INTRODUCTION TO SULAWESI WATER SKINKS
Sulawesi water skinks (Tropodiphorus baconi), also known as bacon skinks and spiny water skinks, are a species of semi aquatic skinks from the island of Sulawesi, located in Indonesia. They are a relatively large species of skink, with adults reaching lengths of around 14 inches. These skinks have a dark brown back, with a white underbelly. They also have keeled scales along the tail, giving them a crocodilian appearance. These skinks are known to be fairly hardy, but handling is not recommended often, however, some specimens have been known to take food from the owner’s hand. Sulawesi water skinks are typically fairly cheap, even though they are not very common, usually running $75.00 or lower. These skinks should only be kept by somewhat experienced hobbyists, and are not for small children.
Written by Andrew (andone01red)
Bacon skinks are not exactly small lizards, as mentioned above, so the enclosure must be suitable. A single skink should never be kept in an enclosure smaller than 25 gallons, with at least 40 gallons for a pair. Being semi aquatic, you will either need a large water bowl, or dedicated water section, such as a paludarium, or sealed part terrarium in order to create an adequate water section. The water section should be approximately half of the terrarium, if not larger. However, like most semi aquatic animals, they do need a space to dry off and rest. The water should at least be a few inches deep, and should always be clean; a filter is the easiest way to achieve this. The land area should include a few hides, enough soil to burrow in, and live plants will always be appreciated (this includes aquatic plants in the water section).
As mentioned, these skinks should be provided with a few inches of soil in order to burrow, as well to maintain healthy plants. This can be achieved with a few substrates, such as "Eco Earth" (coconut fiber), however, to achieve the best results, a mixture of various substrates with various textures is recommended. A good substrate should drain easily, maintain humidity without becoming soggy, and be well aerated, and resistant to compaction. Along with the substrate, a drainage layer should be included underneath the substrate, in order to hold excess water to prevent the soil from becoming anaerobic.
GoHerping recommends never using sand, calci-sand, pine, cedar or walnut shell products with any reptiles or amphibians.
Just as with all reptiles, sulawesi water skinks require hides in order to feel safe and prevent stress. This can be achieved with basic plastic hides, or, for a more natural look, you can use cork bark, rocks, drift wood, and large, leafy plants that break sight lines.
Water is very important for these skinks, as mentioned earlier, and is essential for their well being. Tap water can contain harmful chemicals, such as chlorine, so it is not recommended. However, if it all you have access to, leaving a container of it out, without a lid will allow these chemicals to dissipate and evaporate. Also, certain reptile companies make solutions that you add to the water that neutralize the chemicals. Alternatively, if you have access, R/O (reverse osmosis) water is perfectly healthy, and will also reduce the amount and toughness of dried water droplets on glass. Again, it is very critical for them to have clean water at all times, as they spend much of their time in it. Since they spend vast amounts of time in the water, a filter is required in order to ensure your animal(s) remain healthy. "ReptiSafe" water drops made by ZooMed to remove these chemicals.
TEMPERATURE & HUMIDITY
Being from a tropical island, heat and humidity is very important for this species. Humidity should stay between 65-85%, maybe with slight dips at night. This can be achieved by misting the enclosure often, plus the water section and live plants will help boost humidity, while the substrate retains it. In order for bacon skinks to properly digest their food, they need heat. The ambient temperature should be between 75-80 degrees F. with a basking spot of 84-87 degrees F., again, with slight dips at night. Being a diurnal species, heat bulbs would be an effective to achieve such temperatures, but be sure not to overheat them. As with most diurnal species of lizard, sulawesi water skinks require UVB, as it is very important to proper bone development and prevention of MBD (metabolic bone disease).
The easiest way to ensure your enclosure is heated correctly is by purchasing a thermostat made for reptiles. GoHerping uses the reptile thermostat made by "Zilla".
Temperature & Humidity
Another aspect of preserving your animal’s health is diet. Sulawesi skinks are insectivores, meaning they only eat insects. An assortment of different insects should be offered, including dubia roaches, crickets, mealworms, and others, to keep your animal healthy and well nourished. However, if you are unable to offer this variety, dusting your insects with supplement powders will achieve the same goal, and even if you do provide a variety of foods, the occasional dusting is still beneficial.
When it comes down to the actual feeding, there are a few different approaches. The method most suited for shy animals is to just release the insects into the enclosure. As long as you do not have any harmful substrates that they may accidentally ingest, such as sand, this should work just fine. A better alternative for more acclimated specimens is to tong or hand feed. Not only can this be more enjoyable for the keeper, but it can also help the animal get more used to you, and in turn, become less shy.
With almost all, if not all, specimens being wild caught; they may not take kindly to handling. As previously stated, this species is hardy, and can become quite docile, but handling should be kept to a minimum at first, with a relationship of trust being built up slowly. These skinks can be quick, so it is advised that you are cautious when handling them to prevent escapes.
In conclusion, sulawesi water skinks make great pets with proper care, and are not for small children or inexperienced keepers. A living vivarium outfitted with a large water section and live plants best suits this species. When it comes to temperament, this species is not very aggressive and rarely bites, however, they will not hesitate to deploy… other means of defense, which mainly consists of defecating. With all that said, this species is highly recommended for someone looking for a decent sized lizard that looks cool and isn’t too complicated care wise.