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How to Care for Your Blue Tongue Skink

How to Care for Your Blue Tongue Skink

Blue tongue skinks (Tiliqua spp.) are large, diurnal, terrestrial lizards that can be found all over Australia and Indonesia. Depending on species, they can be found in scrublands, grasslands, mediterranean and temperate forests, tropical rainforests, and even deserts. Adults are typically 18-24” long, and they can live up to 30 years with good care — possibly longer!

Blue tongue skinks’ pattern and coloration can vary widely from species to species. Northern Australian, Eastern Australian, and Indonesian blue tongue skinks are the most commonly available in the United States, and generally look fairly similar. All have smooth scales, an elongated triangular head, a long, sausage-like body, a medium-length tail, and stubby but strong limbs with five short digits each.

Knowing which type of blue tongue skink you have is important to knowing how to care for them. Learn how to identify yours here.

Blue tongue skinks are among the most popular pet lizards in the US due to their curious, personable nature, docile temperament, and general hardiness. They are a good choice for people looking for a larger pet lizard that tolerates regular human interaction well.

How much space do blue tongue skinks need?

A single blue tongue skink should be housed in no smaller than a 48” x 24” x 24” enclosure, a 120 gallon tank. Many sources recommend 40 gallons, but these recommendations are based on outdated standards and should not be used. Blue tongue skinks are large, curious, and fairly active lizards, so if you can provide a larger enclosure, do it!

Cohabitation (keeping multiple blue tongue skinks in the same terrarium) is not recommended, and may result in fighting and severe injuries if attempted.

Do blue tongue skinks need UVB?

Blue tongue skinks are diurnal, which means that they are most active during the day. Indonesian blue tongue skinks should get 11.5 hours of light during winter, and 12.5 hours during summer. Northern/Eastern blue tongue skinks should get 11 hours of light during winter and 13 hours of light during summer. This simulates natural seasonal changes in day length and encourages healthier hormonal rhythms.

Blue tongue skinks can technically survive without UVB lighting, but they can’t thrive without it. Aside from helping provide a day/night cycle and supplying an infinite supply of vitamin D, UVB is also good for your skink’s overall health. So, it’s best to provide appropriate UVB lighting as part of its enclosure. The best UVB bulbs for blue tongue skinks housed in a 48” x 24” x 24” enclosure are:

If the UVB is mounted over mesh, place the basking area 7-11” below the lamp. If the UVB is mounted inside the enclosure, place the basking area 12-18” below the lamp. The UVB bulb should be housed in a reflective fixture and placed on the basking side along with the heat lamp. Also note that UVB is blocked by glass and plastic, so you can’t give your skink UVB by placing its terrarium in front of an open window. Also make sure that the fixture your UVB bulb is in does not have a clear plastic bulb cover.

In addition to UVB, since blue tongue skinks are day-active lizards, it’s beneficial to provide an additional daylight-spectrum lamp to make sure the enclosure is brightly illuminated. Use a strong 6500K LED or T5 HO fluorescent plant grow light for best results.

What basking temperatures do blue tongue skinks need?

Northern/Eastern blue tongue skinks should have a basking surface temperature of 105-115°F, and Indonesian blue tongue skinks should have a slightly cooler basking surface temperature of 100-105°F. Measure your basking temperature with a digital probe thermometer with the probe placed on the basking surface. For best results, the basking surface itself should be a large, flat piece of rock.

There should be a cooler area on the opposite side of the enclosure that stays between 70-80°F. The heat source should be turned off at night.

Provide heat for your gecko by imitating the sun with a halogen heat lamp placed on one side of the enclosure. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), heat mats, red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective.

What humidity levels do blue tongue skinks need?

Humidity is one of the biggest differences between caring for a Northern/Eastern blue tongue skink and caring for an Indonesian blue tongue skink.

  • Northern and Eastern blue tongue skinks need average humidity levels between 40-60%.
  • Indonesian blue tongue skinks generally need average humidity levels between 60-80%.
  • Halmahera Indonesian blue tongue skinks need average humidity levels between 80-100%.

Humidity should be measured by a digital probe hygrometer with the probe in the middle of the terrarium. Providing a humid hideout lined with moistened substrate or sphagnum moss and placed in the middle or cool end of the enclosure is also beneficial.

What substrate is good for blue tongue skinks?

Substrate covers the floor of your skink’s terrarium and helps make the enclosure more attractive, but it also helps maintain higher humidity levels and provides something for your skink to dig in. 

It’s ideal to use a substrate that imitates the “substrate” that the reptile naturally lives on in the wild. For blue tongue skinks, that means it should resemble soil. It should have small particles, hold moisture well, and be loose enough to dig in.

We recommend the following substrates for blue tongue skinks:

Layering clean, chemical-free leaf litter on top of the substrate can help with humidity as well as add enrichment value.

Substrate should be at least 4”-6” deep and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with contaminated substrate.

What decor can you use in a blue tongue skink terrarium?

Blue tongue skinks are highly intelligent and curious, so it’s terribly boring for them to be stuck in an enclosure with nothing in it except substrate and food/water bowls. It doesn’t matter how big the enclosure is if you don’t put things in it for your pet to use and interact with. 

At bare minimum, you will need at least one “cave” for the skink to hide in. However, it’s best to include other items, such as:

What do blue tongue skinks eat?

Blue tongue skinks are omnivores, which means that they need to eat both plant- and animal-based foods in order to get the nutrition that their bodies need. How often they need to eat depends on age:

  • Feed babies (up to 3 months) daily.  
  • Feed juveniles (3-8 months) 3 times weekly.  
  • Feed subadults and adults (8+ months) 1-2 times weekly.  

For skinks younger than 12 months, high-protein foods should make up 70-80% of their diet. For skinks older than 12 months, high-protein foods should only be 40-50% of their diet. The rest should be leaf greens and other vegetables. One meal should be roughly the same size as your skink’s skull.

The key to providing a healthy, balanced diet for your skink is VARIETY. Here are foods in each category that are appropriate for a blue tongue skink to eat:

High-protein foods for blue tongue skinks: high-quality dog or cat food (no fish flavors), chicken hearts, chicken gizzards, eggs, mice, dubia roaches, grasshoppers, locusts, snails, hornworms, silkworms, earthworms 

Safe vegetables for blue tongue skinks: collard greens, cactus pads, spring mix, arugula, kale, pea shoots, alfalfa, bok choy, carrot greens, spinach, dandelion greens/flowers, hibiscus leaves/flowers 

Fruit is high in sugar and should only be offered as an occasional treat.

Supplements

You will also need calcium and vitamin supplements to prevent your skink from developing a deficiency. We recommend Repashy Calcium Plus LoD, lightly dusted on dog/cat food and all feeder insects.

Water

Of course, don’t forget a large water bowl for your skink to drink from! Change the water daily and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly, or whenever it becomes soiled.

Do blue tongue skinks like to be handled?

Few reptiles actually “like” to be held, but blue tongue skinks tend to tolerate it well, especially individuals that were bred in captivity. Don’t grab the lizard from above — instead, approach from the side and scoop from below. Support as much of its body as possible, especially its feet. Start with very short handling sessions in the beginning, then gradually make them longer as your pet becomes more accustomed to you.


*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please do further research with high-quality sources to obtain additional information on caring for this species. Here are some suggestions for further reading:

  • The ReptiFiles Blue Tongue Skink Care Guide
  • ReptileMountain.TV
  • Blue Tongue Skink Enthusiasts
  • “Blue-Tongued Skinks: Contributions to the Knowledge of Tiliqua and Cyclodomorphus” by Robert Hitz
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