How to Care for Your Fire Skink
Fire skinks (Mochlus fernandi) are medium-sized, diurnal, terrestrial lizards that can be found in west Africa. Their preferred habitat is forests, woodlands, and other areas with plenty of plants and water.
Fire skinks grow 12-15” long, with males generally being larger than females. They have a fairly typical skink appearance, with an elongated body, stubby limbs, and a tapered tail. This species is prized for their color and pattern: a beautiful mosaic of metallic red, yellow, bronze, black, and white!
Fire skinks are commonly wild-caught, so they have a reputation for being skittish and reclusive lizards. However, they’re more accustomed to people when captive-bred, and can make engaging, intermediate-level pet reptiles. With good care, they are likely to live 15-20 years.
How much space do fire skinks need?
A single fire skink should be housed in no smaller than a 36” x 18” x 18” enclosure, or what is known as a 40 gallon “breeder” tank. However, fire skinks are quite active, so if you can provide a larger enclosure, do it!
Cohabitation (keeping multiple fire skinks in the same terrarium) is generally not recommended, and may result in fighting and severe injuries if attempted.
Do fire skinks need UVB?
Fire 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 fire skinks are:
- Zoo Med Reptisun T5 HO 5.0
- Arcadia Desert 6%
If the UVB is mounted over mesh, place the basking area 9-11” below the lamp. The UVB bulb should be housed in a reflective fixture (Arcadia or Vivarium Electronics), half the length of the enclosure, 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.
In addition to UVB, since fire 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.
Lights should be on for 12 hours/day.
What basking temperatures do fire skinks need?
Fire skinks should have a basking area temperature around 95°F. There should be a cooler area on the opposite side of the enclosure that stays between 75-85°F. Nighttime temps can drop as low as 65°F, but should be no higher than 75°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.
The heat source should be turned off at night.
Provide heat for your skink by imitating the sun with a couple of halogen heat bulbs placed on one side of the enclosure, preferably using the Zoo Med Mini Combo Deep Dome fixture. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), heat mats, red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective.
What humidity levels do fire skinks need?
Fire skinks generally need average humidity levels between 60-70% during the day and higher at night. Humidity should be measured by a digital probe hygrometer with the probe in the middle of the terrarium.
To increase and maintain humidity, mist the enclosure with a sprayer 1-2x/day, preferably in the morning and evening. You will also need to provide a humid hideout lined with moistened substrate or sphagnum moss and placed in the middle or cool end of the enclosure.
What substrate is good for fire 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 fire skinks, that means it should resemble tropical soil. It should have small particles, hold moisture well, and be loose enough to dig in.
We recommend the following substrates for fire 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 décor can you use in a fire skink terrarium?
Fire skinks are active 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 two caves or burrows for the skink to hide in. However, it’s best to include other items, such as:
- large, sturdy logs and branches
- climbing ledges
- additional hiding places
- live or artificial plants
- misc. ornaments
What do fire skinks eat?
Fire skinks are insectivorous, which means that they need to eat a variety of insects in order to get the nutrition that their bodies need. Juveniles should be fed daily, but adults should only be fed 2-3x/week to prevent obesity. Offer as many insect as they can eat in a ~5 minute period.
The key to providing a healthy, balanced diet for your skink is VARIETY! Fruit, pinky mice, and quail eggs can be offered as occasional treats.
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 all feeder insects. It’s okay to occasionally skip a dusting.
Do fire skinks like to be handled?
Few reptiles actually “like” to be held, and fire skinks may or may not tolerate it. Captive-bred fire skinks tend to be more tolerant toward humans than wild-caught, but some turn out to be a “look but don’t touch” kind of pet. Instead of interacting with your lizard by holding it, try hand-feeding it instead with a pair of soft-tipped feeding tweezers.
*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.
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