DISCLAIMER: Most of what is shared below relates to the care of theee specific subspecies of Blue Tongue Skink (BTS), that being Northerns from Australia (Tiliqua Sconcoides Intermedia), Easterns from Australia (Tiliqua Scincoides Scincoides), 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. There are different needs for adults and babies. Most of my sections and subsections will start with information specific to babies, followed by care specific to adults. We also feature a dedication section on the Centralian species from Australia (Tiliqua Multifasciata) at the bottom of the guide.
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 implore you to do additional, external research if you do not find our care guide 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 lb (450 grams) – 3.5 lbs (1600 grams) 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 hardy, medium-sized lizards. 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 Tongue’s 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 welcoming one of these majestic creatures into your life.
WHAT IS ETHICAL KEEPING AND HOW SHOULD IT AFFECT ME?
Ethical keeping at its basic, most rudimentary form, is recognizing any animal you take into your home deserves a cherished life, it’s quality of life matters, and you will do your best for the animal. It is the practice we engage in at Dave’s Skinks and hope this practice is what brought you here today, so you can implement similar principles into your blue tongue skink husbandry.
An Ethical Keeper’s mission is to learn and understand habits and optimal conditions for the animal in the wild so you may duplicate as much alikeness as possible to the best of your abilities as you care for them in captivity. No one is saying you have to go crazy but there’s no need to take in an animal with the intent of providing the absolute bare minimum for survival. I know we can all do better than that if we adopt an animal into our lives.
Natural conditions that should be duplicated include temperature ranges, providing enough space so they may select the optimal temperature for them, providing similar substrates to what they may experience in nature, offering a varied diet that is proven healthy, and creating ideal humidity ranges specific to your species or subspecies.
There are over 20 different species, subspecies, and localities of Blue Tongued-Skinks, each having evolved their skin, lungs, and other features to thrive in their specific climate. Found all over Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, additional surrounding island countries, and all of Australia, temperatures range from 40F – 115F with humidity anywhere from 0% up to 100%. Understanding your specific Blue Tongue will determine the ideal range of conditions to adhere to. Something to consider with substrate and enclosure selection, blue tongues are known to experience anywhere from hours to days burrowed or hidden, and other times they walk several blocks in a single day. Perhaps you can’t provide them with a massive outdoor pen but you can provide some outside the enclosure time to strut their stuff while also providing a naturalistic display enclosure that promotes natural behaviors like burrowing and hiding.
Ethical keeping also recognizes the animal is a sentient being with some anthropomorphism qualities like they can get bored or crave stimulation. We can support these by providing enrichment. Enrichment can be many things. Providing them a view so they can see outside or some action going on in your house. With mine in the kitchen, they love watching me cook. It can be taking them outside to see new sites and explore new spaces. It can be playing with them, providing them with new food experiences, certain toys like small balls, feeding games, working on clicker training, or giving them a pile of blankets to crawl through – the possibilities are endless.
It has been proven if you keep Blueys in a windowless, decoré-less, 36″ x 18″ rack tub, they will live, they will eat, and they will breed. That is indeed the absolute barest minimum for survival. It discounts every lesson grown from an ethical keeper’s philosophy. We request you please do your best and that best has to be above the barest minimum for survival. I’m not talking about temporary or quarantine living arrangements, but decades of mistreatment – it’s inexcusable. Minimalists create unrealistic setups that contradict the animal’s biology. The exclusion of enrichment, a view, and light creates a subdued creature devoid of a life of pleasure and a developed personality. I compare life-long racked blue tongues to Dale Helmig. Dale was wrongfully convicted of murdering his mother in 1993. I was part of the Illinois State University Innocence Project class that worked to get falsified testimony removed and new DNA evidence admitted to his case, ultimately proving his innocence in 2011. He came and spoke to our school upon his release. The speaker was a shade of the man he once was before 1993. He was soft-spoken and apprehensive; hesitated on every word. As if for nearly 20 years, he feared physical or mental ramifications for saying the wrong thing, for speaking too loudly, or speaking too much. He was mentally maimed; he was institutionalized. In a comparative way to Dale’s captivity, the age-old argument justifying minimalistic rack-keeping in blue tongues – or any reptile, is that they survive for decades, eat, breed, and are often devoid of medical issues. Like Dale, reducing the life of your skink to a solitary and unwarranted prison sentence costs the animal its life experiences and a blossomed personality. Identifying favorite foods, activities, and hides; uncovering their unique personality is one of the joys of being a BTS keeper. I encourage reasonable decision-making in skink care that ensures it will receive more than the barest minimum for survival.
Your continuation of care research is never done. As a keeper, know you will progressively grow, evolve, and adapt, as you continue loving your animal the way you might want to be cared for if you were a Blue Tongue in the US. And it’s okay if you mess up somewhere along the way. We’re all human and we know you’re trying. And if you’ve got any questions, I’m always there for my people.
DO THEY LOVE ME? CAN THEY LOVE ME?
This is often a hotly debated topic. What is definitively proven is reptiles can create strong bonds with their humans. Skinks are no exception. Plenty of mothers create strong bonds with their young offspring too I’ve eye-witnessed. But love at its most basic function is the release and recognition of oxytocin. Skink oxytocin production and the part of the brain that accepts oxytocin cells may not be nearly as developed as people or other mammals like dolphins, elephants, or canines, but it is there. And lizard oxytocin levels are considerably higher than most snakes – if you were ever wondering why your snake only sees you as the feeder, it’s because they produce very little oxytocin. So be mindful of all this as you consider long-term care for these long-lived creatures. Treat them with love and respect and the connection will happen.
HOUSING + SUBSTRATE
A 48″ x 24″ front-facing enclosure is the most practical option for most adults. But let’s start with what to do for a baby.
The most common question everyone asks is, should I or do I have to start with the final adult enclosure?
The answer: No, you do not have to. And honestly, if at all possible, I recommend starting small and going up. Babies need more heat; constant heat, and lose heat faster than adults. Warmer temperatures are easier to manage in a smaller area. If you want to start with a large space, you can make it work, it just may take extra heat to get the results you seek.
So let’s say you’re a first-time breeder and you get babies on their birthday, what should you do? I am of the opinion to leave them with mom for a while. It can be a couple of days, even upwards of a month. But if you separate right away or wait a little bit, the options can be as small as individuals in shoebox-sized containers, or housing all the siblings in a 20-gallon enclosure – minimums for both. When housed together, be on the lookout for bullying or aggression and be prepared to separate immediately. If they are fed live food, it is encouraged they be fed individually because once they get an idea to attack moving prey, 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 also be itching for more space than the shoebox container can provide.
Every baby will grow at a different rate. I’ve seen siblings under the same care develop at drastically different rates. They are often considered babies for the first 6 months of life and a juvenile until they reach adult size. I’ve seen babies reach their full size at 8 months and all the way up to 30 months old. I tend to stick to the long-growth rate, personally.
As stated before, it is more than alright to go straight for the final adult-size enclosure, but if you want a baby now but need additional time to acquire or manufacture the final adult enclosure, here are a few development markers to guide adequate enclosure size:
Babies 0 – 1 sheds: individual shoebox-sized container, or 20-gallon enclosure for a litter, or kept in the adult enclosure with mom
(Individual) Baby from 2 sheds through 6 months old, or reaching 250 grams, whichever comes first: 20-gallon long or 20-gallon regular
Juveniles 251 grams through 500 grams, or 16″ long, possibly up to 18 months old, whichever comes first: 36″ length x 18″ width/depth enclosure, or ~ 650 sq. in. floor space
Adults or when they have exceeded 500 grams and 16″long: 48″ x 18″ MINIMUM, don’t be afraid to go bigger, aim for ~ 1000 sq. in. floor space or more.
When considering adult enclosure size, height is less of an issue. Blue Tongue Skinks (BTS) are primarily ground dwellers and burrowers. They are not arboreal. But they are inquisitive and explorative creatures. Whether in the wild or captivity, if there is vertical decor to explore, they likely will check it out from sheer curiosity and as a point of enrichment. Just be mindful that they can hurt themselves if the pathway down is not simple. When an enclosure is tall, overhead heat is more challenging to manage and the vertical walls can encourage 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. I find an enclosure 13″ – 15″ tall to be ideal. You can still get your hands inside to do what you need to do, it can provide everything the skink needs, and is easy to manage overhead heat. 24″ height isn’t wrong. But I’d be looking to mount the light internally at that height.
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 Nextdoor, Marketplace, OfferUp, etc.
I have been perfecting my own custom, stackable, display enclosure since the beginning. My preferred option is a front-facing, PVC enclosure with glass doors. Elevate the front dam to 3″ or more. And add an internal front lip that keeps substrate from being pushed into the door slide tracks or onto your floor outside. And I drop that internal lip just a few millimeters instead of being flush with the door slide tracks. Note that sealing in the tank raises and maintains the humidity. Strategic ventilation is important, and consider a mister system to best manage humidity or an incubator fan to simulate wind – should you go that extra mile. My ideal measurements are 46″ long, 22.5″ deep, 13.75″ tall if I am using a radiant heat panel, where I can stack 6-tall comfortably, and 15″ tall with a 2″ sunken screen top if the tank features and overhead deep dome light, where I can comfortably stack 4-tall comfortably in my home. Note, if you end up with a very large skink or house multiples, you may need to increase this footprint. Going bigger is great!
RACKS AND OUTDOOR ENCLOSURES
Blue Tongues have been in captivity for many, many decades, both in zoos, university studies, and private collections. But they only started their ascent in popularity during the 90s. At that time, the largest collections and sources for captive care information were often provided by hobbyists utilizing minimalist setups, often 36″ x 18″ drawers in a rack system. No overhead heat. No lights. No UV. No enrichment. There are still some of these folks around the collector and breeder communities, or old-school keepers unwilling to update their care practices. But there has been a cultural wave in the past 5 years favoring ethical keeping in all forms, which include outdoor keeping, large display enclosures with enrichment, and many other positive developments for the hobby. There remains a significant amount of outdated care tips that can misguide your journey into compiling accurate care information. Dave’s Skinks takes a stand in favor of ethical keeping and discourages the use of minimalistic rack enclosures. With that said, racks do not have to be minimalistic.
Yes, racks can be bad. But they don’t have to be. They can correlate with ethical keeping; provide meaning and excitement; something to do each day that offers resemblance to life in the wild. I do believe it is possible to replicate ethical keeping in racks if done properly. An individual rack drawer can be spacious, offering well over 1000 sq. in. floor space. LED lighting can be strung up. Tubs can have windows. They can be deep enough for hides to climb over. Large racks can accommodate a very enriching life if the size is adequate enough and the area is set up properly. There are even rack systems that utilize overhead heat lamps. More often than not, belly heat functions as the sole heat source in racks, which is unnatural for a Blue Tongue. To counter this when using a large rack system as primary housing, we recommend offering dual setups, either with a corner of the house that has heat lamps they can access during their release time or a temporary outdoor enclosure that receives exposure to direct sunlight when the weather provides such ideal conditions.
For an outdoor setup, there are many factors to consider. Do I have natural predators to worry about? Are there day and evening temperature fluctuations that can negatively impact the skink? Will they only be outside when it’s nice and they are supervised, or will they be outside all season in varying conditions? Will they be on an artificial floor or directly on the ground? If they are directly on the ground, am I certain the ground isn’t being sprayed with chemicals, and are there any bugs or plants that could be toxic to my skink?
For temporary, supervised outdoor housing, I use this, PetCo.com – Portable Pop-Up Play Pen. Joe Ball down in Australia, who is possibly the most qualified breeder in the world, is a big fan of seasonal enclosures that look like this:
First off, we do not encourage the cohabitation of the Irian Jayas and Northerns. If you find one in the wild, you’re finding one alone. It’s not like you flip a rock and there’s a grouping that scatters. Cohabbing is primarily for other species of blue tongue, but always the super experienced and advanced keepers; ones who have the capacity to separate at a moment’s notice. And if you already have spare adult enclosures on hand, why not just give everyone their own? If a single skink lives in 1000 sq. in. area enclosure (1152 for a 48” x 24”), increase the enclosure size by 75% for each additional skink.
I can create four different groupings based on their compatibility to cohab.:
MUST: Australian Pigmy Skink (Tiliqua adelaidensis)
OFTEN DO WELL: Any of the Australian Shinglebacks (Tiliqua rugosa) with Aspera being the most adaptable, Australian Blotched (Blotchie) Blue Tongues (Tiliqua nigrolutea ), and both the Australian Centralian (Tiliqua multifasciata) and Australian Western (Tiliqua occipitalis) do well paired with their breeding partner or small group of all females
SOMETIMES DO WELL: Australian Eastern (Tiliqua scincoides scincoides), Indonesian common species including all Tiliqua gigas gigas localities: Halmahera, Classic Indonesian, Sorong, Aru, Jayapura, Manokwari, and Ambon; Indonesian Meraukes (Tiliqua gigas evanescens), and both Kei islanders (Tiliqua gigas keyenesis) and Tanimbars (Tiliqua scincoidea chimaera) adapt best when paired with their breeding partner. All of these species will do best in groups if they are raised in groups right from the start.
RARELY DO WELL: Australian Northern (Tiliqua scincoides intermedia) and Irian Jayas (Tiliqua Sp.), though I often keep George together with a partner during the brief breeding season. Either he or a female partner will get stressed sharing the enclosure after the breeding cycle concludes.
General rules are the same for adults and babies, except for water bowl size. You want to ensure the baby’s water bowl is at an accessible height but does not risk them drowning – which is very possible in an adult-sized water bowl.
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 from bacteria growth like salmonella, or by attracting bugs and mites. Natural wood and cork items are notorious for being a save-haven to defecate on but overly 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 that these reptiles may prefer to sleep curled up vs rest fully extended, or vice versa. The more options you can provide the better. They require at least one hiding place to feel safe. I recommend adding fake green vines and plants that allow them to hide. The fauna product helps the BTS believe they are in a more natural environment while it functions 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 lightweight, 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. Plates are fine options as well and may be even easier for your skink to eat. But the low height also makes it easier for your skink to walk through the food and cover it with dirt. These are food-motivated animals so use that knowledge to your advantage as a bonding opportunity. There’s almost no wrong way to go about dispensing food.
Adding in 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
There is a significant debate about how deep the substrate should go. Blueys are natural burrowers, so it is important to provide enough substrate that allows them to dig down and feel secure while simultaneously absorbing moisture from the soil through their skin. But the deeper substrate goes, the less airflow it has. Which means cooler temperatures and more bacteria.
A baby is the size of your thumb. How thick is your thumb? As long as your substrate is deep enough to bury your thumb, it is deep enough for a baby. Providing 4-6″ of substrate for a baby will have them burrow down once out of curiosity, where they’ll get sucked into the cooler temperature, slow down, be less visible, and not eat as much or grow as fast.
For adults, I follow similar guidelines for substrate height. How tall is the lizard when lying down? An inch? Two? Two and a half? Other care guides and breeders recommend an additional 4″, 5″, and 6″ or more of substrate. This is a pitfall. The depth will create cool pockets that can trigger brumation at an undesired time. When your skink is too cold it won’t be active.
In an attempt to replicate the natural earth that is found in Eastern Australia through the Irian Jaya regions of Indonesia, I mix a variety of loose and natural substrates. Some of the options that can be used successfully include: Cypress Mulch, Large Aspen Bedding, Reptile Bark, Organic Topsoil, Play Sand, Sphagnum Peat Moss, Coco Husk, and Reptile Floral Moss. Zoo Med Laboratories is the safest and most reliable company for reptile substrates but there are other good options too.
I split my tank into two distinctively different and uneven halves. For my larger 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 some Zoo Med Coco Earth with the Irian Jayas, and a few cups of play sand to cap it off. Adding in the play sand has been a HUGE benefit to maintaining the required humidity. I used to have this routine of adding moisture to the enclosure every 3-5 days, but now I only have to do it every 6-9 days just because of the sand addition. With humidity goals in the 50+% range, a little play sand does wonders. I put in enough total substrate for them to burrow and submerge their entire body, maybe 3″ compacted or 4.5″ fluffed up. 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. If your skink approves of your substrate choice, you will often find tunnels they have excavated for themselves.
The cool and dry side is contrastingly different and made up of 100% Zoo Med Repti Bark. This fiber does not handle moisture well. It is prone to molding. I never add moisture to this portion of my enclosure, which makes up roughly 33% – 45% of the space. I think it’s the best option to brumate skinks in if you separate your skink for brumation. I like it because it looks aesthetically appealing and is genuinely comfortable for the skinks to lie on.
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. A gardener tills their soil to grow quality crops. You will till the substrate to grow a healthy skink.
Now because we are using all-natural substrates 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. Fruit flies are common, especially with coco husks. They may be a nuisance but cause no alarm. Another beneficial bug can be a springtail. They are grey and oblong with antennae and are found almost all over the world. Other bugs though, like mites, can be catastrophic. Mites come in a variety of colors but always appear small and round. The general rule for any of these opportunists is if there are bugs on your lizard, that’s when it’s a problem. If the bugs are just there in the tank, they’re probably helping maintain the ecosystem. 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 wigged out by the idea of bugs appearing in your reptile’s tank at all, use the bugs’ appearance as a gauge for 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, all while spot cleaning perhaps 5 days a week. It is okay if you clean out the tank every 2 months, every 6 months, more, less – it’s really a personal preference, but whenever you do a full takedown, 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 100% risk-free. Buried deep in a reptile-safe-product bag, can there be hidden mold, bacteria, or tiny harmful bugs. The risk is increased with products from a hardware store but as a safety measure, I recommend baking the substrate in your oven on a flat baking sheet at 225F (or higher) for 45 minutes. I would not exceed 330F. Please monitor when placing wood chips in the heated oven. A few budget-friendly, non-reptile-products I stand by are the No Float brand Cypress Blend sold at Lowes and Home Depot, the Floral Moss from Dollar Tree, and any organic topsoil that is confirmed to be additive, fertilizer, and pesticide-free. The same rules apply for garden store-bought Pete sphagnum moss.
I used to recommend a freezing method for sanitizing these products by way of sticking the substrate in the freezer for two weeks to kill germs. That recommendation is obsolete. It kills some bacteria and bugs but others freeze and thaw out just as primed as they were before the freeze. Baking and heat drive the best results.
There is this rumor floating around that the ingestion of the coconut husk can be toxic to your skink. I think that comes from blue tongues not eating coconut in their diet combined with the knowledge that a similar functioning substrate made from walnut shells is indeed TOXIC. I still use coco husk in my enclosures but as a precaution, only add it to the hot side, while all food is kept on the cool side. Coco Husk is a preferred fiber for all Indo species.
Mixtures of organic topsoil, Timothy hay, or alfalfa hay will also work for your skink 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. I may use paper towels for a brand new baby, injured, or quarantined skink for easy monitoring, but that wouldn’t be my choice for 20 years of comfortable skink living.
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 the recommendations listed.
MORE ON HUMIDITY
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, which 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 your 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. But the temperature of the water matters. Room temperature is best. Too hot grows bacteria, and too cold doesn’t generate the humidity you seek. Be cautious about 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 Neosporin, plus drying out the tank should resolve the issue in a few days. If it lingers any longer, veterinarian intervention will be required. With all that in mind, remember you can always add more water after mixing up the substrate. It’s hard to go backward.
The optimal humidity level 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 West Papua are 80% but mine get too antsy if they are exposed at this level for more than a spike. I believe this issue arises from most meteorologists’ reviewed hygrometers being set at 5ft off the ground or even higher, closer to a weather vein. Not at ground level and certainly not an inch or two below ground level. Being ground dwellers, skinks experience different humidity readings than us.
Note, it is always okay to bump an additional 10% or more while they shed.
The hygrometer product I recommend can be bought on Amazon.com for $11: https://www.amazon.com/ThermoPro-TP50-Digital-Thermometer-Temperature. I know there is a temperature gauge, but I am really relying on this product for accurate humidity readings only. Let it sit in place for a few minutes before recording the reading.
Some of the common mistakes I see are:
1) Not knowing the proper humidity level for your skink. There are a lot of misconceptions about this and that’s because there are 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? Review the climate from where your skink is native. This should be a good starting point.
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 by their skin while they burrow. Allowing only moisture from the surface increases the chance of dehydration while also adding an unnecessary workload for you.
3) Using a mister/fogger, but not tilling the substrate. Misters or foggers 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 hygrometers 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) Incorrect 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.
6) Hubris. I’m sure we’re all guilty of this at times, myself included. If this weren’t so, this care guide would never see an update. Like people, everyone reacts differently and responds differently. Some people enter a room and they’re cold. Others enter the same room and they’re hot. Same for skinks. They have a personal preference that is up to you to identify. But please stay within the 20% range guidelines. Skinks have long lives and can withstand abuse for an extended period before showing visible symptoms. Like the human body, you can eat twinkies all the time when you’re a kid, but not notice anything’s wrong until you’re diagnosed with diabetes at age 35. Or smoke cigarettes for decades while still running an 8-minute mile. Then all of a sudden cancer is there. Your skink may withstand improper humidity levels, and you may not notice a negative impact for a year, two years, or even 10 years. But we aim to give the blue tongue its best life possible, and that may mean a life beyond 40 years. It will not live 50% of that expectancy if its skin and lungs are battling air conditions that contradict its evolution in the wild over tens of thousands of years.
Bioactive is the process of adding isopods so they can regulate and self-modulate the ecosystem of the enclosure. When this is done, we do not dump the substrate as described above. We also become less concerned with mold growth. I’ve been gradually upgrading my tanks to bioactive since February 2022, so let’s talk about that for a second. It has been proven very successful over the past few years with most blue tongue species, especially the higher-humidity Indo species. My tank naturally attracts springtails, just part of being in the Midwest, but I added in Powder Orange isopods, Powder Blue isopods, and Dward White isopods. After a year and a brumation, I can advise the Blues did not make it and the Dwarf Whites are in scarce supply. But the Powder Oranges are thriving! They keep the tank clean by eating bacteria, mold, and poop, and are adaptable to significant temperature swings from peak summers to cold, brumating winters. I have yet to do an outright change of the substrate, but as I gradually take handfuls out for the occasional spot-cleaning, I am left with less total substrate than say 6 months prior when I performed the last full cleaning and disinfectant. Handful by handful, I’ll replace the missing substrate with organic topsoil in an area that canvases the far edge of the water bowl in the center to the edge of the tank on the hot side. I also scatter in leaf litter and cork bark. When initially adding the isopods, I added colonies of 30+ per species. They were not added to a fresh tank though. I waited until the tank was established with some natural mold and bacteria growth after being in use for 6 months or so. Traditionally, I would conduct a complete takedown, disinfectant, and substrate replacement annually. Now I just leave it to the bugs to maintain. Because the bioactive scene is still fairly new to me, The Bio Dude is who I would refer you to for further bioactive questions.
Your enclosure is a micro-ecosystem. Everything should be controlled by you and uniquely different than the rest of your house. But that doesn’t mean home conditions and conditions outside won’t affect conditions in your enclosure. Over the first year, it is important to be mindful of temperatures throughout the day, and over the entire year.
As said before, babies need more heat and lose heat more readily than adults. When they are in their baby racks as temporary housing before their sale to forever homes, I set the back of the tank to 100°F and that radiates temperatures to 78/79°F in the front. When they get to display enclosures with overhead heat, I aim for a basking spot of 115°F – sometimes higher depending on the tank and heat element setup – and a cool side of 75°F. Temperatures will gradually range throughout the entire tank within the spectrum. And I keep those temperatures up year-round. That means adding additional, compensating heat during winter when outside temperatures drop substantially to keep them up and growing throughout winter. If the baby feels the cold and goes down, nothing bad should happen, you’re just more likely going to have maturity in the 20-30 month range instead of the 10-15 month range (while also missing them for 2+ months while they brumate).
My adult Blue Tongues on the other hand experience 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. Jayas being so close to the equator experience less of the traditional four seasons but instead a two-season wet and dry period. I end up making the end of summer, fall and spring the wettest for my Jayas so they can experience wet and dry seasons.
Most Blue Tongue care temperatures mentioned elsewhere online refer to summer temps and are not species-specific. Be mindful of generic advice as the Centralian and Western need drastically hotter and dryer temperatures while other species like the Eastern and Blotched blue tongue tolerate fairly lower temperatures.
There are 4 main and distinctly different temperature zones:
1) A basking spot of 105-125°F (Higher end of the spectrum for babies after their first shed. You want babies warm to the touch.) If you are using slate under the basking light, monitor those temperatures as the stone/rock can get hotter than the spotlight alone. The highest temperature markers should be your threshold guide.
2) They need a hot side between 80-95°F
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. Same with an accurate hygrometer.
During their cool-down season, “brumation”, which will be discussed later, rules change, and temperatures can drop significantly. Ambient temperatures, 24/7 during winter, I maintain in the 65-69°F range.
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 brand 100-watt 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, floor lights, and other bulbs – reptile, agriculture grow, or just regular heat bulbs that get hot – 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. For tube-style, non-heat, UVA/UVB producing bulbs, Arcadia brand is best. Zoo Med Labratories is the second best. Measure the height from the top surface of your substrate to the bulb. 13″ and under, use the 5.0 or 6.0. For 13.5″ – 22″, use 10.0. For 22.5″ – 24″, use the 12.0. No reason your bulb should be more than two feet away from the floor surface for your blue tongue to access. A general rule of thumb for all reptile light products, is spiral bulbs are a complete waste. T5 is better than T8, but T8 isnt terrible – just old technology.
Getting your skink out in direct sunlight is phenomenal. I don’t have scientific facts to reference, but I’ve heard from a few breeders, the time a skink spends basking under an artificial UVA/UVB bulb is equilevant to 15 minutes of direct sunlight exposure. I try to get my skinks outside in the summer as much as possible, but taking them out one by one, on nice sunny days when I have the time, means everybody only gets this privlage perhaps once every two weeks. 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, I highly highly recommend taking advantage of the climate that allows you to go a natural route. Ensuring your skink receives UV rays can be the difference between getting 35 vs 15 years out of your skink companion. If you’re using a rack, you’ve still got to find some way to get them light. It is definitely better for the health and wellness of your skink if they have light as a referrence point for their internal clock to 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. Zoo Med, ExoTerra, and Flunkers make a deep dome. Be 1000% sure you are getting the deep dome. The mini and standard often look the same on a product internet picture but will ultimately be a fire hazard for a 100W Mercury Vapor bulb. If the socket says its rated for 100W, that’s 100W of standard power of 50W less of mercury vapor power. So if you have a 100W Mercury Vapor bulb, you need a socket that can handle up to 150W of tradational power. Zoo Med recently came out with an 80W version of the mercury vapor bulb shown below 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. 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.
I WANT THE MOST CLEAN CUT ANSWER: WHAT’S THE BEST?
This isn’t one-size-fits-all. There is no one and only one answer. There never will be. To be blunt, it’s a bad question. Every situation is different. Your home is kept at a different temperature than your neighbor’s. Your windows seal better than your buddy across town. You live in a ranch home. Somebody else keeps their skink on the second floor. You are using a 24″ tall tank. I’m using a 15″ tall tank. Mine are PVC, yours are all glass. Placing an enclosure on the floor of the basement has a noticeably different environment than one placed on a stand upstairs. One bulb is mounted in a dome socket, on a mesh screen above the tank. Somebody else is doing a standalone bulb mounted inside the tank. There are so many minute details and settings that will give everyone a different reading and make your outcomes different in Minnesota than your buddy in Miami, even if you do everything the very exact same. It’s why you see so many different setups around the world. Aim for end results. How you get there will be different than another blue tongue keeper for the many reasons listed above. Go with what you think will work. Run the tank for a few weeks before your skink arrives. Take reading throughout the day. You may return products; change things up. You may even find favorable results just by moving the tank to a different part of the house, changing the amount of airflow, etc. Focus on the end results and note there are many paths to success for a Blue Tongue.
WHAT NOT TO DO
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 it’s singing a hole through their belly skin.
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 interim time, I’ve used red lights and found the skinks volunteering to come out and sleep under them. So that is my two cents. But if you need the additional heat and are still concerned, a ceramic heat emitter is great too – honestly a safer option. Again, the advice on red lights is to shy away from them as the main daytime heat source.
The Food Section has been periodically updated since the pandemic times. New experiences, new conversations, new research, and some credit goes directly to Tiliqua-Time who specialize in all Indonesian species, allowing us to offer more scientifically proven aspects of previously understood dietary practices.
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:
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 food items to absolutely AVOID.
Best 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.
Best 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. Blueberry is probably best.
AVOID: Citrus and acidic fruit can upset the stomach of your BTS.
Avocados MUST be avoided as they are toxic to your skink.
Best To Use Anytime: Cockroaches, Dubia Roaches, Earthworms, Horn Worms/Goliath Worms, Moths, Silkworms, Snails, Organ Meat – like Chicken Hearts and Turkey Liver, Reptile Eggs, Repashy brand products, and of course, Wet or Dry Dog or Cat Food
Okay Secondary Options: Raw or Boiled Beef, Raw or Boiled Chicken, Raw or Boiled Turkey, Raw or Boiled Chicken Egg, Mealworms, Rabbit, and Waxworms are all fine but will cause health problems down the line if these are the bulk staple of their diet all the time. Raw meats are easier for them to digest than cooked meats. Cooking is just to minimize the risk of salmonella or other food born bacteria.
Occasional Protein Treats: Ham, Phoenix Worms, Pinky Mice or Rats, Shrimp, Calamari, Fluker’s brand products, and Superworms. These treats should be used just occasionally – like a few times a year each. Most of these are high fat. We don’t want our scaled friend dying prematurely from a heart attack with clogged arteries.
AVOID: 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. Avoid most fish. They have high mercury content, and would rarely if ever be a part of their natural diet.
DOG AND CAT FOOD
For babies 6 months and under, I stick to just wet cat food. It’s typically 1% higher in protein content and 1-2% higher in fat content. Dry kibble is ever so slightly more taxing on the kidneys to process so I wait until they are more developed before introducing dry kibble into their diet. After 6 months, I make the switch to dog food and add in a bowl of dry kibble they can self-moderate and pick at, once a week. The kibble is put through a food processor until it is a grainy powder to ensure they don’t get a dog-sized kernel lodged in their intestines.
With Dog Food or Cat Food, both 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. On your search, you may also find some local or regional brands I’ve never seen but are perfectly okay, just read the ingredients label and use the guidelines mentioned above. For the wet options, 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. We want to try and stick to foods that they may practically encounter. Even though they will never come across fully cooked spaghetti squash in Australia or canned dog food, the nutrients in anything listed in this care guide are in line with the metabolic requirements for easy blue tongue digestion. Grains are even less likely to be a part of their natural diet so we avoid them when making choices for diet in captivity.
REPASHY AND FLUKER’S PRODUCTS
Repashy brand has a few products that are great for BTS like Grub Pie and Bluey Buffet. They come in powder form. You’re supposed to cook it in water, let it cool and solidify into a servable gel. I find better results just dusting the tops of meals with it. Fluker’s makes two products I’m a fan of using as treats or add-ons to a larger meal. They are canned grasshoppers and Dragon Diet.
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.
RULING ON PINKIES
Pinkies 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. If you’re a breeder who has pinky mice or rats on hand who can be so fresh they never taste milk, note the pinky itself is still high in fat content even if there’s no dairy present.
Supplementation is most critical for developing babies but critically important to all blue tongues, regardless of age. Please take note of everything below.
There are three main supplements that are very important to blue tongue health and they all interact with each other. Calcium, Phosphorus, and Vitamin D3. Too much phosphorus and the kidneys do not process calcium properly causing calcification of the organs. Too much D3 and excess calcium gets stored as calcium deposits often in the joints of the tail causing a kinked tail effect. Not enough D3 and calcium does not get absorbed. Not enough calcium and the skeleton weakens and grows in a deformed manner.
BLUE-TONGUED SKINKS Contributions to Tiliqua and Cyclodomorphus is the most regarded scientific reading specific for Blue Tongues. It was also last updated in 2004 utilizing data collected for the book years earlier. They state a blue tongue diet should consist of 1% calcium and 2% phosphorus. When I took the Centralians to my reptile-specialists veterinarian in 2019, he consulted his vet book on blue tongues which stated blue tongue diet should consist of 2% calcium and 1% phosphorus. Neither sources were species-specific but my vet’s book was last updated in 2018. So that is the general guideline I tend to go by.
I was always taught it’s important to sprinkle on some calcium + D3 powder, known as “dusting”, to every meal or keep a bowl of available powder in the habitat at all times. There was never a specified amount to provide. It’s hard to recommend a very exact amount to use. 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. Yet, as I look back, my initial research into blue tongue care was in the 2002 – 2004 period. At that time, the pet trade was small. Information was limited and backed by observers in the wild and big-time collectors who were not providing UV in their husbandry standards. I’ve noticed over the years, as I do provide UV throughout their entire life, less supplementation is needed after their major growth period concludes. They just don’t process calcium at the same rate they did when they were growing a half inch a month. At this time I am hardly using any supplementation in my feedings for established adults. If you’re not providing any UV or caring for growing babies, I recommend rotating brands with each feeding and include an occasional meal that skips all supplementation dusting altogether. The brands I trust include: Rep-Cal Phosphorus-Free Calcium with D3 Ultrafine Powder, Rep-Cal Calcium Phosphorus and D3-Free, Exo Terra Calcium + D3, Exo Terra Calcium, and Wombaroo Reptile Supplement Calcium + Protein.
If you are using a varied diet with plenty of fresh foods, a multivitamin is not required and can be counterintuitive. If the diet is very basic, like just canned dog food, then a small amount of multi-vitamin is required.
A Soloarmter is a very expensive device, I don’t even own one, but it’s really the only way to know with certainty how much UV your skink is absorbing. If you have the device, you want a proper reading between 1.1 – 4.0 UVI, aiming for a result close to 3.0.
I tend to judge based on outcomes. 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 product in rotation. A lot of people seem to enjoy the use of bee pollen. And reading the nutritional components, I can see why. In my experience, it just causes my skinks’ kidneys to calcify. There are few flowers grown in the Northern part of Australia and my Northerns reacted the worst to it. After 6 months of attempted use, it took two full years for my skinks to make a full recovery. Now I recommend bee pollen for the insects in a gut-loading approach prior to their feeding to the lizards, but not the actual skinks themselves.
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 processed meats – which are also high in salt/sodium that concern me the most on this list.
As you can see, many foods appear to overlap 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 blue tongue’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 during 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 you have no intentions of breeding 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. Or you want to stick with a high-humidity Indonesian species. They deal with humidity fluctuations instead of temp/light changes. But since I don’t like endorsing the removal of blue tongues from the wild and having them shipped overseas when there are plenty of established breeeders for the other species, I recommend looking into a monitor lizard.
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 the animal. 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 hours 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.
I personally bring Northerns down to zero light hours and 2-4 light hours for Jayas, but both enclosure setups have ambient temperatures in the 67-69°F range. And with temperatures that low – no food, just fresh water.
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 third decade, 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 by blatant visual cues, especially before adulthood. There are however some general guidelines for determination, accompanied by a fair share of anomalies to take into account. If I am to “sex” a baby, it’s an educated guess backed by years of experience and a compare and contrast to all siblings. Perhaps I can offer an estimated guess on a third of the litter, with boys easier to spot than girls. I boast a 75-80% success rate.
Adult 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 the time for 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 extremely 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 by both physical and behavioral cues from interactions with other adult blue tongues. If you’re unaware of, Joe Ball, he’s The Man out of Australia 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. Then its time for an emergency vet visit.
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 Blue-Tongued adults 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. Blue-Tongued Lizards are ovoviviparous, meaning the mother’s internal body acts as an incubator for her developing eggs, but a live animal is born directly from her. The babies are born in a thin membrane that needs to be removed for them to breathe. It usually breaks at the moment of birth or even earlier in the birthing process. Sometimes they are born with it intact. 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 have yet to encounter anything but a loving maternal instinct from these intelligent and emotional lizards. I’ve been keeping mom and babies together longer and longer each year, even up to a month. I’m not going to lie, with every extra day or week, the risk goes up. 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. I’m finding the best success in separating babies one by one, gradually. I have yet to experience aggression so I tend to pluck the smaller ones who need extra attention and end up with just one baby left after anywhere from 7-30 days depending on the size of the litter.
The babies will be active immediately and looking to eat. That placenta meal is perfect for them and will suffice for about 3 hours. Then the babies are hungry again. Once mama is done, she’ll be hungry as well. Be sure to have food on hand ready to go. Hard-boiled egg and wet cat food is my go-to post-birth/birthday meal for the mom and babies. I use a plate to make it easier for the babies to access.
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, and a similar instance with Hermione Granger in 2022.
PROBLEMS YOU MAY ENCOUNTER
This section will point out health and care issues everyone should be aware of, along with first-hand accounts of my own misfortunes. Let my shared experiences lead to a better life for your skinks.
– You always want to be mindful of skeletal development. If the spine starts to dip or get all wonky, usually means to increase calcium-related supplements. But if you’re getting crystals in the urate, you’ve gone too far and should cut back.
– If a baby starts in a tall tank and wall rides, that can cause skeletal development issues and needs to be addressed either by a change or adjustment to the enclosure, reevaluation of temperatures and humidity, or an increase in enrichment.
– Everyone will grow at a different rate, but if you think yours isn’t growing fast enough, consider reevaluating temperatures and humidity. If they’re too hot and dry, they’ll burrow in the cooler parts for comfort. If the tank is too cold, they’ll burrow down once and get stuck in a cool cycle. Either scenario results in decreased eating and decreased efficiency in processing nutrients. They will also not be out as frequently as you’d like. This is why I prefer a smaller enclosure for babies – it’s easier to raise and control ambient temperature and control humidity.
– If you get a picky eater, try two approaches. 1) Introduce several foods for them individually so you can determine their likes and dislikes. 2) Mix everything together so they can’t selectively pick from the meal.
– 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. Natural filing is the best way to go. I probably have to trim one or two toes per skink each year, and a whole hand once every few years for each, some never.
– 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 the 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 spine and 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 a higher prevalence of underbite compared to other Northern morphs, even with the most impeccable calcium regime administered by 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.
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.
– I recollect receiving what would not be constituted as “bad advice” in the early 2000s regarding nail maintenance. Was never educated or informed about the importance of “natural nail maintenance”. Instead, 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.
– 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.
– Before I was going bioactive, I was 17, immature, and lazy. Dinobot had a habit of burring her poops. I didn’t think much of it. Well, because I stopped spot cleaning, a new bug appeared in the tank. White. Tiny. Perfectly round. It crawls on my skink and makes her run rapidly. I had a mite infestation. Threw away the substrate and all wood and cork bark products. Bleached the tank and rinsed it well. Dinobot went to the quarantine tank on paper towels and had an anti-mite chemical liquid rubbed into her skink until no more mites… Well, I spoke too soon. Reestablished the tank. Kept it clean. But two months later I noted the mites were back. Redid everything again. Longer use of the quarantine situation and mite spray.
– Carl, one of my Classic Northerns, originally 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 led 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’s system out of whack. Even though I was sprinkling on calcium powder with every meal and Carls’s 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 2021 I had a client reach out after about 30 days after receiving their skink. Said the skink no longer had consistent poops and diarrhea often. We reviewed the diet and it was everything I’d do. The ratio was more heavy on vegetables than a baby should receive. More protein helped but didn’t resolve everything. I encouraged their vet do a fecal sample. The result was a low probiotic count. It was prescribed a two-week course of probiotics and was perfect ever since. In 2022 I had a near similar outreach from a new skink owner. I recommended a vet visit and to request a probiotic supplement. They agreed this probiotic deficiency may be the root cause, and it ultimately was. Making the skink perfectly healthy every day ever since.
– George broke his back. I was sitting on the couch, feet propped up on the coffee table, George in my lap. He walks down my legs like a bridge, exits onto the coffee table, and approaches the far end. He looks down and contemplates. Then he did some behavior I’ve never seen a skink do. He backed up. Took a deep breath. And charged for the edge. He leaped and took off like a bird. Except he’s not a bird. He’s a Slinky. And he can’t really jump. So he flipped and corkscrewed and landed awkwardly. He tried walking but was very uncomfortable. He had a noticeable waddle. It was 11pm. Hard to do much for him. When I put him in his enclosure, he started walking laps. When I woke up in the morning, he was still walking laps. Hard to do major spine surgery on a skink. But he was still walking. Taking slight breaks to drink water. He’d take a bite and chews on the go. And after two weeks he finally relaxed. He’ll forever have this bump in his lower spine, but he’s perfect every other way and it has not affected his breeding.
– I have a few personal stories that validate parental behavior in Blue Tongues, that hopefully help steer your course as a breeder of keeping mom and babies together under most situations. Babies are born live with umbilical cord and placenta. There is a physical and biological connection with mom. Rarely does childbirth make a blue tongue mother super moody. It’s really only that situation I support separating immediately. Besides that, I tend to keep everyone together anywhere from a few days up to a month. Really until mom starts showing signs of losing patience or requesting more space, or if siblings start fighting, do we hold off separation. In 2022, Magmar gave birth to a sizeable litter. I noticed this litter in particular loved mom. She would sunbathe; they would sunbathe. The family was always together. Mom would let the babies crawl all over her, even nap on her back. It was truly a beautiful sight to see. Other times, it’s the challenges that test our bond. In 2016, Big Mama gave birth to 17 babies. Some were dead on arrival. Others were born very weak, separated immediately, and given one-on-one care, but ultimately failed to thrive. During the entire birthing process, she had this alarming look on her face of “what did I do wrong?” She was devastated. I was devastated. The baby enclosure was next to hers. For those 4 days, she routinely checked on them, especially when I was working with the weak babies. The demonstrative love and care was obvious. The loss was so great, she refused to breed every year since. Cut to 2019, and I got some pinky mice in. First time offering pinkies to the adult Blueys. Everyone seemed to enjoy them. Except Big Mama. She went wide-eyed and ran in a panic. The Blue Tongues are super into eye contact and very easy to vibe with when you make eye contact. I could read her thoughts: How dare you serve me that poor dead baby! That memory haunts me today…I felt the trauma recall loud and clear. In 2021, Katherine Night gave birth to 4 babies. One arrived dead. The other 3 appeared fine. But on day 3, something changed. Two babies enjoying the tank, exploring, burrowing – doing the baby thing. One baby stuck very close to mom. Or a better way to put it, mom refused to leave this baby’s side. Over the next day or two, I just saw them attached at the hip. Around day 6, I noticed Katherine nearly crushing the baby and the baby breathing abnormally. I reached in to separate them. Mom let me in. But as I pulled away I realized there was something more wrong. The baby’s limps were nonresponsive. As I tried to get the baby to be anatomical and determine if there was anything obstructing its breathing. Mom now crawled out of the enclosure and sit on my lap to get as close to her baby as possible in my hands. And she just patiently watched. As if she trusted me and was grateful for intervention that went beyond her own skill set. It was just 15 minutes. But the baby passed in our hands. Katherine looked sad, but also calm, as if to say, we really did all we could do. She knew something was wrong. And like any good parent, you coddle the weakest member of your family. She demonstrated love, compassion, and care for her babies every second of every day. If that’s not enough to convince you that instant separation of mom and baby isn’t comparable to a standard puppy mill, I don’t know what will. But the parental care is not exclusive to the mom. George is my big breeding male for the Irian Jayas. Every Jaya baby that has been produced her has his DNA. In 2021, I just had this feeling like he may be a good father. Gladys gave birth the day before. I take George out, hold him in my hands, and put him right up to the glass to show him the babies. He stares for a good minute. He takes a moment but finally notices all the babies running around. He slowly turns his head back around, makes eye contact, holds the eye contact, and I tell him, “yes, those are your babies.” He turns back to face the tank. Another moment and he’s itching to get out of my hands. I open the doors and he immediately leaps inside. He steps forward to Gladys, bumps her one the side of the cheek, the same way I see communal Monkey Tail Skinks interact with their clan members. He surveys the tank. One baby runs under his chin. Another baby stops under his chin. He looks down and watches his baby with complete calm and control. I’m on standby in case he makes a sudden aggressive move. But after that, he walked over to their food bowl and chowed down, lol. After his quick bite, I separated him again but I have no doubts, he knew those were his babies, and congratulated Gladys on a job well done bringing them into this world.
– In October 2022, I noticed some swelling on the side of Logan’s mouth. Upon examination, it looked like there was dirt stuck in the gums. I got a damn q-tip and started wiping the dirt away. A month later and I’m about to send the skinks into brumation. I was Logan’s immune system as strong as possible. The gum area is still swollen. I check again, wipe again, but this time a tooth comes out. First time for that. Jump online and talk with more experienced breeders/keepers. Turns out Blue Tongues shed their teeth like crocodilians. So got the old tooth out. Thought the problem was solved. Send all the skinks into brumation. We wake the skinks this year on Christmas. I can immediately see Logan’s gums are still swollen. I look in her mouth and it just looks unusual. Not infected. Not inflamed. Just abnormal. I take a damp q tip and start to rub gently. The whole gum line moves. She’s adjusted. But if there’s an infection I want to get to the bottom of this even if it’s a little painful for her. Leaving it would be a worse option. A few more rubs with the q-tip and her whole jawline comes up. It’s all old pus and tissue. 3 more teeth shed. Now she has a cavity in her mouth. I call, book the vet appointment. But all I can do is wait. I check every day to make sure no dirt is getting in her mouth cavity. But I ended up canceling the appointment. Apparently, all that shed teeth area and pussy gum area was due to come out. The tissue around the gums was no longer red but pink. The swelling around the cums had completely gone back to normal. On day 4, I ended up canceling the future appointment. I will keep monitoring her every day, but I think when that one tooth shed, the others were destined to come out as well. They got loose but never escaped and that caused some sort of infection. But her body battled on. My removal of the loose teeth and old pus started her healing process. It’s only been 9 days since but the gums look very healthy and the cavity is already halfway filled in. Boy, are these guys resilient!
– Charlie Manson was always my most muscular skink. It was just his natural gift. He is even strong enough to go up and hold the tripod position.
Well, what I had not considered is the possibility he could end up touching the internally suspended heat light. I didn’t see the incident, so this is just speculation, but one day I noticed a series of charred scales on top of his head. Poor thing. I used a little diluted betadine on the scales, followed by a little Neosporin twice a day for a week. No infection. Took 3-4 sheds to r-granulate fully but now you would never know. And I used this as a lesson in safety when it comes to the use of a heat bulb.
– Tequila is my smallest adult Northern and smallest breeder. She’s about 18.5″ and 660 grams on a good day. The males that are 20% larger and 30% heavier just tower over her. Breeding can be rough. Body slams. She only breeders every other year and I’m always in the mix for her safety. Trying to jostle for position, a male bit down on her tail, hard. When he released I immediately noticed the open wound. Put an immediate stop to the breeding. I didn’t want her to lose her tail. She’s already the smallest, and it’s always tougher for an adult blue tongue to lose their tail than a baby. We did the same treatment for the burn. A diluted betadine cleaning, followed by some Neosporin twice a day for a week. Moved her onto paper towels while the open wound was visible. But her body took care of the rest. Enough time has passed now and the tail has healed perfectly and articulates at every joint, and she was good to go for the next breeding season.
– Carl has always been Daddy’s lizard. He sleeps in my bed by my feet. He walks the house when I’m not home. He’ll wait on my shoes until I return. He comes finds me in the next room if I switch. He’s great. But spoiling him like this, means he’s rarely content in his enclosure. He’s always looking to escape or scratch on the glass asking to get out all the time. When I had him in a taller tank, he would stand tall, only on his hind legs and tail, lean into the glass, and hope someone takes notice and opens the door for him. Well engaging in this behavior for 5 consecutive years takes a toll. He started getting a dip in his spine where it bent leaning into the wall. One time he fell back, folded in half, and gave me the biggest heart attack! I made the switch to a more squat tank from that point forward. I also added an internal lip at the top of the dam that keeps substrate from entering the door tracks but also pushes him back an inch or two, preventing him from that vertical extension and bend. Below is a photo of the internal lip I recommend adding to your enclosure.
– Cuts in the creases of toes and in the creases of elbows are, not common, but with 20 adults brumating each year, I have seen it a few times. If the cut is deep enough for blood, you gotta go with paper towels over loose substrate. If it’s almost just a crease, that needs daily betadine cleaning and Neosporin applications as well. When dealing with issues around the hands and toes, always look extra carefully for stuck shed. It can hide and blend in, but ultimately cause circulation loss, inflammation, infection, and loss of the toe. 20 fingers and toes per lizard, 20 lizards, 400 fingers and toes to worry about. I’d be lying if I said I was perfect but perhaps 5 toes have gone missing because even handling them regularly, it’s just that easy to overlook.
DIFFERENCES: NORTHERN VS IRIAN JAYA VS EASTERN.
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 species:
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 of my irian Jaya enclosure. Nothing too drastic. Maybe 10-15% swing in favor of the above mentioned substrates in loo of more cyproess mulch witht the Northerns. 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 loving pets. 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, etc. 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 an 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 to them. 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.
– When they are born, they will eat every day and should have a high protein diet of around 90%. By adulthood at age 2 or 3, they will eat once every 5-7 days and have a diet of roughly 60% protein. The transition decreasing meal frequency and protein ratio should be a gradual one from days 1 through 1000.
– Meal size for a baby is the size of their belly but meal size for an adult is their head. There should be a gradual shift from day 1 until day 1000.
– Though they will continue to shed and grow their entire lives, 90% of their total growth is done in the first 2 years. Between ages 4 through 34, expect another centimeter of growth or so.
– 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. I tend to carry mine like a football and press them up against my body as an additional point of contact for trust, safety, and support.
– 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. Like a bunny, they can also make these super soft breathes and squeaks or clicks even, you can only hear up close. George is easily my most vocal skink. These sounds should typically only be associated with a respiratory infection when it is accompanied by other symptoms like weight loss, decreased appetite, sluggish in nature, discharge from eyes, nose, or mouth, or a cough.
– An open mouth is a sign that an aggressive and defensive bite is coming. Time to leave alone. They also do yawn like people, and open their mouths to help swallow after a big bite of something.
– 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 in 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. Isopods will eat the brown poop but rarely dispose of the uric acid.
– 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. Under the gin is generally safe and they seem to enjoy getting rubbed around the cheeks and around the back of their ears. But everybody is a little different.
*** 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. 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.
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.
The dam height of your enclosure is of minimal concern. There’s no need for deep substrate. The species is more of a hider than a burrower. So you’ll need extra hides for them to feel safe and protected. In the wild, they mostly hide from the red dune under the shaded protection of the desert vegetation. I have a half log, and two different versions of shrubbery in my enclosures for Stella to hide in.
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 should be minimal temperature gradience. You want an enclosure that lacks true distinct hot & cool sides in favor of temperatures in direct sunlight and temperatures in the shade. 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 understanding if it came from the Northern, Western, or Southern territories, that can help identify the ideal temperature/light hours/humidity ranges. Knowing where yours originates from will allow you 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, uncharacteristic oases, 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.
If you have one that looks like mine, has more copper/golden coloration, picky eater, I’m having more success with option 2 above.
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, mealworms, and super worms during his 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! This comes directly from proven studies highlighted in the Bluey Bible.
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 bacteria 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 after years of abuse and neglect, leading to a recognition of the hooman who provides adequate treatment in a stable environment at last.
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.
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 private US 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. 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 smuggling by association.