INTRODUCTION TO BLUE TONGUE SKINKS
Northern, Western, Eastern, Merauke, Tanimbar, Irian Jaya, Centralian, Indonesian, Shingleback, Kei Island, Blotched, and Pygmy blue tongue skinks make up the 12 different variations currently recognized. Some variations call Australia their natural home, while others are from Indonesia. The variations I most often hear being kept in captivity include the Northern, Eastern, Irian Jaya, and Merauke, however others are still available if you know where to look, and have the money.
I would consider blue tongue skinks to fall under more of an intermediate species. They’re definitely manageable, but require more space and a slightly more complicated diet than that compared to beginner lizards, compared to leopard geckos for example. They all stay manageable sizes, most species between 1-2 feet on average with Northerns being the largest.
Blue tongue skinks usually start at around $150-$200, and can reach the thousands of dollars if you get extra fancy. They’re a wonderful little (or medium-sized?) lizard with awesome personalities and unique attitudes.
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Like all reptiles, opinions vary a lot when it comes to every part of blue tongue skink husbandry, but here’s a general run-down on enclosure sizes. Larger blue tongue skinks like Northerns will be happiest in something larger than a 40 gallon, while smaller-sized skinks can do in a 40 gallon breeders’ or larger. Remember that bigger is better with these active lizards and love space and enrichment, so feel free to go larger!
Like many other reptiles, blue tongue skinks will do best when kept in an enclosure by themselves, unless breeding.
Keep in mind -- sources vary a lot on certain topics in husbandry. Try to read as many guides as you can find, to reach the best husbandry possible.
Blue tongue skinks are burrowers, so a good depth in substrate will be very beneficial. Since they vary in natural climates depending on the variation you have, some will do best with drier substrates, while others should have slightly more moisture or humidity. Dry species will do great on “aspen”, as it allows for easy burrowing and can be safely digested if accidentally ingested in small amounts. If your skink will do best with a more humid enclosure, coconut fiber (Eco Earth) and cypress mulch (Forest Floor) are great choices... or mix them! I personally add Sphagnum moss into the mix too, specifically, the Zoo Med Terrarium Moss. Other substrates to consider include orchid bark, lizard-safe topsoil, and leaf litter mixes.
Please avoid any and all products related to sand or calcisand, as both can cause impaction which can and has been proven to result in the death of many reptiles. I highly do not suggest paper, paper towel, newspaper, or reptile carpet for blue tongue skinks, as they do not allow for any burrowing.
You can purchase just about any reptile hide as long as the lizard is able to fit it's entire body under the hide and easily get out. The more hides, the better! Part of this hide should go over your heating pad (mentioned later.)
A good rule of thumb is to purchase a bowl that is large enough for the lizard to fit itself into, and is small enough that he or she can easily get out of the bowl. Lizards cannot breathe through their skin like amphibians, so drowning is possible if a bowl is dangerously deep. Tap water can contain harmful chemicals, such as chlorine and chloramine, so water from a tap should be avoided. However, if it all you have access to, leaving a container of it out, without a lid will allow the chlorine to dissipate and evaporate (chlorine does not evaporate as easily). Certain reptile companies make solutions that you add to the water that neutralize the chemicals. "ReptiSafe" water drops made by ZooMed to remove these chemicals and is the product GoHerping uses and recommends. Want to use well water, spring water, or even rainwater? A video covering everything about water with reptiles is available here!
TEMPERATURES & LIGHTING
I suggest that you use heat mats to heat your blue tongue skink’s enclosure. They’re not big into basking and will really love some nice belly heat under one of their hides. I urge you to use a reptile thermostat, like the Zilla or Jumpstart models, as they will ensure your lizard gets the heat he or she needs without being burned, or risking any damages if the heat mat was to ever overheat. A hot spot of approximately 90-100F (32.2-37.7c) will be great for your skink, with cooler temperatures dropping to around 80F (26.6c) as you move down the enclosure. This will ensure your skink can heat up, and cool off when needed through thermoregulation. Adding a hide to the cool side is a great idea too, so the skink can always stay feeling safe and secure no matter what temperature he or she is preferring. If you’d like to, or need more heating, you can also reach the desired temperatures with a heat bulb or ceramic bulb, however I suggest heat mats as the primary source.
Like nearly all animals, blue tongues would naturally experience a day and night cycle over a 24 hour period, so ensuring your lizard gets approximately 12 hours of light per day will be great. Whether this is UVB (which can be very beneficial), a normal light bulb, or simply ambient light from your room or window can usually be enough. Keep in mind that any sunlight should be indirect, as rays of sun hitting the enclosure will probably heat the enclosure up way too much. I suggest you avoid “night bulbs” as reptiles can see red, blue and purple light, even if the product says otherwise, and this can disturb their day/night cycle if there are constant lights on.
The more Australian skinks are going to thrive with humidity around 25-40% or so, as they are keen to drier climates. The slightly more moderate skinks from Indonesia will presumably do best with humidity levels at a bare minimum of 50% and up, with higher humidity levels as the goal. Remember, substrate shouldn’t be very wet, but mistings here and there can help ensure the substrate stays moist, but not too damp. While shedding, feel free to boost humidity levels for a short period of time with any blue tongue skink.
Hot spot: 90-100f
Cool side: ~80f
Night temp: ~80f
A heat mat with a thermostat is best.
Give approx 12 hours of light per day.
Approx 30% for more desert BTS, 50% to 80% for moderate.
Blue tongue skinks are omnivorous and will require a healthy balance of plant matter and protein. Approximately 50-60% of the diet should be made up of plants, while 40-50% is made up of different proteins. The best proteins to pick from include dubia roaches, crickets, and mealworms as the staple. The occasional raw egg or frozen/thawed feeder rodent is a great little treat, but should not be a usual part of the diet. Some people feed superworms and waxworms as a staple, however, they have much higher fat contents than that of mealworms, dubias, and crickets so they may put too much weight on your lizard. I highly suggest that you do not feed dog or cat food, wet or dry. For more information on this, watch the video below.
Now on to plant matter -- a very important part of the diet. For a run-down on my entire diet, I personally feed 50% insects, 20% leafy greens, 20% non-leafy vegetables and 10% fruit. Fruit should be kept to a small amount of their diet, as they have a lot of sugar. At the same time, many skinks obsess over fruits, so it’s a great way to get them to eat the foods they don’t like. (For example, I mix my skink’s favorite: blueberries, in with her least favorite: collard greens).
I personally selected all of the plant matter I feed based on this feeding chart on another site. My favorite leafy greens to use include collard greens, dandelion greens and mustard greens. My primary vegetables include carrots, broccoli, squash, zucchini, cauliflower, and bell pepper, and the fruits I often add in include blueberries, apples, banana, and strawberries. Like I said, instead of regurgitating all the information on the feeding chart, check it out with the link above -- as there are plenty of other food options.
But wait! Your skink also needs calcium and multivitamin supplements with their food. You may have heard of dusting feeder insects before, and the same can be done here. A ratio of approximately 3:1 calcium:multivitamin is best. If you have UVB on your enclosure, you will probably be best using calcium without d3, but use calcium with d3 if you do not have UVB. Create a mix and dust the food each time, or feed your skink with calcium every feeding, except for each fourth feeding, which can be swapped with a multivitamin.
20% leafy greens
3:1 calcium to multivitamin supplement added
View feeding chart
These skinks can become wonderful buddies to hang out with you, and can become very keen to handling, but like almost any animal, a lack of handling can cause them to end up more on edge or defensive. After your skink becomes acquainted to his or her new home, handling for short periods of time each day will really help your lizard become more comfortable around you.
Are blue tongue skinks for everyone? Probably not, they can be considered more time and money consuming compared to other reptiles. However, they are hands-down, one of my personal favorite species in the entire reptile trade (sorry everyone else). Their personable, short legged selves can be a wonderful addition to anyone’s family, whether it’s your first pet, or one hundredth. Remember to read as many reputable care guides as you can find. Although I’ve done hours and hours of research, and have a few years of experience, the more sources you can find to compare, the better for your lizard. Good luck!