Blue-tongued skinks are a very popular pet lizard. Their shy, docile nature makes them easy to handle, easy to care for and easy to love.
These skinks are known for some pretty interesting behaviors, but biting is not one of them. This passive personality is one of the main reasons why many consider them a great option for newer keepers.
Though Blue-tongued skinks may look like snakes with their long bodies and tiny legs, they are actually a lizard. Their hallmark blue tongue makes them one of the most unique lizards around.
Are you considering this unique pet? Keep reading our complete guide and care sheet to get you up to date on all things blue tongue skink.
What Is A Blue-Tongued Skink?
Blue-tongued skinks (Tiliqua scincoides) are members of the family Scincidae. This is one of the larger lizard families with over 1,500 species! This family is home to quite a few lizards that make for interesting pets including the Red-eyed crocodile Skink and “Blue-Tailed” Skink.
The common blue tongue is the most well-known of seven species and is most often kept as a pet:
- Common blue tongue (Tiliqua scincoides)
- Pygmy (Tiliqua adelaidensis)
- Halmahera (Tiliqua gigas)
- Shingleback Lizard (Tiliqua rugosa)
- Central (Tiliqua multifasciata)
- Blotched (Tiliqua nigrolutea)
- Western (Tiliqua occipitalis)
All members of this skink family are long and stout with very short legs and smooth scales. These features give them a “snakelike” appearance and some biologists say they mimic the appearance of the infamous Death Adder snake.
The color of blue-tongue skinks can vary based on species and age, bust most wild individuals are fairly standard. They are brownish or gray with dark bands and blotches throughout their body.
There are several known captive morphs that can alter their color and pattern. Some of the most popular morphs are albino, caramel, melanistic, leucistic, white (or snow), axanthic, orange, sunset and sunrise.
Although their color and pattern can vary one thing remains the same, their large blue tongues! These blue tongues are thought to be used to ward off predators and is what gives them their name.
Blue-tongued skinks are known to be very passive and agreeable. These skinks can have a powerful bite, but keepers rarely have to worry about getting bit. Because they rarely bite they are considered a wonderful pet for less experienced keepers.
- Common Names: Common blue-tongued skink.
- Scientific Name: Tiliqua scincoides.
- Range: New-Guinea, Tasmania, Australia and Indonesia.
- Size: 15 to 24 inches.
- Weight: 283 and 510 grams.
- Color: Brownish or gray with a large blue tongue.
- Lifespan: 15 to 20 years.
- Diet: 55% vegetables, 40% meat and 5% fruit.
- Tank Size: 60-gallon long glass tank with a screen top.
These skinks are native to New-Guinea, Tasmania, Australia and Indonesia. They generally like their habitat dry and hot, like most other Australian species.
It is common to find them in desert, scrubland and woodland habitats where they are most active in the mornings and evenings. They are burrowers and often use logs, bushes, crevices and abandoned mammal burrows to hide throughout the day.
The exception to this is the Halmahera blue-tongued skink which is native to Indonesia. This species is known to live in much more humid habitats than its Australian relatives and will have different care needs.
As a whole they are not considered endangered, however one exception is the Adelaide pygmy blue-tongued skink. This skink is currently listed as endangered by the IUCN red list.
Interestingly the Pygmy species was rediscovered in the 1990s and was previously thought to be extinct.
Species such as the common blue-tongued skink are not currently endangered, but human expansion has rendered wild populations increasingly at risk. Threats like feral dogs, cats, and invasive cane toads are becoming an increasing concern.
Blue-Tongued Skink Appearance
Blue-tongued skinks are long and stout with very short legs. You can think of them as the corgi of the lizard world! They often have smooth overlapping scales which is common with most lizards of the family Scincidae.
The color of your skink will vary based on age, species and morph.
For a common blue-tongued skink you will likely see green, brown or gray colors with alternating dark and cream or yellow bands extending down the entirety of the body and tail. Some individuals have a band of dark coloration behind the eye. They also have a relatively pale head with little to no pattern.
These skinks are not sexually dimorphic which means it is hard to tell males and females apart.
To the frustration of keepers everywhere it can be difficult to tell the gender of your skink. Males generally have a larger more triangular head, but the only way to be sure is to probe or evert the hemipenes. You can often ask your breeder or vet to sex your skink for you if you are curious.
Who can forget their most prominent feature?!
Their tongues are long, thick and able to be inflated when threatened. Most of all their tongues are strikingly blue! Their ultraviolet-blue tongues are often compared to the UV-reflective blue patches seen in other lizards like chameleons.
Skinks are one of the largest lizards in the family Scincidae.
Full size blue-tongued skinks easily grow between 15 and 20 inches, but their adult size will depend on which species you choose to keep.
The Northern species is the largest and will grow between 18 and 24 inches long. Pygmy skinks only measures around four inches long, but you can’t keep that species as a pet due to their endangered species status.
In general most individuals will measure anywhere from 15 to 24 inches and weigh between 283 and 510 grams.
These skinks are prone to obesity because of their inactive nature. Their weight should be monitored and recorded as they grow to ensure they are within the proper ranges.
Blue-Tongued Skink Care Guide
If you are a beginner looking for a simple species, but want something more exotic than a bearded dragon then look no further. Skinks in general are simple to care for. With the proper set up they will thrive as pets.
Adult skinks are a relatively large lizard and therefore many blue-tongued skink enclosures are big. An adult should be housed in a 60-gallon long glass tank with a screen top. They are terrestrial lizards so having lots of floor space should be the priority.
Their enclosure should be fairly cluttered with rocks, plants, logs and hides on each side. They do not need branches as they are not arboreal and can even injure themselves falling from high areas.
The “hot” side of the enclosure should reach temperatures of 95-105°F directly under the basking light. This temperature can be maintained with around a 70W incandescent bulb with a fixture behind the screen lid. Make sure to use a 10% UVB tube light too.
A large flat basking rock should be placed on the “hot” side directly under the basking light. This is a great addition to any enclosure and provides not only heat but enrichment.
Generally under tank heaters and ceramic heat emitters are not necessary.
The ambient blue-tongued skink enclosure temperature should generally be between 70-80°F. Temperatures at night can drop lower than this, but they should never dip below 65°F.
Temperatures should be frequently checked with a temperature gun on the hot side, cold side and the basking area.
They are crepuscular like Leopard Geckos. This means they are active most in the morning and evening. They should have a regular 12 hours of light in order to maintain activity and eating cycles.
The best substrate for blue-tongued skinks depends on which species you have decided to keep. If you have chosen a common blue-tongued skink, cypress mulch and organic topsoil can be used. This will help to keep the humidity closer to 35-60%.
Indonesian species like more humidity of around 60-80%. This means you should use a substrate like coconut fiber to help retain moisture.
Blue-Tongued Skink Setup
|Housing||60-gallon glass enclosure with mesh top|
|Lighting||10-12% UVB tube light
70 to 100W incandescent bulb
|Humidity||35-60% for all Australian species|
|Substrate||Rich-soils, coconut fiber and cypress mulch|
|Décor||Lots of hides, plants, logs, a basking rock and a shallow water dish|
The enclosure should be spot cleaned daily, whenever waste is seen. A dirty enclosure can lead to a variety of health problems including infection and respiratory illnesses. A deep clean and substrate change should be done twice a month.
Blue-tongued skinks are opportunistic omnivores and will eat everything and anything they can find! They are not a “sit and wait” hunter like a bearded dragon and will often actively forage throughout their home ranges.
In their natural habitat you can find them eating a wide variety of plants, fruits, seeds, insects and small vertebrates. They often hunt in the cooler parts of the day during morning and evening.
Normally adult blue-tongue skinks will need a diet of 55% vegetables, 40% meat and 5% fruit.
Below is a list of safe vegetables and meats, along with some foods to avoid:
Vegetables and Greens
- Mustard greens
- Bok choy
- Collard greens
- Dandelion greens
- Cactus pear
- Bell peppers
- Green beans
Meats and Insects
- Boiled chicken
- Cooked lean beef
- Dubia roaches
Foods to Avoid
- Wild insects
All vegetables and greens should be dusted with a calcium/vitamin D supplement powder in order to avoid conditions like metabolic bone disease.
A little more care needs to be taken with a blue-tongued skink diet as they are known to become obese quickly. Meats like pinky mice and fruits should only be given occasionally as they can lead to obesity.
The following table outlines a general feeding chart for the common blue-tongued skink. These guidelines can change depending on the species of skink you choose to keep. For example the Shingleback is known to eat more plants than other species.
|0-3 months||Daily||2 teaspoons per meal||40% veg and 60% meat|
|3-8 months||Every 2 days||2 tablespoons per meal||50% veg and 50% meat|
|8+ months||2x week||2 tablespoons per meal||55% veg and 45% meat|
Most of a skink’s hydration comes from their diet, but water should always be available for them. Place a large shallow water bowl in their enclosure and clean it daily to avoid bacterial growth.
Lifespan and Health Issues
The lifespan of a blue-tongued skink is normally anywhere from 15 to 20 years. The oldest blue-tongued skink recorded is a 35-year-old Shingleback named Stumpy from England! Their lifespan will vary based on proper husbandry, but with the right setup they can live a very long and happy life.
Here are some common diseases and injuries that you may see in your skink as a result of illness and improper care:
- Metabolic bone disease is a disease seen in many pet lizards. It is caused by improper diet and lighting. UVB lighting and calcium/vitamin D supplements are necessary for prevention.
- Raw nose is an injury caused by the rubbing of the snout on the enclosure. Raw nose can be a sign that your skink is stressed and unhappy in its current environment.
- Their claws need to be trimmed every six months. Without trimming claws can become overgrown and curl inward, causing damage to the feet.
- Shedding issues can be prevented with proper humidity. If the enclosure is under 35% humidity you may see that your skink is having trouble shedding. Stuck shed can cause a lot of problems around the feet and tail which can even lead to amputation.
- Mouth rot is a bacterial infection of the mouth. This can be caused by a mouth injury, poor husbandry and even stress. Some signs your skink may be stressed are defensive behaviors like hissing, puffing up and bearing the tongue.
- Scale Rot is used to describe conditions affecting the skin of your lizard. This can include infections, burns and dermatitis and is normally caused by a dirty tank.
Watching and handling your skink often will allow you to spot any changes in their behavior or body condition. It is very important to be able to recognize any symptoms of illness early.
Blue-tongued skinks are secretive, solitary lizards. In the wild they spend most of their time alone, until they search out the opposite sex for breeding purposes. Males have been known to be aggressive over females or territory disputes which is why they should always be housed alone.
These secretive lizards will often remain hidden most of the day. This shy nature is why having lots of clutter and hiding spots in their enclosure is important.
Hiding is the most common behavior you are likely to see in pet species as this is what they spend most of their time doing in the wild. You may catch a glimpse of them basking or moving around their enclosure throughout the day. They are most active in the morning and evening as they are crepuscular.
Blue-tongued skinks are generally very docile and with proper handling can enjoy spending time with their owners. They naturally try to avoid conflict and have one unique defensive behavior…
When disturbed or scared they will puff up their body, hiss loudly and stick out their blue tongues.
The blue tongue display is meant to scare predators in two ways.
First, the puffing up and hissing is an attempt to make the skink look bigger and scarier than it really is. Second, the bright blue tongue is actually an attempt at tricking predators into thinking they are poisonous.
This behavior leads to many people asking are blue tongue skinks poisonous? The answer is that no they are not poisonous, but their blue tongue is a good bluff!
How Much Does A Blue-Tongued Skink Cost?
The common blue-tongued skink is one of the most popular pet species for beginners. It is a much more affordable option and usually costs between $150 and $300. On the more expensive range sunset morphs are selling for up to $5,000. In general their price is based on species and morph.
There are a few options when it comes to buying one.
For a new reptile keeper the best option is to buy from an experienced breeder. These skinks are common so it is relatively easy to find a reputable breeder locally or even at a reptile expo.
You can also adopt one from a rescue. However, since it may come from an unknown background the temperament and health cannot be guaranteed. This may be a better option for a more experienced keeper.
Regardless of where you buy your skink from it is important to check for any health problems before bringing it home. Signs of a healthy skink include clear eyes, no visible deformities, no limping and no skin blemishes or dry patches.
Blue-tongued skinks are calm, friendly and popular lizards. Their easygoing personality, simple care, and adorable appearance makes them the perfect lizard for any beginner.
The common blue-tongue is the most well-known of seven species and is the best pet species. Their striking blue tongues make them a highly sought-after pet.
If you are looking for an interesting lizard what could be more unique than a species with a bright blue tongue?
Buying a blue-tongued skink will likely cost you a little more than a Bearded Dragon, but their exceptional personality and unique looks are well worth the cost.
Let us know if you agree by leaving a comment.