. Spinach should be avoided because it may give your skink an upset stomach – small amounts can be tolerated – like a few leaves in a large batch of food to feed a dozen hungry skinkerdoodles.
Dandelions and Hibiscus flowers are good for your skink to eat. Be sure to know where you are getting your flowers from. Nothing is worse than serving them food sprayed down with invisible and odorless pesticides. With that said, I have yet to get any of my skinks to eat flowers after multiple attempts.
Good To Use Anytime: Acorn Squash, Butternut Squash, Cactus pad/leaf, Green String Beans, Spaghetti Squash, and Winter Squash are best. Fibrous vegetables are most ideal for them.
Okay Secondary Options: Asparagus, Beets, Bell Peppers, Brussels Sprouts, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Corn, Cucumber, Green Peas, Okra, Opo Squash, Parsley, Sweet Potato, Radish, Yellow Squash, and Zucchini are fine but will cause health problems down the line if this is the bulk staple of their diet all the time.
AVOID: Onion and Rhubarb should be avoided as they are Toxic to your BTS. I tend to stay away from Tomatoes, Broccoli, and especially Mushrooms as those upset the stomach of your BTS as well.
Apple, Apricot, Banana, Blackberry, Blueberry, Cactus Prickly Pear, Cantaloupe, Cherry, Cranberry, Fig, Grape, Guava, Honeydew, Kiwi, Mango, Papaya, Peach, Pear, Pineapple, Plum, Raspberry, Strawberry, and Watermelon are all okay options.
AVOID: Citrus and acidic fruit can upset the stomach of your BTS.
Avocados MUST be avoided as they are toxic to your skink.
Good To Use Anytime: Cockroaches, Dubia Roaches, Earthworms, Horn Worms/Goliath Worms, Moths, Silkworms, Snails, Organ Meat – like Chicken Hearts and Turkey Liver, and of course, Wet or Dry Dog or Cat Food
Never go for bugs from outside or ones you find around the house. There’s no quality control and you never know what unusual parasites they’re carrying.
With Dog Food or Cat Food, wet or dry, the rules are the same: grain-free, meal-free, high quality, and minimal salt are the best options. And the most ideal Calcium ratio is 2% accompanied by the most ideal Phosphorus ratio at 1%. With each product, you’ll need to read each label, but some brands I trust include: Dave’s Pet Food, Fromm, Fussie Cat, Koha, Merrick, Nature’s Variety Instinct, Nutro – just the ones that meet the above criteria (their company has issues on the other spectrum end of supply), PureVita, Taste of the Wild, Tiki Cat, Wellness, Weruva, and Zignature. None of these products are specifically designed for Blue Tongues so there’s almost never going to be an absolutely perfect fit.
Gravy or no gravy doesn’t concern me as much as the other ingredients and criteria.
Why not Blue Buffalo brand? In 2018, allegedly, a dog died prematurely due to kidney failure. The owners concluded it was their dog’s food and tested it for elevated lead levels contaminated in the food. The class-action lawsuit was recently dismissed but Blue Buffalo openly admitted they do not test their products for lead and have not made any changes to food production or inspection since the lawsuit came about.
Why grain-free? Skinks are natural foragers. Even though they will never come across fully cooked spaghetti squash in Australia, the nutrients scientifically perfected in high-quality dog and cat food are in line with their metabolic requirements and easy for them to digest. Grains simply won’t be a part of their natural diet.
Repashy brand has a few products that are great for BTS like Grub Pie and Bluey Buffet – but those can get expensive.
Okay Secondary Protein Options: Boiled Beef, Boiled Chicken, Boiled Turkey, raw or boiled Egg, Mealworms, Rabbit, and Waxworms are all fine but will cause health problems down the line if this is the bulk staple of their diet all the time.
Crickets are the most common live insect at any pet shop. Why should one not use them regularly?
1) They can carry undetected parasites and diseases. In 2008 I can personally attest to a batch of PetCo crickets killing off several of my Leopard Geckos in a single feeding.
2) They are actually high fat/low protein compared to the favored live-insect protein, Dubai Roaches.
3) They have a high phosphorus ratio that can cause a health imbalance, putting extra strain on the skink’s kidneys. You want phosphorus to be at a 1:2 ratio with calcium, favoring calcium. Crickets are more like 3:1 favoring phosphorus.
Occasional Protein Treats include: Ham, Phoenix Worms, Pinky Mice or Rats, and Superworms. These treats should be used on occasion – like a couple of times a year and that’s it. We don’t want our scaled friend dying prematurely from a heart attack with clogged arteries.
Pinky’s are the delicacy to be most wary about because while the baby mice and rats were/are alive, their diet was exclusively high-fat milk. High fat is bad for the skink heart, and dairy has no place in the skink diet. Once or twice a year will be appreciated. More might be the equivalent of deep-fried pork belly for us.
I tend to use lots of ingredients with each meal. I mix it up really well so they have little choice what individual foods go down their gullet with each bite. A tutorial on one of my feedings can be seen here:
There are Five organic compounds that do not agree with your skink’s digestive system and can sometimes be fatal.
1) Persin – it is Toxic. Persin is a naturally forming fungicidal toxin found in Avocados. Symptoms can range from upset stomach to death and everywhere in between.
2) Oxalate (Oxalic Acid). Oxalates bind calcium and disallow the body from absorbing calcium, leaving the body incapable of utilizing it properly. Foods high in Oxalates to avoid are: Spinach, Potatoes (especially the skin), Soy Beans, Carrot, Raspberries, and Dates.
Foods low in Oxelates are: all types of Kale, Bok Choy, Sweet Potato, Broccoli, Blueberries, Fig, and Blackberries
3) Goitrogen is a substance that when consumed routinely in high quantities binds Iodine that disrupts the function of the thyroid. High Goitrogenic Foods are: Grapes, Fig, Peach, Pear, Plum, Strawberries, and ALL Cruciferous Foods: Kale, Brussels Sprouts, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Bok Choy, Cabbage, Celery, Collard Greens, Mustard Greens, Spinach, Corn, Lima Beans, and Sweet Potato
Low Goitrogenic Foods are: Tomatoes, Blueberries, Bell Peppers, and all types of Squash
If you’ve already noticed a pattern of the same foods showing up in competing good and bad columns. This is where the storied confusion sets in. Use your best judgment, don’t go crazy; it’s all we can ask. And always go for variety and circulating ingredients. It is hard to say I have ever manufactured the very exact same meal twice.
4) Thiosulphate is a toxic sulfate found in onions and garlic. This will do more than an upset stomach for your skink
5) Phosphorus. If you know about Carl and his issues a few years ago, this one hits home. Excessive phosphorus also binds calcium and as a result, taxes the Blue Tongue kidneys. A blue tongue should have approximately 1% of phosphorus in its diet and 2% calcium. If that ratio is skewed or phosphorus is just too high, the blue tongues efficient system can start to fail. Phosphorus and Calcium ratios are often flipped in dry dog food and dry cat food so it is important to read the nutrition labels thoroughly. For Carl, I’ve just cut out all dry food and he’s been totally fine. Everyone else still eats the dry stuff.
High Phosphorus Foods are: Seafood, Chicken, Turkey, Crickets, Organ Meat, Processed Meat, Mushrooms, and Banana. It is the Crickets, Mushrooms, Seafood – which is also high in mercury, and the processed meats – which are also high in salt/sodium that concern me the most on this list.
As you can see, many foods appear overlapping in multiple categories. This can help you eliminate a few but question many others. Again, use the best judgment while increasing variety. Continually changing foods on them from the approved list will promote health and longevity.
Brumation is a natural part of the adult’s annual cycle where they go into a multi-week, wakeful, hibernation state. There are a few ways to help them settle into winter I’ll go over, but a few things to keep in mind right off the bat:
1) Babies should keep regular summer hours and feeding schedules their first year. Occasionally a baby just might brumate and that’s okay. It was likely their biology taking over by detecting slight ambient temperature changes in the home and outside. Maintaining their light hours alone won’t stop their biology. As cool air invades the outside and your home in winter, you may need to add additional heat inside the tank just to break even. But if they do go down that is still healthy. They will still grow and shed.
2) Northerns naturally go through more of an “official” brumation than the Irian Jayas will.
3) With any blue tongue, any age, after their core temperature dips below 70°F, food rots in their stomach. If their enclosure gets below 70°F, NO FEEDING. They will be okay not eating for 90s days. Skinny at the end, but alive and well.
4) Brumation should be more extreme if your goal is to activate their reproductive organs. Brumation should be less extreme if that is not your goal but you still want to promote its biological clock.
The Less Extreme and easiest method to adopt is going with the flow of your skink. You may live in a part of the country that never gets cold outside. You may live in a part that gets cold early. You may like your house warm when you’re home, but cool when you’re out. Your skink will feel these changes and burrow for days on end when they’re ready to start. When you notice this behavior, spend a couple of weeks gradually reducing light hours and additional heat sources. End with all active hours cut in half. You can still feed, even though it will likely go to waste. Your skink may appear briefly now and then and want to eat. It’s hard to predict these moments but you want to provide for them. However, if your home is kept in the 60s°F, even just part of the day, then there should be no food offered. When the skink starts to get active again, spend another two weeks gradually bringing everything back up to summer hours.
If you do not like the idea of brumating, a blue tongue may not be the right pet for you. I’d recommend looking into a monitor lizard frankly. Trying to wake up your skink while they’re down, or especially keeping them from receiving that cool season, will stress them out. You want your skink up year-round when you’re up year-round. I get it. But it’s not what’s good for them. Increasing heat and light year-round is a negative form of anthropomorphism; the attribution of human characteristics or behaviors to animals – in this case, a negative way. Remember the brumation is for them, not for you, though I do admit to liking the break once a year personally. A further video on anthropomorphism is properly explained by Reptilian Garden, here.
Now if you plan on breeding, or just really want to experience the change boys go through during puberty, brumation practices need to be a little more calculated. The total time is an elected 60-120 days between October – March. In this period, you lower the temperature gradually each day, while decreasing the light hours. The idea behind this is to keep with the reptile’s natural cycle of inactivity in winter and get them ready for the breeding season in spring. I also use this opportunity to boost humidity levels more for the Irian Jayas. Start over a two-week period by gradually decreasing the basking light hours down to 4 a day or less – even zero. If your heat source is on a thermostat, aim for a hot side of 80-85°F and the cool side can be as low as 60°F and even slightly lower at night. Then you can shut it off entirely.
A number of people have been successful in transferring their adult blue tongue into a large Tupperware with air ventilation and water, and sticking them in a dark crawl space or corner of the basement for winter. The two-week cooldown and two-week warm-up are still encouraged not to shock their system.
When you are all done with their winter season, spend another two weeks gradually increasing the temperature and light time to their usual routine. If you are trying to breed, this warm-up process can be dragged out an additional few weeks. With the four weeks total spent decreasing and increasing their temperature, the entire process can be between 60-120 days. I usually choose Mid November to start, and early January to begin increasing the temperature and light again. If you live in a warmer climate (not Chicago), the cool-down period may start and end earlier in a calendar year.
Yes, they do shed during brumation.
No, you don’t want to “check up on them to make sure they are okay” while they’re burrowed in silence for weeks on end. It’s like poking a bear in their den during hibernation – you just don’t do it. Let them be animals.
A rapid way to turn on their breeding cycle is a 2-week decrease in light hours. 3 consecutive weeks of no light and no food. The hot side gets up to 69°F during the day and the cool side gets down to 49°F at night. And then an extended, gradual light increase while you attempt to pair as many as you can get before the males tap out. Once the males decide it should be summer they switch over to food and stop paying attention to the ladies.
A warning about brumation. When the skinks core temperature drops, their immune system becomes susceptible to bacteria and illnesses their body would otherwise be fighting off without notice. When your skink gets into their 30s, this is usually what takes them. The lower temps go, the higher risk it can be.
Indonesian subspecies experience less of a temperature/light swing than their Australian counterparts living so close to the equator. They experience more of a dry/wet season shift. When I decrease light and temperature for everyone, I keep more light hours on with the IJ than the Northerns, and add additional moisture to the habitat. When I do this while decreasing the temperature, I have to till the soil more regularly to keep mold and other harmful bacteria conditions from forming. A trick to getting Indo species to cooperate during breeding season is to simultaneously boost humidity levels while dropping the temperature and decreasing light hours leading to their cool down cycle. It’s a tricky process doing this while avoiding a breeding ground for mold. It’s also why it’s so tricky to breed the most extreme Indonesian species, the Halmahera, in captivity.
SEXING AND BREEDING
A general rule is: All BTS are boys until you see babies squirt out the rear.
Sexing is incredibly difficult for the blue tongue skink species. Because they give live birth and do not have a vent, there is no great way to determine their gender, especially before adulthood. There are general guidelines for determination, accompanied by a fair share of anomalies. Females tend to be slightly larger and less aggressive than males, but just like in humans where you can have a tall, angry lady, or a small, submissive man, that generic rule can be fairly useless. That same mentality is to be applied to the rest of their physical characteristics. Males tend to have larger more robust heads and females tend to have smaller, more slender sculls. Females tend to have wider hips to accommodate the birthing canal and the males tend to have a larger tail base (that’s the end near their butt) to accommodate the hemipenes. Going by visual cues alone is accurate perhaps 70% of time in adults and 51% of the time for babies.
It is hard to catch sometimes, but males will drop sperm plugs during the mating season if they do not have a female present, especially just after coming out from a more extreme cool cycle. If you have an adult male, it is physically possible to pop out their hemipenes to see them. There is nothing to pop out in a female. If this is done wrong it will damage your skink. I do not recommend it, have never done it myself, nor plan on doing it. But if you feel you are up to the task, there is a video is on Youtube by Zooman Adventures.
Below is a video Joe Ball made, going in-depth about ways to sex your adult blue tongue. If you’re unaware, Joe Ball out of Australia is breeding some of the best blue tongues available on the planet.
If you have multiple skinks at your disposal and want to see how they interact with each other, please supervise at all times. If both skinks are sexually mature and recently coming out of brumation, their behavior should indicate their sex. Generally, two females will mostly ignore one another, but aggression is possible. Two males will definitely be aggressive with one another unless you luck out with the most amazingly docile skinks out there – which is possible, as is homosexual copulation. Even if they do not pair off, engagement and arousal from one will usually indicate the gender of one or both participants.
First, let’s go over some of the risks and pitfalls.
1) You can do everything right and the male or female still isn’t interested in breeding.
2) Minor cuts and bites lead to scaring post-mating. In 2019 George took a bite to the face from Big Mamma and had a black eye for about 6 months. I feared he may have lost it.
3) Loss of limbs. If someone goes for a death roll, expect an arm or leg to tear off. The same goes for a tail.
4) The female dies during childbirth or during pregnancy. Not only that, but all her babies die too.
5) The male is unable to get his hemipenes back inside leading to costly surgery.
6) Babies are born with severe deformities and it’s up to you to cull them and dispose of the bodies. Cull means to humanely kill, FYI.
About half of these complications require a vet visit with a bill encroaching on a grand each time. Still feeling like breeding is your thing? Please continue below.
Blue tongues are choosy with their mates and creatures of habit. If they are to mate, the female will remain still but start to wag her tail in a come-hither motion. This only happens though if she’s interested in mating and likes the bloke. Peeing and running away indicate she is apprehensive towards the male and not ready to breed. The male will become highly alert and wait for the indication that he is in the presence of a willing female. If he receives an invitation from the female, he will likely race towards her and aggressively nibble at her. Their copulation tends to be a bit aggressive as the male tries to have his way with the female in an attempt to gain position. Their copulation may be as short as one minute and potentially longer than 25 minutes.
Here is a sample video I made of the copulation: Dave’s Skinks Instagram
Remember when I said all BTS are males until you see babies squirt out the rear??? That is because an aggressive male may have his way with a more submissive male. Yes, homosexual copulation does take place within BTS society. If you are waiting around for months for babies to appear, you may be in for a rude awakening. Submissive males will even have a spike in hormone imbalance that triggers a false appearing pregnancy. Submissive males make up 20-30% of all males.
I recommend matching up your mating pair at least 3 times to ensure she is gravid if you hope to have babies. And you may want to encounter your BTS with a handful of other adult BTS to ensure you indeed have the sex you suspect.
If you get a gravid female, she will give live birth to anywhere between 0 and 24 babies… Yupp. Gestation may be as short as 85 days and potentially longer than 165 days, especially for the Indonesian species. Keep in mind, the female can maintain viable sperm for months before interacting them with her reproductive system. Frankly, breeding is a little like playing darts in the dark. You never know what you’re going to get.
The term “Slugging Out” refers to the delivery of 100% unfertilized ovum. This happens when the copulation triggered fetal development in the female, but no male swimmers made it to the eggs, resulting in this type of pregnancy. Healthy delivered litters can also be accompanied by some “slugs”.
If you can monitor the birth, I recommend it. The babies are born in a thin membrane that needs to be removed for them to breathe. If they do not figure it out on their own after a moment or two, you can gently rub it off of them, otherwise, the membrane may suffocate them. It is also important that the babies eat their own placenta as a first meal and may need help getting it into their mouth. Mom will usually be a good mom for the first 24-36 hours after the babies are born. But after that she may get territorial and think of them as food. I’ve seen instances where Mama and Baby are fine together for weeks but the risk goes up each day. I’m against separating the babies instantly if Mama is behaving relatively normal. There is family bonding going on and you don’t want your adult female thinking she is simply being used as a breeding farm piece and her babies will be taken at a moment’s notice. If Mama is apprehensive or aggressive towards her babies, separate immediately, but in my experience, they really enjoy being a mother for a few days.
The babies will be active immediately and looking to eat. That placenta meal will suffice for about 3 hours. Birthing a litter can be quite hard on mom. If she struggles, consider breeding her every other year. She may also give birth to a hardened yellow ball. These are the unfertilized eggs we discussed. It is normal, they are edible to your adult skinks, regardless of who produced them. Babies may also be delivered over a few hours, a few days, or a few weeks. In 2021 we got to experience such an occasion for the first time with Jellybean delivering 9 babies on the 4th of July, 2 babies a week later, and one more baby a week after that.
PROBLEMS YOU MAY ENCOUNTER
If fingernails get too long, they will actually continue to grow, curl underneath the hands of your skink, or out to the sides and make it very uncomfortable for your skink to walk. This is a sign it is definitely time to trim their nails, manually. Be wary of their quick. Cutting into their toenail vein is painful and may result in loss of the toe. I recollect receiving what would not be constituted as “bad advice” in the early 2000s. Never told anything about “natural nail maintenance” and to always go manual. If they bleed a little, that’s okay. Eyes should be rolling. I was 15. I didn’t know better. Part of my learning curve has sadly been at the cost of a few toes from Dinobot. So please, do not let his frightful experiences be in vain.
With each shed, you want to do a thorough inspection of their toes as well. This is the most challenging place for a skink to relinquish 100% of their old skin. It tends to blend in too, especially when covered with dirt. The littlest ring of shed skin can cut off circulation in days. This can lead to loss of a toe or a growing infection. Good light, a firm grip, tweezers, and perhaps a second set of hands are tips for success. You can also do a light warm soak for 15 minutes prior to attempting if you see stuck shed around the toes and nails.
Skeletal health is difficult to get absolutely 100% perfect. You may notice kinks on the tail of blue tongues for a variety of reasons. It may be a birth defect, poor genetics, not enough calcium during development, or too much calcium at any stage in life. When there is excessive calcium in the system, it tends to get stored as calcium deposits. And the first place these deposits get lodged is the joints in the tail vertebrae. If it happens as a baby or is caught early it is correctable but once the calcium depots harden to bone, it will be cosmetic for life. With that said, unless these skeletal issues happen on the sponge near organs, there is nothing to fear regarding overall health and quality of life. I’ve noticed the gene pool for various Red and White Northern morph lines results in underbites more readily than other Northern morphs, even with the most impeccable calcium intake precautions from the most experienced breeders. The more inbred your skink is the more increased chance of this and other skeletal anomalies appearing.
There are other various health problems associated with these species. Some include: mouth rot, metabolic bone disease, worms, eye infections, and ticks. I have never dealt with any of these personally so, therefore, do not feel comfortable best advising you how to handle it. I would encourage your own Internet research and seek a professional veterinarian if the condition looks serious or persists whatsoever. You can find a qualified veterinarian near you by using the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians (ARAV) search tool. An additional resource on Blue Tongue Skink Diseases can be found here.
On one occasion, Gladys, one of my Irian Jayas had a bulge in the corner of her eye. It was likely a poke from the woodchip substrate. I put her in a quarantine tank on paper towels for a few days and the problem naturally corrected itself. Had it gotten worse or persisted for more than a week, a vet visit would have been required.
Carl, a Classic Northern produced by reputable breeder, James Wilson, started getting swollen back legs. He dropped some weight and started getting aggressive. If I tried to touch his back legs, it appeared to be painful for him. This lead to my very first vet visit for a Blue Tongue Skink. I used the Association for Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians FIND A VET tool to search for local, approved veterinarians. I called around and scheduled an appointment with the office I felt most comfortable with. Something to keep in mind with these specialists vets:
1) They have a for profit-business to run.
2) They don’t get as many customers as other veterinarian offices do.
3) They likely know a hell of a lot more about animals than you or me, but not specifically as much about Blue Tongue Skinks, especially the particular sub-species you bring to them.
Think logically about the services they are offering to you. If you bring in your skink with a skin issue on a limited budget, consider what I mentioned above as they propose x-rays be taken. Don’t be afraid to take charge in the office when managing your skinks’ health care. In my case, I cut out roughly $1000 in suggested testing, and they were still able to sufficiently determine Carl’s kidneys were not functioning properly. He had too much phosphorus in his diet. Skinks need a diet of 2% calcium and 1% phosphorus. After reviewing the Merrick wet dog food and Acana dry dog food I was using, I noticed these ratios were closer to 1.2%-1.6 calcium and 1% phosphorus. That little difference was all it took to throw Carls system out of whack. Even though I was sprinkling on calcium powder with every meal and Carls brother from the same litter was perfectly healthy along with all of my other skinks, for this one of my 10 adult skinks (at the time), a diet change and some temporary medications were in order. I proceeded to test different dry dog foods, but Carls’s issue persisted. After speaking with a knowledgeable associate at a trusted specialty pet food store I frequent, I was informed when cats have kidney issues, the common recommendation is to cut out dry foods entirely. Overall, they are harder for kidneys to filter. Another round of Alternagel Susp. and Baytril medications and Carl’s back to normal. He is no longer given dry dog foods of any kind and is doing just fine. Had I known of this sooner, it could have saved me a $625 vet bill + $75 of alternative dry dog foods. I hope an issue like this never happens to you or your skink, but if it does, perhaps there’s a chance to save $700 while keeping your skink in tip-top shape.
In recent years, especially with the Northerns, prized pattern morphs have come out due to bloodline lead traits being expressed via inbreeding. The inbreeding of genetics may result in a cool pattern but can cause a kinked spine, kinked tail, or over and underbite jaws, and a naturally weaker immune system. No matter the appropriate calcium levels and other demonstrations of superb husbandry, not much can be done about shallow genetics. They also tend to be smaller in size and if they never reach 500 grams, it is ill-advised to breed such a small female.
DIFFERENCES: NORTHERN VS IRIAN JAYA
For me, with the natural climate and humidity levels in Chicago, the particular display-style habitats I chose to go with, along with the substrate and heating combo – there are only a few differences in care I enact that caters uniquely to each subspecies:
1) Indonesians need higher humidity. To accomplish that, I add a higher percentage of coconut husk, mossy substrates, and play sand to the hot side. I also add more water to the enclosure more frequently when adding moisture for humidity. Say 3 cups instead of 2. I keep the Northern humidity at 40-60%, being on the higher during shedding. And 60-70% for the Irian Jayas, potentially up to 80% during shedding. The above-mentioned humidity readings are average levels. And levels calculated at the floor level your skink might be. If you take a reading close to the top of the tank, it will be different than what your skink experiences. It is okay if there is a spike up to 90% for an hour when you add the water initially, and there can be moments during peak day heat where it gets as low as 30%. As long as it consistently remains in the appropriate range, temporary or momentary fluctuating spikes shouldn’t be anything too concerned about.
2) During the summer months, I may keep lights on the Northerns 12-13 hours or so. But the Indonesians will get 14-16.
3) During the cool-down cycle, I may drop Northern light hours to 4 or even zero hours a day. With the Indonesians, it may be as high as 8, but can also go as low as zero hours a day. They also get another bump in humidity then. Keep in mind, I am trying to get them on a breeding cycle here. If that is not your objective, nothing needs to be as extreme or precise. Please review what was previously mentioned in the COOL DOWN/BRUMATION section in addition to these three distinctions of care.
That’s really it.
For each lizard though, I make personal adjustments based on their hydration. Every skink takes in water differently. Some like to lap it up from their bowl, others prefer to burrow when the substrate is moist, others like to hover over the top for a steam effect. Some prefer to remain burrowed the entire time, others prefer life on the surface. If all conditions are the same in each habitat, some lizards may appear drier than others for these very reasons. If your skink’s belly is rough, their sheds are flakey or their skin looks cracked, you need to allow more options for your skink to intake water and bump that humidity.
For anyone who says they keep their Northerns at 20-40% humidity, or they keep their Irian Jayas just like Northerns, they are flat out doing it wrong. No apologies. There is a lot of misinformation out there and their skink is alive. Yes alive, but suffering. Any BTS can live over 30 years. Improper conditions act like smoking cigarettes for humans. It takes time to affect the lungs, but when your blue tongue looks like a dry raisin at age 16, dies prematurely, and has bad lungs at autopsy – this is the reason why.
TEMPERAMENT AND PERSONALITIES
Both species offer overlapping, different, and equal opportunities to be a loving pet. I hope my broad insights from being a keeper will help you make the best-informed decision as to which species is right for your family. In terms of temperament, I house a wide range of personalities, for both species. The top kindest of all time are Goldilocks (Northern) and Big Mamma (Irian Jaya). The top two that seek out and hold human eye contact – Mr. Egghead (Northern) and George (Irian Jaya). The top two best to hold in your arms – Carl (Northern) and Dinobot (Irian Jaya).
As I offer a comparison & contrast between the two species, I speak broadly in the following examples when I say, the Irian Jayas species, as a pet, seek human affection when they want something from you – to be let out and roam, because it wants more food, wants water or more humidity, please remove those fruit flies hovering in my basking area. A Northern will seek human affection when it’s bored and is looking to amuse itself with whatever else the outside world can offer. Irian Jayas do not like being picked up but love being held. They still have that prey instinct that kicks in when they see that arm and hand reaching for them. It startles them more than the average Northern. Yet as soon as the Irian Jaya is held, they get into a submissive, relaxed state. When I was in college, Dinobot was with my sister. He sat in her lap for hours while she did homework. That’s a taller ask for a Northern. They’ll enjoy being picked up and played with when it’s regular. But they won’t tolerate it for long. They’ll get antsy and want to explore as an individual. It will find you when it’s ready for you again. But if the Jaya is out and about on its own, it will have that “Oh S*** look; you caught me” all over its face as it scurries away when you’d like to return it to the enclosure. Ultimately, you can’t guarantee the personality of the individual lizard any more than you can for your own child, or your own sibling, or the personalities of your parents. But if you give them everything they need to feel safe and loved with the care guidance above, and you handle them regularly, the odds are ever in your favor for their personality to evolve and adapt to revolve around your cohesive relationship with it as a loving family member.
Oh – and both are food motivated so use that to your advantage.
ADDITIONAL CARE, QUICK REMINDERS, AND OTHER IMPORTANT FACTS
– They can switch to a more adult-themed diet after 6 months but may continue the high protein diet for the first two years. After six months of age, gradually decrease the frequency of the feeding while determining when to also cut back on the higher protein ratio.
– Though they will continue to shed and grow their entire lives, 90% of their total growth is done in the first 2 years.
– Nail maintenance is a must but should be done naturally by them walking over the rocks, brick, and slate you already provided for them.
– The more you handle them the more personable they will be and bond with their hooman.
– They have moods, just like people. A bad mood can last a moment, an hour, or a couple of days. If mood changes more long-term, there may be something off with their health or your care tactics.
– Always support their entire body when handling them. Particularly the shoulder and hip areas.
– Their hissing sound is actually heavy breathing and usually an indication they are not interested in being handled at this time but their mood may change once they are picked up.
– An open mouth is a sign that an aggressive and defensive bite is coming. Time to leave alone.
– If their eyes are closed when petting they may be falling asleep, but more likely they are stressed out. Reptiles are not like mammals. Mammals close their eyes when they relax. Reptiles close their eyes as a form of sensory deprivation because whatever is going on is overwhelming and inescapable.
– They have a tiny black dot on top of their head in the center. This is a third eye, called the “parietal eye”. It is light-sensitive. And just like an eyeball, should not be touched or rubbed by you.
– If they make an “arf” type of squeak, they are under distress and need to be attended to instantly. I have a few that tend to “arf” when they poop.
– Interactions with other animals is generally risky. Cats are potentially the safest. Other reptiles may seem like a safe idea but each reptile has their own unique oils and touching the skins of different reptiles can be health hazardous.
– Feces should be picked up daily. Their feces have two parts consisting of the traditional brown log and an additional white byproduct. The white byproduct is “uric acid” and is how their body expels sodium. Feces left in the habitat will attract mites.
– If you are using natural substrates, a helpful bug called springtails may appear. They are like an in-house cleaning crew and will not harm your skink. Do Not confuse springtails with harmful mites – they look different to the trained eye. Springtails are typically oblong and grey with antennas. They grow up so they can be seen in a range of sizes. Mites are super tiny and perfectly round in comparison. They come in white, black and red.
– Water should be changed at least every week and sanitized when they defecate in the bowl.
– Gentle pets are best and under the gin is generally safe.
*** BE WEARY… There is A LOT of misinformation out there. I’m seeing stuff like Northerns need 25% humidity, Indonesians do not make good pets, some Halmahera in the US is captive bred, dog food is bad for a skink, windowless drawer rack systems are fine, and skinny is healthy/normal. Everything I’ve mentioned above has been pushed onto me and I am standing ground saying it is blatantly false and dangerous advice. There have also been A TON of Facebook groups popping up in the past few years. Some people on there are great, genuine, and capable of offering intelligent advice. Many other individuals offer up guesses as facts and like to post for a self-serving basis. Be wary of everything you read online and take it with a grain of salt.
Please feel free to write me if you have any questions about BTS care. But be mindful of my time. Asking tips and pointers on how to care for your skink is part of the package of purchasing a skink from me. I am not a trained vet and only specialize in a few species so seeking advice from me with a lizard I’m unfamiliar with will be met with a mix of referencing this care guide and recommending a formal veterinarian appointment.
I will update the care section periodically as I learn additional and better techniques to keep these majestic reptiles happier in captivity.
ALL ABOUT CENTRALIANS
PSA: The section below is new and developing. What is shared below are accounts of my first-hand experience being a keeper of second-hand adults, tips from other keepers outside the US, and highlights of the T. Multifasciata section of the Bluey Bible (BLUE-TONGUED SKINKS Contributions to Tiliqua and Cyclodomorphus). I was fortunate to be lent a pristine copy by fellow keeper, Robert Walters. And I’d like Mr. Walters to know his book is kept under museum glass, except when it’s read with white cloth gloves. The point is I am new and learning. If anyone has any proven tips and success stories about keeping Centralian Blue Tongues in captivity, please reach out, I would love to connect with you. Tiliqua Multifasciata, also known as the Centralian Blue Tongue Skink, are a rarely bred species of Blue Tongue (Tiliqua) in captivity. They are native to the North and West deserts of the Australian outback and encompass the largest natural territory of any blue tongue species, from the extreme north-west corner of New South Wales, Australia, to South Australia to the central part of Western Australia, and the states of Northern Territory and Queensland. Finding out what specific region yours came from will do wonders for the skink in captivity as you try to emulate its natural environment.
Centralians are one of two desert species of bluetongue, with distinctly different needs to thrive in captivity from more common Aussie species, and especially compared to their Indonesian cousins.
Multifasciata are known for their red-toned bodies, golden heads, and dark side eye bands. Their skull features a crescent valley of scales in the center towards the neck. The front arms are half-toned while their back legs are lightly banded. They average ⅔ the size of adult Northerns but have been known to reach a size that rivals Northerns in the wild. Their lungs do not fare well with humidity and their immune system fails at cooler temperatures. They are one of the most easily handleable Blue Tongues – the easiest being the Shingleback Blue Tongue (Tiliqua Rugosa), personal opinion here mind you. They survive in the hottest, driest, and most arid parts of Australia. Stocky in stature with a dinosaur-like head, this is one species you won’t come across every day.
I saw a single beauty on the open market in 2016 – and never since then. When I had the chance to jump on an unrelated breeding pair, I literally sold my Tesla stock to make this dream come true. Well, the dream turned a little bit into a nightmare for me. This is the care section, so I want to focus on things related to their care and husbandry, but if you’d like to learn more about the bane of our journey and why you should avoid dealings with J. Craig Stewart of the Urban Reptile or Urban Gecko in Canada, you can read all about it on The Blog, here.
Size requirements are similar to that of a Northern or Irian Jaya, about 1000 sq. in. floor space is appropriate for a single. A little more, a little less is fine, but they overall need a little more space in ratio to their body size than their Northern cousins. So if you end up with a really large Centralian, you’ll need an even larger enclosure.
Height overall is less of an issue.
If housed together, a 30″ x 60″ is what I would aim for a pair and continue expanding on that footprint the more that are housed together. This is one of the few Blue Tongue species where it is acceptable to house them together.
If you live in parts of Arizona, Nevada, and other hot and arid desert regions of the US, a large outdoor pit can be safe. Just make sure it is well protected from escape and unwanted predators like snakes, birds, and others.
They won’t be burrowing much, so there is an extra need for additional hiding options for them to feel secure. They mostly hang out in.
Housing separate is recommended but housing pairs and groups can be fine. In the event of successful breeding, the potentially gravid female must be removed after mating season. But of course, if there is any fighting – separate and don’t think twice about making it a permanent housing decision.
Natural rocky red sand / iron-oxidized earth is best. Does not need to be terribly deep. I have not found anything like this in the US market. Almost everything on the open market has walnut or walnut shells in it, which would be terrible for a blue tongue to ingest.
Aspen chips are okay – these are tiny, tiny wood chips – NOT the stringy aspen snake bedding you find at all the pet shops.
Artificial Turf – BINGO. This is what I will be going with. I have a high-end grassy turf that comes recommended by other captive breeders.
Because they can not burrow in the turf and they don’t need humidity-capturing substates like sphagnum moss or peat moss, I will be covering a high percentage of their enclosure with bundled up fake autumn vines. The color of these vines closely resembles their skin color to make them feel more secure as it functions as additional hiding places.
Ambient temperature is key to their comfort. There are a lot less gradient temperatures while lacking true distinct hot & cool sides. They need a strong basking spot and hot and dry ambient temperatures all the way around the rest of the habitat.
UVA / UVB is a must!
10% T5-HO or T8 fluorescent is good but 12.5% is better.
The 100W Mercury Vapor bulbs work great too – that’s what I’m going with. If the bulbs are far enough away from the surface, a 150W Mercury Vapor bulb may be most appropriate.
Make it hot, hot, hot. Basking 125-145F (summer).
Ambient temperature is 95-105F the whole way through the rest of the enclosure (summer).
The coldest, even at night, never gets below 71F (summer).
So if you need an additional heat emitter, belly heat, or whatever dispersed separate from the main source, do what you need to do for these guys, because that’s what they need to be happy.
I’m going with one additional small heat mat on both ends of the enclosure while there’s still unheated space for a slightly cooler zone.
If you know where your Multifasciata is native to, Karlamilyi, Gibson Desert, Munga-Thirri, or even as simple as did it come from the Northern, Western, or Southern territories, try to monitor the active temperatures and humidity levels to mimic them in your controlled setting.
Two schools of thought…
0 – 20% humidity
Small/medium water bowl
When the water bowl naturally evaporates, wait a day or two before refilling
Avoid baths / soaking when possible. If they walk through poo it’s unavoidable but otherwise, this practice should be absent from their care.
20 – 40% humidity
Large shallow bowl
Don’t wait to refill it because they drink tons of water
Occasional soaking in warm baths is okay
I believe the reason there are such differing opinions out there is that the Centralians encompass the largest natural territory of any blue tongue. While most of the Australian Outback is an arid desert, there are numerous, secluded pockets of waterways and isolated temperate climates. If at all possible, find out which region of Australia your specific Multifasciata came from to help determine which ecosystem is preferred. I’d say play around with it, but there can be health risks associated with the guess and check method as well.
The same approved and FOODS TO AVOID list for Northerns and Irian Jayas is applicable to Centralians.
They do much better with insects, especially beetles, being their main source of protein.
If you get a multifasciata baby (lucky) you may train it to eat dog or cat food, wet or dry. For the most part, they seem disinterested in these foods. Even when mixed with foods they’ve shown fondness too already.
They really like scrambled eggs. The risk with chicken eggs is high cholesterol.
Multifasciatas have been studied in the wild to eat more fruits and flowers than other blue tongues species. I’ve fed a few 100% fruit meals and their poops come out solid – no mush.
PERSONAL EXPERIENCE: The Centralians I received are allegedly 4 years old. The negligent keeper in Canada refused to go into detail what foods he was getting them to accept – furthering my evidence they simply were not fed during their time in Canada. And when we were on good speaking terms, the seller claimed he could not get a direct answer from his contacts in China what their previous diet consisted of.
Unknowing the foods they were used to for years, bodes additional challenges to get them to eat my food, even if the diet is correct.
Update: I made contact with the original supplier who confirmed they were in his care for one month and eating crickets and worms in that time.
Below are categories of foods by preference, that should have been accepted, but may not have gone over well in my home.
REALLY ENJOYED: All types of Worms – earthworms, mealworms, super worms, java worms, butter worms, goliath hornworms; Chicken eggs (scrambled), Mango, Blueberries, and Guava.
NIBBLED AT: Carnivore Care (a powder egg and chicken protein meal one adds water too), raw or cooked Chicken meat, Dry Dog food, Wet Dog food, Wet Cat food, Kale, Lettuce, Grapes, Peas, Green beans, Butternut squash, Yellow squash, Dandelion greens
INSPECTED BUT ULTIMATELY WOULDN’T EAT: Dubia roaches, Dandelion flowers, raw Steak, raw Quail egg, and Acorn squash
STRATEGICALLY AVOIDED: Raspberries and Blackberries
Bare in mind, her extreme and unfavorable conditions before arriving in my care were turbulent and unusual enough that may have skewed results against other successful Centralian keepers.
Two schools of thought…
Start at the same time the Northerns and Irian Jayas go down, EXCEPT…
Dragged out 45-day gradual cool-down (Spring)
Cold time lasts 14 – 21 days mid 60sF (Winter)
45-day gradual warm-up (Spring)
Start at the same time the Northerns and Irian Jayas go down, EXCEPT…
A 30-day gradual cool down (Spring)
Cold time lasts 60 days. 75F basking during the day. 50sF at night. (Winter)
30-day gradual warm-up (Spring)
Same start cycle as Northerns
Keep the breeding pair together. Separate as the female shows signs of being gravid.
Typically they are monogamous – creatures of habit.
Gestation is 75 – 115 days
I have also heard gestation is 90 – 150 days
The average litter size is 3 – 8 babies
Northerns and Jayas are known for their hardiness. Centralians do not follow suit. They are more prone to URI (upper respiratory infections) from their inability to handle colder temperatures or higher humidity levels.
Their body has amazing recovery bouncing back without medications if UVA / UVB or natural sunlight is provided, along with higher temperatures, and more arid air. NOTE – if poor health does not improve in a week or two, or gets worse, see a vet immediately.
Misting the enclosure increases humidity and leads to the flu (influenza). So NO MISTING!
If there is a noticeable health problem like discharge from the eyes, bacteria on the mouth, gasping breaths, etc. and conditions do not improve shortly after implementing the above recommendations, or if conditions improve but persist for more than a week or two, a vet visit and antibiotics will be required.
They don’t respond to stress well. Including moving. It depletes their immune system. Something microscopic in the air or already in their system their body is actively fighting may start noticeably overtaking the direction of battle and compromise your skink’s health.
I have no knowledge of Centralian known skin issues, but the male I received came in during shed. He looked fine on the surface, but about three days later when he actually started to shed, the lifted skin revealed craters on the head and other parts of the body that were being dug down by live bacteria. US exotic vets keep a national database of known cultured bacterias on reptiles to learn what’s out there and what the effective treatment methods are. The bacteria found on the skin surface of Sylvester was not in the registry. My suspicion is Sylvester came in with a skin bacteria native to China, ignored and persisted in Canada, and ended up here as something a well-experienced vet and lab tech could not definitively distinguish.
OTHER FUN FACTS
They have a one-of-a-kind tongue flicker. It is absolutely adorable. They stick the tip out and bounce it rapidly up and down like they’re trying to roll their ‘Rs’ in Spanish class. But it’s outside their mouth. These are the only blue tongues to use their tongue in this way.
They are a little slower and less inquisitive than Northerns so they can be valued as an even greater pet if you’re looking for that blue tongue to chill with. They’re easier to pick up. Less submissive but more of a surfer-bro, go with the flow, attitude. Mind you, every blue tongue has their own personality and a tame lizard may only become temperamental from being regularly handled, with varying results depending on what age you start handling regularly. I personally believe the bond Stella and I have was not by coincidence, but a twilight byproduct to years of abuse and neglect, and recognizing the hooman who finally provides adequate treatment in a stable environment.
They appreciate enrichment toys more than others. A small ball they can roll with their nose or mouth is great. I tossed in a disposable plastic cup the other day and she thought it was a hoot.
They shed their skin over a lengthier period of time. They will first appear coming into-shed, but not actually shed-out until 2-3 weeks later. They will then shed their skin over approximately 2-5 days.
These are possibly the stinkiest skinks. Because they avoid water, bathing, etc. their natural aroma brews. If you bury your nose in the back of one of my other skinks, you will notice their smell. The Centralians indeed have an odor at that proximity.
They’re rare. Ours is one of a handful of known groups in US private collections. I’m sure there are a few more in secret, legitimate or illegitimate, and then the additional ones in zoos. But that’s it. There are perhaps 30-50 in the whole country. I’ve seen 2 different pairs in US zoos over the years. Ya know – very little. So if you see one that it’s available, try to find out the back story. It’s unfortunately plausible to fall victim to supporting illegal smugglings by association.