Red-Eyed Crocodile Skink Care, Tank, Lifespan & More

Red-Eyed Crocodile Skink

Red-eyed crocodile skinks are members of one of the largest lizard families, Scincidae. But, these unique skinks have no trouble standing out!

Many reptile keepers love this species because they look like miniature crocodiles. Their red-rimmed eyes and spiny scales set them apart from other smooth scaled skinks. They are also popular pets because of their simple tank setup and diet.

However, you should know that these skinks are not ideal for beginners. Hatchlings can be stressed easily and do not tolerate handling well.

Before you decide if a Red-eyed crocodile skink is right for you, keep reading! We share our complete care sheet for this pretty amazing species and if they make good pets…

Quick Overview
Common Name Spiny skink
Scientific Name Tribolonotus gracilis
Family Scincidae
Range Indonesia, Maus, Bougainville, Britain and Solomon Islands
Size 6 to 10 inches
Color Brown, grey or black with bright orange scales around their eyes
Lifespan 12+ years
Husbandry Simple
Diet Insects
Tank Size 20-gallon long
Temperature 70 to 82°F
Humidity 70 to 90%
Price $150 to $300

Red-Eyed Crocodile Skink

Crocodile Skink

Red-Eyed Crocodile Skinks (Tribolonotus gracilis) are part of the Scincidae family which includes over 1,200 species of lizards. Other members of the Scincidae family that you may see as pets include the Blue-Tongued Skink and Fire Skink.

There are officially 8 different species of spiny skink though the Red-Eyed is by far the most popular.

Red-Eyed Crocodile Skinks have been popular pet lizards since the first individuals were imported from Papua New Guinea in the mid 1990s. Many reptile keepers and herpetologists were immediately drawn to their unique and stunning looks.

The Red-Eyed Crocodile Skink gets its name from the trademark spiny spikes that run along its back and the bright red scales around its eyes.

This species was first described in 1909 by Nelly de Rooij, but little is known about their ecology, wild behavior, breeding or even lifespan.

What is known is that they prefer humid, warm temperatures because they are native to tropical rainforests in New Guinea, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. Their natural habitat within this range is rainforests and they can frequently be found hiding in the leaf litter at the forest floor.

Appearance

Red-Eyed Crocodile Skinks are no doubt one of the more unique looking lizards with their red eyes and armored scales. All species of skinks have spiky body scales with bony plates underneath them. This combination of body scales and bony plates gives them some pretty serious armor!

Red-Eyed skinks also have distinctive reddish orange scales around their eyes. These famous reddish eye scales are usually less pronounced in younger individuals, but become easily visible in adulthood as the scales darken with age.

Hatchlings are born with lighter colored heads that will often darken as they age. Fully grown adults are usually dark brown, black or gray in color with a lighter underbelly. Body color is similar in both males and females, though males can also have enlarged orange scales near the middle of their belly.

Males are typically longer and stockier than females and have notable pores on the palms of their back feet. These pores secrete pheromones that are believed to attract females during mating.

Size

Hatchlings are born around 2.25 inches long. Full grown red-eyed crocodile skinks reach lengths of 8 to 10 inches as adults. These skinks are much smaller than other pet lizard species like their relatives the Blue-Tongued Skink. They are also fairly lightweight as they weigh between 36 and 45 grams once they are fully grown, at between 3 and 4 years old.

Are They Good Pets?

Red-Eyed Skink

If you are looking for an interesting lizard to sit back and watch, it does not get much better than this species. However, this is definitely more of a “look but don’t touch” lizard. They can be easily stressed and intolerant of handling.

At first glance Red-Eyed Crocodile Skinks could almost be mistaken for a tiny dragon.

Their stunning looks make it easy to fall in love with them. They also have relatively simple care needs that make keeping them cheap and easy.

RELATED: Pet Leopard Gecko Care Sheet

However keeping skinks is not for everyone.

These lizards are known not to tolerate handling very well and can be easily stressed. If you are looking for a pet that will freely roam your house and form a friendship with you, the Red-Eyed Crocodile Skink is not the lizard for you. Instead species like the Bearded Dragons may be better for you.

Another major concern for keeping red-eyed crocodile skinks is the fact that many are wild caught. This means that they were taken from the wild and imported through the pet trade. It is very hard to guarantee the health of wild caught individuals as they can have hidden illnesses like parasites. Some countries also ban the exportation of wild caught crocodile skinks so there may be a chance you are purchasing an illegally imported pet.

Finally as a community we don’t know much about these lizards. It will be much easier for an experienced keeper that knows what a healthy lizard looks like to identify stress and health issues.

Pros Cons
Incredibly unique appearance that looks like a miniature crocodile. Cannot be handled and easily stressed in their enclosure.
Simple husbandry needs. Active mostly at dusk and dawn so you are unlikely to see them throughout the day.
Diet of insects that can be found at almost any pet store. Not a great lizard for beginner keepers.
Moderately long lifespan. Most individuals are wild caught and imported.

Where To Buy Red-Eyed Crocodile Skinks

If you are interested in buying a Red-Eyed Crocodile Skink then it is important to find a reputable breeder. Look for captive bred skinks from established breeders. This will give you a better chance of buying a lizard that is healthy and free of parasites.

Unfortunately many Red-Eyed Crocodile Skinks for sale are wild caught. This means that they were taken from the wild and exported for the pet trade. Countries like New Guinea have banned the export of these skinks, while other countries do not regulate their trade.

Wild caught individuals run the risk of carrying diseases or parasites and are easily stressed.

They are currently listed as “Least Concern” as wild populations seem to be growing with no significant threats. However, demand for these skinks could quickly lead to overexploitation and cause damage to wild populations.

Red-Eyed Crocodile Skink prices will range from $150 to $300 when buying from a private breeder.

Interestingly they only lay one egg per clutch. Most reptiles focus on producing large clutch sizes in hopes that at least one will survive to adulthood. This species is the exact opposite and will only lay one egg every clutch!

Red-Eyed Crocodile Skinks will fiercely protect their egg because they are so heavily invested in a single offspring. In particular females will go above and beyond and wrap themselves around their egg during development. They will also defend their egg against predators and will stay with their hatchling for a few weeks after they hatch.

Red-Eyed Crocodile Skink Care Sheet

Hatchling Red-Eyed Crocodile Skinks

The care needs of a Red-Eyed Crocodile Skink are no more difficult than that of any other pet lizard. In fact their husbandry can be fairly simple and straightforward.

Most skinks are able to be healthy and happy with basic care, but there are always exceptions.

Since this species is new to the pet trade there is some debate on what proper husbandry looks like. Unlike beginner friendly species, this skink does best with a more experienced keeper as you may find yourself having to switch things up to find out what works best for your pet.

Tank Size

Since Red-Eyed Crocodile Skinks are small, they do not need an extremely large tank. Single adults can be housed in glass tanks as small as 20-gallons. When buying a tank, get one that is longer than it is tall as this will provide more floor space. Skinks are not known to be arboreal and will spend most of their time exploring the floor of their enclosure.

Make sure the tank has a secure mesh lid that will allow for the use of a heat lamp.

You can use fake plants, rocks, hides, logs, caves, live plants and branches to make the enclosure as interactive as possible. Your lizard will need lots of décor to clutter the bottom of their tank and feel safe.

Temperature & Lighting

The ambient temperature should be around 80 to 82°F with a basking spot between 86 and 89°F. The tank will also need a cool area of 72 to 74°F. Night time temperatures should be around 70°F and should not dip below 65°F.

If you keep the basking spot around 86°F and the cool end at 72°F the ambient temperature usually takes care of itself.

A basking spot can be created using a heat lamp with a ceramic heat emitter. The lamp should be placed at one end of the enclosure where you want to create your basking spot. It should be directly above the basking rocks and branches.

Even though these skinks are crepuscular and not active throughout most of the day they should still be exposed to at least 12 hours of low strength UVB light. This can be done by using a lamp with 5.0 UVB bulb on a 12-hour cycle that is placed on the same side as the heat lamp.

Humidity

While this species does not need high temperatures, they do need high humidity. A good red-eyed crocodile skink setup should be kept at 70 to 90% humidity at all times. A great way to maintain high humidity levels is to use a substrate that holds moisture well.

Cypress mulch is a great substrate, but it will need changing every few weeks as the high humidity can foster bacterial growth. Paper towels can also be used as a substrate, but it is hard to keep humidity high with paper towels.

Placing a shallow, large water bowl and misting their enclosure with water twice daily will also help to keep humidity levels high.

Hygrometers and thermometers should be placed throughout the enclosure for frequent temperature and humidity checks.

Enclosure Setup Guide

  • Tank Size: 20-gallon long glass tank with mesh lid
  • Temperature: 80-82°F ambient with a basking spot between 86-89°F
  • Lighting: 12 hours of UVB light.
  • Humidity: 70 to 90%
  • Substrate: Cypress mulch

Diet

Red-Eyed Crocodile Skinks are true insectivores and will eat a diet primarily consisting of Dubia roaches, crickets and mealworms. They can also eat other small invertebrates like red worms and silkworms. Unlike Bearded Dragons, they will not require any fruit or vegetables in their diet, only insects.

This straightforward diet is one of the reasons they are fairly simple to keep.

We recommend feeding your adult Red-Eyed Crocodile Skink 3 or 4 vitamin dusted crickets, mealworms, or roaches every 48 hours. You can divide these prey items between two feedings, one at dusk and one at dawn when they will be most active. Remove any uneaten prey the next morning from their feeding bowl.

Juveniles will eat more frequently, typically eating 2 crickets every 24 hours.

When choosing an insect you will want to make sure it is around half the size of your skink’s head. This means hatchlings will eat much smaller insects than adults.

Food for both hatchlings and adults will need to be dusted with a supplement just before feeding. Vitamin D3 and calcium powder can be purchased at most pet stores.

Lifespan

The Red-Eyed Crocodile Skink is a new pet species which means there are some factors about their care which are not fully understood; lifespan and health issues fall under this category. This can make understanding potential health problems tricky.

What is known is that feeding the wrong diet and not supplementing their insects with vitamin D3 and calcium powder can lead to metabolic bone disease. Not using a UVB bulb can also lead to metabolic bone disease. This disease is common in lizards who do not have a good setup and you may see your skink limping, fatigued or have a decreased appetite.

Shedding is also health problem for skinks. Shedding issues are often compounded when their humidity is kept below 60% for extended periods of time.

Red-Eyed Crocodile Skinks should shed roughly every 6 weeks and should not have any stuck shed. This species often has trouble shedding and retained shed can even lead to losing toes in extreme cases.

Ensuring they have a large water bowl and frequently misting their enclosure can raise humidity levels and help them shed. If you do notice some stuck shed, it is not recommended to bathe them as handling will only stress them out more. Instead try increasing and maintaining high humidity throughout their entire enclosure.

Behaviors

Red-Eye Skink

Red-Eyed Crocodile Skinks are normally solitary and spend most of their time alone. In the wild they spend lots of time hiding during the day and can be found under rocks and wet logs. They typically come out at dusk and dawn to eat insects or worms and bask in the sunlight.

Some keepers believe females can be housed together, but this is a solitary species that does best alone.

Red-Eyed Crocodile Skinks have some pretty interesting defense behaviors in the wild. They are one of the few reptiles that frequently vocalize when threatened. They will bark, chirp and even squawk. If these vocalizations do not work, they will also vomit or remain completely still in hopes that the predator thinks they are dead.

Pet Red-Eyed Crocodile Skinks do not respond well to handling. Handling often stresses them out and can cause them to vocalize, vomit, play dead or even sever their own tail. Unless absolutely necessary this species should not be handled.

Biting is not a typical defensive behavior for these skinks, but it can happen if you attempt handling. Since they are a small lizard a bite will not do much damage.

If your Red-Eyed Crocodile Skink is happy you will see them basking, eating regularly and hiding within the various décor in their enclosure during the day. If they are vocalizing, disoriented, vomiting or having trouble walking it could indicate that they are stressed out or sick.

Key Takeaway

Hatchling

You should now have a pretty good idea of what keeping a Red-Eyed Crocodile Skink is like.

These skinks are shy, small lizards that have unique armored scales running the length of their bodies. Their bodies are generally dark brown, black or gray in color with highly distinctive reddish orange scales around their eyes. Their remarkable crocodile-looks make them one of the best display lizards.

No one can deny that these skinks are pretty incredible, but they are not for everyone.

Red-Eyed Crocodile Skinks can be skittish and react poorly to handling so they will need to be left alone for the most part.

Little is known about their health so having a more experienced keeper will allow for better husbandry decisions. Their care and diet are straightforward, but they do require high levels of humidity or else they can experience trouble shedding.

If you are an intermediate to advanced reptile keeper, you should have no trouble with this species.

You can’t get much closer to owning a tiny crocodile than this pet! Do you think this skink is right for you? Let us know by leaving a comment.

Still not sure? Why not check out more armored lizards like the armadillo lizard.

About Nigel Robert

Nigel Robert Nigel is a lifelong reptile lover and has kept pet lizards since childhood. His first was a pet Leo which was shortly followed by a Beardie named, Rocky. For the last 10 years he has kept over 20 different species but his favorite is his Banana Ball Python, Monty.

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