This is a comprehensive guide to keeping the Blue Tongue Skink – both the common Blue Tongue Skink (Tiliqua scincoides) and the Irian Jaya Blue Tongue Skink (Tiliqua sp.) as a pet. I’m going to cover everything you need to keep Blue Tongue Skinks in captivity, including housing, heating, lighting, substrate and decor, breeding and more.
Meet the Pacific Blue Tail Skink
|Common Name||Blue Tongue Skink (Common, Northern, Eastern, Irian Jaya)|
|Scientific Name||Tiliqua scincoides / Tiliqua sp.|
|Origin||Australia and Indonesia|
|Size||Up to 24″ total length|
|Lifespan||15 – 20 years|
|Housing||48x24x24″ or larger terrestrial|
|Diet||Fruit and Protein, Live Insects, Powdered Supplements|
The Blue Tongue Skink usually refers to a number of different localities and species from Australia and from Indonesia. I’ll cover specific localities later. The main differences between localities are colouration and patterning, the general size and overall care of Blue Tongue Skinks is the same.
The Blue Tongue Skink (often referred to as the BTS) is a medium size (up to 2 foot in length, including tail) lizard which has a startling long and wide blue tongue, which gives it their name. They have a very distinctive body shape and look that makes them easy to identify, with their long wide bodies, covered in smooth and shiny scales, and then short legs and tail. This is an alert and intelligent lizard, but is prone to being a bit lazy (particularly as adults), and generally has a very calm and docile personality as long as they don’t feel threatened. They are easily handled and not at all prone to stress once they’re adults. They are bred in small numbers in captivity so you should be able to find one captive bred, which we strongly recommend.
Blue Tongue Skinks can drop their tail as a defense mechanism, but this is very rare, and I’ve never personally seen a Blue Tongue Skink do this in captivity. The tail regrows, but will not like quite the same as an original one.
Blue Tongue Skink Housing
Blue Tongue Skinks are primarily terrestrial. Whilst younger skinks may be a bit adventurous when it comes to climbing, the small legs and heavy body of an adult make it difficult for them to climb high. They will still appreciate plenty of decor and low lying, sturdy branches and logs. They enjoy digging and exploring.
Blue Tongue Skinks reach up to 24″ in length and that means they need a relatively large enclosure. A 48x24x24″ enclosure is a minimum for a single adult, but if you can provide larger, such as a 60″ or even 72″ enclosure then we’d highly recommend it. They’re a diurnal lizard and need a warm enclosure with UVB lighting. We don’t have a specific Blue Tongue Skink setup, but our Bearded Dragon 48x24x24″ provides the lighting and heating that you need. Both of these species are primarily found in Australia.
- Bearded Dragon Setup (48x24x24″)£200.00 – £365.00
Heating for Blue Tongue Skinks
|Basking Spot||90 – 100F||32 – 37C|
|Daytime Ambient||75 – 88F||23.8 – 31C|
Your Blue Tongue Skink will need a basking spot that reaches temperatures of around 90 – 100F (32 – 37C), whilst the daytime ambient is lower at 75 – 88F (23 – 31). At night you can let your temperatures drop to 70F (2wC).
You will need a Ceramic Bulb to heat a large enclosure 24/7, this will provide your ambient and night time temperatures. You can use a pulse thermostat and set it to the night time temperature, or you can use a day / night thermostat to have two different temperatures set.
Your basking area will be heated by a basking bulb, which needs to be controlled by a dimming thermostat.
Whatever your method of heating, ensure that it is controlled by a thermostat and that you have a good way of reading it to make sure the tank is at the right temperature – I’d recommend a digital thermometer for the best accuracy.
Blue Tongue Skinks are diurnal and from Australia or Indonesia. They need a UV Index of 3-4 UVI according to the research done by Arcadia Reptile.
This means If your basking area is 12-15″ away from your UVB bulb you will need a T5 6% UVB or a T8 12% UVB. If it is 15-24″ (which it will be if in a 48x24x24″ enclosure) then it will need to be a T5 12% UVB.
Your UVB bulb should be on 12 hours a day, and always check the manufacturer’s recommendation for when to change the bulb. It is usually every 9 – 12 months.
Substrate and Decor
To help facilitate humidity and also natural digging behaviours, a deep substrate of something that holds moisture well is best. We recommend either Orchid Bark or EarthMix, although you can include some Coir in to mix it up. Going as natural as possible will benefit these Skinks, especially if you have wild caught individuals, so they do well with bioactive enclosures, even feeding off woodlice and springtails. If going bioactive you will want a substrate layer of clay balls beneath your main substrate, and a plant light such as the Jungle Dawn LED and to plant it as thick as possible with live plants to create a dense forest floor.
Some people do successfully use aspen or lignocel with this species as a burrowing substrate, but we find it very hard to maintain a humidity of 60-80% with this substrate. It gets moldy when damp and damp aspen needs to be removed as soon as possible to avoid this. Because of this we highly recommend using an earth based mix.
You will want natural hiding places. with multiple hides as well as natural hiding places with dense foliage and plants, branches and cork bark to create areas where they will feel secure. Provide lots of horizontal and vertical branches for climbing as well.
This species isn’t known to spend time in the water, although they can swim if forced to like most lizards. If having shedding or dehydration problems you can soak them in a lukewarm bath for 15 minutes. A medium sized water bowl in the enclosure to help create humidity and allow them to soak should be provided. It’s very important to keep this clean, and you may find they poop in the water, so change it out daily.
Humidity needs to be 60-80%. This will require daily or twice daily spraying. Having your water bowl on the hot side of the tank will help increase humidity. You could also consider having a small running water area in the tank.
You will need a humidity reader (hygrometer) to check the humidity.
Social Needs and Housing Together
Blue Tongue Skinks are solitary species in the wild. They only come together for mating. This usually calm and docile species can become quite aggressive during breeding season. If you don’t know the genders of your skinks this could be very problematic. We would highly recommend keeping these one per enclosure, unless you are specifically putting them together to breed, after which we’d recommend separating again.
Blue Tongue Skink Diet
Blue Tongue Skinks have good appetites and enjoy hunting. They are omnivorous, and need a mix of primarily protein and vegetables with some fruit.
Protein – they will hunt a wide range of insects in captivity such as crickets, locusts, mealworms, dubia roaches, silkworms and more. Younger skinks will chase these with gusto, but older skinks may be a little lazier and wait for the food to come to them. In the wild, with a more honed hunting instinct, they will even eat smaller lizards and rodents. It’s important never to house other species with Blue Tongue Skinks. If they’re hungry and it fits in their mouth, they’ll eat it.
Other forms of protein they can eat include cooked chicken breast, turkey breast, minced beef, scrambled or boiled egg. It’s important to cook meat, not feed it raw because of bacterial contamination.
Vegetables – These are some of the best vegetables for nutrition – Collard Greens, Turnip Greens, Mustard Greens, Dandelion Leaves, Endive, Escarole, Grated Butternut Squash, Peas, Green Beans, Green Peppers
Fruit – A small amount of their diet will end up being fruit, such as Raspberries, Strawberries, Mango, Grapes, Banana, Diced Apple, Blackberries, Blueberries, Melon, Kiwi.
Powders and Supplementation – Bluey Buffet is a powdered diet made by Repashy and we personally give this to our Blue Tongue Skinks in addition to fresh food. You should dust one food source with pure calcium supplement 5 times a week, and a multivitamin supplement twice a week (on the days you do not provide calcium).
Baby Blue Tongue Skinks (up to 6 months old or so) need to be fed at least once to twice daily, and will want a diet of around 70-80% protein. As they grow older they do slow down a lot and as they approach adulthood you can add more and more fruit and vegetable content to their diet. Adult Blue Tongue Skinks do become quite lazy and are prone to obesity in captivity, so be careful not to overfeed adults – you only need to feed them protein several times a week, and an adult diet will want to be around 40% protein, 50% vegetables, and the remainder in fruit.
Handling Blue Tongue Skinks
Blue Tongue Skinks are generally a calm, docile species, not prone to stress. They are easily handleable by all ages and experience levels. They are a good size to pick up and it’s very easy to support them on their body. As long as they feel supported, they’re generally quite chill about being picked up. They don’t feel at all delicate as they have very firm, but smooth and shiny scales, so they feel quite solid to handle, unlike a lot of lizards. With their tiny legs they don’t tend to move anywhere at speed, but if you’re putting them on the floor to explore – especially outside – you still need to supervise them at all times. As with any species, a wild caught animal will have experienced more stress and fear than a captive bred one so will take longer to tame down. Some Indonesian animals are still imported wild caught. We recommend buying captive bred wherever possible.
The only time I would advise caution is during breeding season if you have multiple skinks. This very calm and docile lizard can become extremely aggressive (male) or defensive (female) towards other skinks during mating season. Whilst this isn’t aimed at you, it does change their personality. This is part of why we recommend keeping them solo. If there are no other skinks around, they should keep their calm demeanor all year round.
You should wash your hands before and after handling any reptiles as good hygiene practice.
Sexing Blue Tongue Skinks
Sexing Blue Tongue Skinks is very difficult. Males are a bit larger than females, with a wider head and wider base of the tail. This can be hard to tell unless you have a group of adult Blue Tongue Skinks to compare, and it is impossible to guarantee the sex of a baby. The only real 100% guarantee of sexing is to witness mating or giving birth. Differentiating males from females is one of the reasons this lizard has less availability in captivity than other lizards. If you’re intending to breed and purchasing babies, you may need to buy a group and hope that they turn out to be a mix of genders.
Blue Tongue Skink Locality and Subspecies
In captivity with people cross-breeding the localities quite frequently, the waters are quite muddied and you may simply want to choose a pet Blue Tongue Skink based on the one you find most attractive, but I’ve included some information about different subspecies and locality. Keeping the localities as “pure” as they would be in the wild does mean you can judge not just the appearance, but also the size and the disposition (some are calmer than others). So it’s not a matter of just wanting to keep things the way they are in the wild, but when buying a pet, it’s good to know whether they’ll be good natured and what size they’ll grow to.
Irian Jaya or New Guinea (Tiliqua sp.)
Irian Jaya Blue Tongue Skinks (Tiliqua sp.) are a bit of a strange addition. They do not have their own specific genus, so are simply described as Tiliqua sp. It was only discovered in the 1990s and no official classification has yet been made. The Irian Jaya is very similiar in appearance and personality to the Common Blue Tongue Skink, but has a few differences that might help you identify it. It is known for having slightly longer front legs that usually have patterns on them, and the tail can be wider and stubbier than other subspecies. There is a lot of variation in colour, they tend to be a tan, brown, auburn, orange or grey – with wide bands that are usually a darker brown, but can be black. The head often has no markings.
Indonesian (Tiliqua gigas gigas)
The Indonsian Blue Tongue Skink has become very popular in captivity. They have an earthy tan base, with spaced out bands and speckling between them. Their limbs are usually solid black and they have black markings on the head, as well as often having a black line from the eye to the ear.
Halmahera Indonesian (Tiliqua gigas gigas)
The Halmahera Blue Tongue Skink is a locality of the Indonesian Blue Tongue Skink. They have a more reddish or orange base colouration, which makes the black bands seem more pronounced.
Kei Island (Tiliqua gigas keyensis)
Kei Island Blue Tongue Skinks have a large amount of freckling / speckling across the body and the head.
Merauke (Tiliqua gigas evanescens)
This subspecies was only named in the 2000s, so it is very new. It occupies southern New Guinea, Papua and souther east Irian Jaya. There is a lot of speculation in hobbyist circles as to whether this is indeed a true sub species or if it is an intergrade between Tiliqua sp. and Tiliqua gigas as their habitat overlaps, and it’s entirely feasible that these two species would interbreed. Adult Merauke Blue Tongue Skinks have a faded, washed out pattern, usually grey with thin grey or brown bands. It has black limbs, a black neck stripe and usually has a pale, unmarked head. It’s one of the larger sub species and can grow up to 27″ and has a calm personality.
Tanimbar (Tiliqua scincoides chimaera)
This is a large Blue Tongue Skink with a more feisty personality than most Blue Tongue Skinks. They are lighter in colouration, with silver, grey and yellow bases. They produce particularly large clutches, up to or even exceeding 20 live born babies per clutch, but despite this, it’s not a popular locality in the UK and quite rare to be seen here.
Blotched (Tiliqua nigrolutea)
Blotched are one of the larger Blue Tongue Skinks – up to 24″ in length and come from south east Australia. It is common to see them in the wild there, but here in the UK these are very rare in captivity as animals have not been able to be exported from Australia for several decades. Blotched are the most easily identifiable because they have a unique appearance that gives them their name. As you can see above, it is more of a vertical striped / blotched appearance than the horizontal bands that all the other Blue Tongue Skinks have. These patterns vary, with some being mostly black and only small amounts of blotched orange, yellow or grey.
Central (Tiliqua multifasciata)
Central Blue Tongue Skinks come from arid and semi-arid habitats across Australia. They are quite a small species, growing only up to 15-18″ long. Their main body colour is quite light, such as the grey above, with orange, red or brown bands. They have a very distinct large black band behind the eye.
Eastern (Tiliqua scincoides scincoides)
This is a very variable Blue Tongue Skink so colour and pattern will vary, but they usually have either a grey or a tan background (as photo above) with a series of thin lines. They can be found in south east Australia. They often have a black line running from the eye to the ear canal. The limbs are usually patternless. It’s one of the smallest subspecies, and only gets to around 21″ in length, with a longer and thinner tail than other subspecies.
Northern (Tiliqua scincoides intermedia)
Breeding Blue Tongue Skinks in Captivity
Blue Tongue Skinks who are cared for optimally breed readily in captivity but they must be brumated. This, along with the difficulty in sexing hatchlings and few adults around in the UK has resulted in them being in quite limited numbers over here.
Females reach maturity at 2 years old, whilst males may be mature from 1 year. It is important to house your male and female Blue Tongue Skinks separately. A female bred too early can easily suffer serious health complications, and males can be extremely aggressive during breeding season, resulting in stress and even injuries when housed together.
Brumation lasts approximately 8 weeks over the winter period. You will need to stop feeding your skinks and after two weeks, reduce the temperatures slowly over the period of another 2 weeks. You’ll want to drop your ambient temperatures to around 15.5C (60F), but take extra care temperatures do not drop lower than 10-12C (50-55F). Turn off your basking light and provide an ambient heat only, but leave your UVB on for a reduced period of time, just 8-10 hours of light per day. Leave water in with them and check them daily, but do not feed at all during this period.
Bringing them out of brumation is a reverse process, raise the temperature slowly over 2-3 weeks, then start feeding again. After 4 weeks of the female starting feeding, give her a full health check, compare her weight to before she was brumated, and then you can introduce the male.
Both males and females can be aggressive and cause injuries, so keep a close eye on her. There is a certain amount of normal aggression. The female will not initially be receptive, she wants the male to chase her and prove that he is fast and strong and can catch her. If he is persistent, she will eventually allow him to mate with her. If mating has not occured after 1-2 days, seperate them and reintroduce after a few more days. Some females are never receptive and may refuse a certain male, but be more receptive to a different male. It can be advantageous to have multiple males available for a best chance of success; but remember you cannot house these males together so will need separate enclosures per adult skink.
If mating has been successful, the female will give birth any time from 3-5 months (averaging 4 months). Depending on the size, age and locality, there are usually 5 to 20 babies. These will be born in a placenta sac which they will split open. They will still have the umbilical cord attached – do not pull this off. They will usually eat the placenta, and the umbilical cord will dry up and fall off of it’s own accord. Remove them from the mother’s enclosure immediately and place them in their own enclosure, which needs to have the correct temperatures, humidity and lighting as the adults. They are independent and able to hunt and feed after the first few days. Babies can start fighting after a few months and will compete for food and dominance. If you have a large clutch, be prepared to have several enclosures to be able to separate them.
Please note that the images used in this caresheet are either photography used with licensing rights, or photography taken by Reptile Cymru. All images are protected by their original copyright.