Blue tongue skinks are one of the most popular pet lizards currently available, but they do have some quite specific requirements when it comes to housing. In this article we’ll be taking a look at the natural habitat of blue tongues, examining how to replicate this in captivity, and therefore how to select the best blue tongue skink enclosure.
- 1 Blue Tongue Skinks in the Wild
- 2 Scientific Research on Blue Tongue Skinks
- 3 Important Considerations When Selecting an Enclosure
- 4 Best Caging Options for Blue Tongue Skinks
- 5 Conclusion: What’s the Best Blue Tongue Skink Enclosure?
Blue Tongue Skinks in the Wild
Blue tongue skinks tend to be active during the day (“diurnal”) and have thick, heavy bodies with relatively small legs. This body shape means that they spend the vast majority of their time on the ground; they are rarely if ever found climbing like a chameleon or gecko might. As a result, floor space is a far greater concern than the provision of vertical space.
Growing to almost two feet in length (18-24” is normal) these are quite large, stocky animals. This not only means that your blue tongue skink will require a larger cage than many other popular pet lizards, but furthermore that it should be sturdy enough to handle the weight and power of such a good-sized reptile. Fragile tank decor, for example, can become damaged, and rocks used for landscaping are at risk of tumbling. Safety is therefore a key consideration.
Scientific Research on Blue Tongue Skinks
While herpetology is still quite a “niche” research area, there have been a number of studies that point to the proper housing of blue tongue skinks. I don’t want to go over the finer details for risk of boring you but let’s quickly discuss some of the most useful findings…
Firstly, a group of scientists attached radio transmitters to blue tongue skinks in Australia to learn more about their lifestyle. They found that on average blue tongues bask for between one and four hours each morning, until they obtained a body temperature of 32’C. Once they reached this critical threshold they were then active for most of the day.
Another study found similar results; they claimed that blue tongue skinks in the wild maintain a body temperature of between 30’C and 37’C by actively moving between hot, sunny areas and cooler places.
Finally, researchers looking at captive blue tongue skinks experimented with a range of different types of environmental enrichment. Their study showed that “hiding” live food like mealworms around the lizard’s cage increased activity throughout the day. They found that larger cages led to more exercise being taken, and that lizards in hotter cages spent more time basking rather than hiding.
The takeaway points here are really that larger cages are better than smaller cages for the health of your blue tongue skink, that the inclusion of free-running prey items can be beneficial and that your skink will be happiest with a very hot basking area at one end of their cage.
Important Considerations When Selecting an Enclosure
Lets now gather together all the points so far and turn these into an actionable “shopping list” of what the best blue tongue skink enclosure will offer. In this way, when you’re weighing up the options you’ll be ideally placed to make an informed decision.
First and foremost you’ll want to prevent your lizard from escaping, as well as children or other household pets from getting in. Cats, for example, can find lizards a fascinating potential prey item. Taking into consideration the strength of larger blue tongues, you’ll therefore want to be absolutely certain that your lizard can’t push open a cage lid or a sliding door. If necessary consider using a cage lock for additional security.
As we’ve seen, larger cages tend to result in happier blue tongued skinks. Sadly, when it comes to cage sizes, there is no “right” and “wrong” answer – it is more a case of opinion. I would suggest that an adult is kept in a cage no smaller than 36” in length and 18” in depth. Personally I would consider this to be and absolute minimum, and I would suggest that a 48” long enclosure is far more appropriate.
Remember that as blue tongue skinks don’t climb the vertical height is less of an issue. Indeed, some might argue that a lower cage is actually preferable because more UV light will then reach the cage floor.
Also be aware that these recommended cage size dimensions apply only to a single blue tongue skink. While a handful of keepers opt to keep two females together, or a breeding pair, this can result in fighting. In almost all cases then, for the safety of your lizard, blue tongues should be kept alone. Two males should certainly never be kept together as serious fighting is almost inevitable.
Enjoying a dry, semi-desert environment, ventilation is a crucial consideration. Blue tongue skinks kept in tanks that are too moist or humid can suffer from a range of health-related issues; fortunately proper ventilation is simple to provide.
Your blue tongue skink is going to need high temperatures. However they’re also going to need a “temperature gradient” – some parts of their cage cooler than others so they can move about and thermoregulate as in the wild. A good option is to use a ceramic heater at one end of their cage, leaving the other end cooler.
With a recommended basking temperature of around 100’F (37’C) you’ll need to be confident that any enclosure you choose can cope with this heat, and that there is a safe way to install such a heat source. If you want to learn more about using ceramic heat emitters for reptiles then please read my guide here.
Strong UV lighting will be required by your lizard on a daily basis. It is therefore wise to consider how you will offer this. It is important to remember that UVB light doesn’t pass through glass or plastic effectively. As a result, the bulb that you select will need to either be placed within your blue tongue skink’s cage, or above it but shining through mesh.
Best Caging Options for Blue Tongue Skinks
Now we understand the environmental conditions required for a healthy blue tongue skink the next step is to look at some real-life examples. Here are some of my top recommendations for the best blue tongue skink enclosures currently available to hobbyists…
Exo Terra Glass Terrariums
If you spend some time reading other articles on this site then you’ll see me talking about Exo Terras time and again. There’s a reason for that; I think they’re fantastic vivariums which offer a whole host of practical benefits as well as looking fantastic.
When it comes to blue tongue skinks the Exo Terra (Large Wide model) comes into its own in a number of ways. Firstly it has a metal mesh grill on the top. This makes it very easy to attach a suitable ceramic heater just above your lizard’s basking spot. Exo Terra also produce vivarium hoods which can fit over your tank, and into which UV lights fit. This, combined with the mesh grill, makes them an easy and practical option for reptiles that require lots of ultraviolet light.
When using high powered heating equipment it is crucial to use a thermostat to prevent overheating. You’ll need to find a way to feed a sensor into your blue tongue skink vivarium and position it under the basking spot. With Exo Terras this is easy; each cage comes with closable holes for this exact purpose.
For those readers living in colder areas, the base of the Exo Terra is raised slightly off the ground on plastic feet, which makes it easy to also slip a small heat pad underneath should you need to increase the temperature slightly more.
While I will admit that Exo Terras aren’t the cheapest option on the market, the range of practical benefits combined with their looks means they’re my number one choice in most instances.
Glass aquariums have many benefits as cages; they’re readily available, they’re cheap and they’re able to withstand a fair amount of wear and tear. The downside has always been finding a suitable lid for pet reptiles, and finding a way to install the required electrics.
This has been solved thanks to Exo Terra’s mesh aquarium lids. Available in a wide range of sizes, these are very similar to the mesh lids found in Exo Terra vivariums. Simply slide one over the top of your blue tongue skink cage and attach all the electrics necessary.
For some people, modified aquariums may represent a better option due to the lower price point. On the other hand, be aware that you’ll always need to access your skink from the top, having removed the lid. For some people (such as myself!) this is less practical than the other caging options that offer access from the front.
Wooden vivariums have always been very popular in the UK, but I see them far less regularly used in the US. Wooden vivariums tend to be quite cheap to buy, offer sliding glass doors at the front and can be much easier to keep warm in winter (meaning a happier skink and a lower electricity bill for you).
They do, however, have a number of potential downsides. Firstly, be sure to choose a model that offers suitable ventilation. You don’t want an entirely enclosed tank. Secondly, installing electrical equipment like UV lights and heaters can require a rather more “DIY” approach than with other enclosure options. Be prepared to drill holes, take the vivarium apart and install your own equipment. For the less DIY-savvy reptile keeper therefore one of the previous options may prove to be more practical.
Of course, for the serious craftsman it is possible to build your own wooden vivarium. It’s something I’ve done before on numerous occasions, and with a little patience it can be a really fun project. You get to design and build the cage from scratch, getting everything just right. If you have the time then this is certainly an option to consider, which can also save you a boatload of money.
Conclusion: What’s the Best Blue Tongue Skink Enclosure?
I think it would be wrong to say that there is such a thing as a “best” cage. Each option has its own strengths and weaknesses. The right answer for you will depend on the cage size you decide to give, your budget and how handy you are at DIY. The key, really, is figuring out the best compromise between these elements so you can offer your blue tongue skink the ideal conditions in which to thrive.
Photo by Eric Kilby
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