There are 3 subspecies of Tiliqua scincoides, Australian blue-tongued skink  T. s. chimaerea, Tanimbar blue-tongued skink, T. s. intermedia, northern blue-tongued skink, T. s. scincoides, eastern blue-tongued skink
Natural History Information
Range and Habitat
- These skinks are crepuscular, and well adapted to borrowing and terrestrial habitats. They are able to withstand a wide range of temperatures.
- Blue-tongued skinks can live for 18 to 20 years.
- This is one of the largest member of the skink family, growing to about 2 feet in length. Central and Southern Australian species are larger than their more tropical relatives.
- Life Cycle Natural History Relevant Information
- Temperature, Humidity, Light Cycles
- Skinks must be kept warm, ideally from 70-75 degrees; Evening temp drops: 68-75F; Basking: 90-95F
- They require a UV light source, 12 hr cycle. 5.0 (Iguana/Tropical) ReptiGlow (T-8, 15W) bulb. or similar
- Humidity: between 25-40%
- It is beneficial to provide this skink with natural sunlight when possible, by providing time outdoors when weather allows, either during handling or in an outdoor enclosure.
- Aspen bedding works well for substrate. If it is deep enough, animals may also elect to hide underneath it.
- Social Housing/Colony Management
- This is not a social species.
- Other General Housing Requirements or Management information
- Blue-tongued skinks can be easily housed in plastic commercial reptile enclosures, minimum size for adults approximately 32″ by 18″.
- Skinks are reclusive so should be provided with many hiding opportunities within their enclosures.
- This type of skink cannot climb so does not require vertical space.
- Diet in the Wild
- In the wild, blue-tongued skinks eat flowers, berries, fruits, earthworms, and insects. They aren’t very agile, but most of their prey is slow-moving. They have large teeth and strong jaw muscles, to allow them to crush snail shells and beetles.
- These skinks will sometimes ingest small stones to help them digest food.
- Diet under human care
- In captivity, they are fed salad, mealworms, and pinky mice. Some sample diets include:
- BLANK PARK ZOO — fed on odd-numbered days only; gets 9g of greens, 27g of fruits and veggies, 2 superworms or 4 crickets, and 1/2Tbsp of canned cat food. The salad is sprinkled with calcium supplement. Usually, we will mix the greens into the canned cat food to encourage her to eat the greens, although she still wastes quite a bit of produce. About once a week, she can also get a pinky for enrichment.
- CALIFORNIA SCIENCE CENTER– 2 days of 5 superworms, fed from forceps, 1 day of 5 crickets, fed from forceps, 1 day of a fuzzy supplemented with Calcium powder and 5 drops of Vitamin A oil, fed from forceps, and 2 days of produce (10g dark greens, 8g mixed veggies, 2g fruit) in a shallow rock dish
- CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN ZOO — Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday – salad (lettuce and different vegetables with fruit on top) in a small bowl, sprinkled with Calcium and Herptivite vitamins; Monday – 5 earthworms, dusted with calcium; Wednesday and Friday – 20-25 medium crickets, fed with tongs and dusted with calcium.
- LITTLE ROCK — A “normal” skink diet consists of a salad (greens, carrot, apple, and mixed vegetables in a bowl) fed on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and 10-15 crickets (fed by tongs) on Tuesdays and Thursdays. A “geriatric” skink diet consists of the same salad but with an additional one fed on Sunday, and 10 crickets and 2 superworms (fed by tongs) on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.
- ROGER WILLIAMS PARK ZOO — salad (dandelion greens, chicory and romaine) 3 times per week, pinkies 2 times per week, and water soaked Iams dog food 3 times per week. We use crickets as enrichment a few times per week as well.
- ZOO ATLANTA — this diet was formulated for a specific skink based on his body condition:
*Monday* – 2 super worms; he would get the chance to chase it down in a feeding enclosure
*Tuesday* – Produce that consisted of approximately 17g collard greens, 17g romaine, 3g tomato, 3g grapes, 3g honeydew, 3g banana, 10g sweet potato(cooked), 10 g carrot (cooked)
*Wednesday* – fast
*Thursday* – 1 fuzzy mouse with reptical and herptivite sprinked on it
*Friday* – same salad as on Tuesday, and also 3-4 crickets; he would get the chance to chase the inverts in a feeding enclosure
*Saturday and Sunday* – fast
- BREVARD ZOO — fed a small salad three times a week (Mon, Wed, Fri) with a 2-week rotating schedule of other items as follows:
*1st Monday* – 1 Tbsp cooked chicken
*2nd Monday* – 1 Tbsp dog chow (dry kibble seems to be the best received)
*1st Wednesday* – 1 earthworm
*2nd Wednesday* – 1 fuzzy mouse
*Fridays* – 10 insects of varied species, including crickets, mealworms, superworms, and wax worms.
The salad is placed on a 3-4″ dish; it consists of mixed greens, mixed fruit, chopped raw carrots, raw sweet potato, green pepper, cucumber, zucchini, etc. Reptical is added daily and Reptivite is added weekly. The salad is misted just before feeding.
- Any kind of abnormal behavior such as lack of energy, aggression, or signs of stress.
- Look for any signs of abrasions on the skin, face or body.
- Any abnormal breathing or anything coming from the mouth or nose.
- Often, BTS bellies will turns more pink as they are getting closer to shedding.
- A blue tongue skink, when full grown, will shed about every six weeks. Misting the animal and enclosure will help expedite shedding.
- Behavioral Relevant Information
- Environmental Enrichment
- Novel substrates offered in a removable tray for tactile stimulation
- Changing out rocks, hides, and branches
- Hide boxes, rocks, items to climb on.
- Some facilities give small reptiles stuffed animals.
- Behavioral Enrichment
- Food items can be drug in a trail around the enclosure if the animal is out to encourage tongue flicking.
- Vary locations diet is presented.
- With veterinary approval, browse or furniture that has been in with mammals can be very stimulating.
- Always provide heavily scented items in small amounts and on one side of the enclosure so the snake can move away if uncomfortable. Monitor for signs of stress.
- Other Enrichment Resources
- Check out the Reptelligence Facebook page and Reptelligence website for enrichment and training inspiration.
- Advancing Herpetological Husbandry July 2018 Quarterly Newsletter- Environmental Enrichment for Reptiles By Charlotte James
- Behaviors Trained
- Reinforcers used & schedule of reinforcement
- Threats and Conservation Status
- This species is not considered endangered.
- Predators include the Tasmanian devil, quoll, dingo, kookaburra, and other carnivores.
- They have adapted well to suburban gardens and are very welcome there, since they prey on snails and plant-eating insects. In suburban areas, however, they can fall victim to pet dogs and cats, lawn mowers, and garden chemicals.
- Interesting Natural History Information
- Breeding occurs from September through November. The males will seek out and aggressively pursue the females. 3 to 5 months after mating (between December and April) the females will give birth to 6-8 young. This species is ovoviviparous, which means the eggs stay inside the female during development until after hatching. At birth, the young are ready to look after themselves, and will disperse after a few days.
- Did you know…
- Blue-tongued skinks are found throughout Australasia, including Tasmania, New Guinea and other Indonesian islands. They can be found in a variety of habitats: grasslands, forests, rainforests, deserts, and even the suburbs.
- This short-limbed skink has weak legs, five digits per limb, and a short tail (in proportion to body length.) The smooth skin is yellow-brown with dark transverse bands. The tongue is bluish, which is probably a species recognition characteristic.
- When threatened, a blue-tongued skink may stand its ground, puff up, hiss, and stick out its blue tongue (which contrasts sharply with the pink mouth.) Hopefully, this will startle the predator enough so the skink can get away.
- Blue-tongued skinks have a moveable and transparent lower eyelid to protect its eyes from dust but still be able to see.
- If handled roughly by the tail, blue-tongued skinks (particularly younger ones) may drop the tail. This process is known as autotomy. The tail stump will rapidly heal and a shorter, regenerated tail will grow in its place after a while.
Handling & Presentation Tips
- Blue-tongued skinks are extremely tractable and make excellent program animals. They can be presented by holding in the hands, on the lap, or outside in the grass if the weather is suitable. Because they are slow-moving, in the summer it can be interesting to present them in the grass so visitors can observe their almost snake-like manner of moving along the ground.
- If touched or rubbed gently on the top of the head, most blue-tongued skinks will extend their tongue.
- Be aware that lizards may urinate while you are holding them, so keep paper towels on hand during your program.
- Never hold them vertical or show them in upside-down position.
- If they start to wiggle or twist, it may help to elevate their head/front legs and hold them at a slight upward angle.
- Two-hand hold: one hand supporting the front end, placed under the chin and supporting the shoulders/belly, and the other supporting the hips/base of the tail.
- Seatbelt Hold: The front hand can be used in a ‘seatbelt’ hold, where the first and second fingers of your hand are placed on either side of the shoulder blades, with the animal’s weight in the palm of your hand and hips and tail running down the length of your arm. This frees your second hand up, which can be used to adjust the animal or gently rest on its back.
Public Contact and Interaction Guidelines
- Public can be permitted to touch this lizard while it is being held by a handler. The handler should stay aware of the head location at all times, redirecting as necessary to keep it facing away from guests.
- Encourage guests to use two-finger touching, moving down the body (in the same direction as the scales) in order to prevent accidental lifting of scales.
- Brandywine Zoo: minimum temperature for travel without supplemental heat: 60° F
- Use a hot water bottle to add supplemental heat for the lizard.
- When using a hot water bottle, be conscious of the temperature of the hot water in the bottle- the bottle should be comfortably warm, but not burning hot. Place hot water bottle to one side of the carrier and cover/wrap with a sheet of newspaper.
- Water bottle should be placed on one side of cooler, and turtle carrier on the other. Bottles should not be placed under the carrier.
- If you feel you need a sweater or jacket and it is above 60F, you can still pack with supplemental heat.
- Use a travel cozy if traveling in cooler temperatures. Cooler can go inside of appropriate fleece cozy.
- Brandywine Zoo: Our BTS travels in a Coleman stackable cooler, like the one pictured below.
- Brandywine Zoo: 65F: 30 min; 70-80F: 2 hours; 80-90F: 60 min; 90-95F: 30 min
- After looking at other AZA institutions for surplus animals, check with your local herpetological society and reptile rescue organizations. Many of these animals are purchased by the public at reptile stores and expos and owners are unable to keep them for their whole lifespan. If purchasing, look for a reputable breeder to avoid wild caught specimens.
- Check out sample animal policies, handling sheets, and fact sheets on our Example Policies & Guidelines page
- View past issues of Program Animal SAG Newsletters
- Ambassador Animal SAG Newsletter Vol. 2, Issue 3: Temperature and Transport: Welfare Implications for Ambassador Ectotherms
- Choice, Control, and Training in Ectotherms, By Carrie Kish
- Stress Management in Reptiles and Frogs
- Reptile Lighting Information
- Check out the Advancing Herpetological Husbandry Facebook group. They have also published several newsletters (see Reptiles page for links).
- See: AAH -January 2018 Quarterly Newsletter Article: Temperature and Heat for Reptiles By Roman Muryn
Contributors and Citations
- Cover Photo: Brandywine Zoo
- The Philadelphia Zoo
- Happy Hollow Park & Zoo
- Houston Zoo, Natural Encounters
- Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium
- Brandywine Zoo
Comments from the Rating System
- Children’s Zoo at Celebration Square: People really enjoy their blue tongues. Ours commonly urinates on the handler. Holding it flat vs. inclined helps prevent this.
- Henry Vilas Zoo: This species does not have the personality or public appeal that bearded dragons or leopard geckos have, though size is good for larger groups; very inactive; will get different species in future