The blue tongue skink has become one of the most popular pet lizards in the world. If you’re currently doing your research before purchasing your first blue tongue skink then read our detailed blue tongue skink care sheet for all the key information you need to know…
Blue Tongue Skink Cages
Blue tongue skinks are reasonably active, ground-dwelling lizards that hail from the hotter parts of the world. The vast majority of blue tongue skinks kept as pets come from Australia, though some others may be found on nearby islands like Indonesia. This, combined with their chunky adult size, means that they require a vivarium that offers a generous amount of floor space and a very hot basking spot.
It is generally advised to blue tongue skinks alone, as males are likely to fight in captivity, whilst males can continually chase their potential mate if kept in pairs. In terms of cage sizing, most experts recommend a cage of 36” (90cm) long at a minimum, though a larger cage of at least 48” (120cm) is preferable.
As these are ground-dwelling lizards it’s not just the overall cage length that should be considered, but also the depth in order to maximize the floor space available. An 18” (45cm) minimum depth is therefore also recommended. Vertical height is less of a consideration as blue tongue skinks only very rarely climb.
A range of options meet these requirements. Some of the best examples of blue tongue skink cages include:
Exo Terra Glass Vivariums
Exo Terra glass terrariums are stunning cages that offer a whole host of potential benefits. These cages look fantastic, the front-opening doors make routine tank maintenance simple, and thanks to the metal grill lid (combined with a dedicated hood which is sold separately), installing heating and UV lighting very simple indeed.
The downsides to such cages are that they can be quite expensive (though worth it in my mind), they retain heat less effectively than other cage types, and that there is only a limited range of sizes currently on the market. For my money, however, these are the best cages for blue tongue skinks.
Modified Glass Aquariums
A cheaper alternative can be purchasing a generously-proportioned fish tank, and topping it with a specially made vivarium hood like the one shown below:
If you go down this route then you’ll need to source a reflector for your UV lighting, to ensure that the light shines down into the cage. Remember that UV light can be harmful to human eyes so you shouldn’t install your lighting in such a manner where you’re looking directly at the bulb for extended periods of time.
I’ve used wooden vivariums for keeping reptiles for over 20 years and they still hold a special place in my heart. Oddly, it seems that wooden vivariums are far more common in the UK than they are in the USA. All the same, if you can find one of suitable dimensions then these can represent another cheap and effective form of housing.
Wooden vivariums tend to be quite cheap to buy, and hold heat well in the winter months, which can mean lower electricity bills for you. The sliding glass doors at the front also make for easy feeding and cleaning, though if you’re keeping a large lizard like a blue tongue skink I would suggest you add a cage lock, to prevent your pet from sliding the door open (as happened to me with a juvenile iguana many years ago).
Wooden vivariums are also available in a huge range of different sizes, so you’re almost guaranteed to be able to find one suitable for your needs.
In terms of downsides, wooden vivariums can represent additional problems when it comes to installing the required electrics. For ease, try therefore to buy one flat-packed so that you can easily add heaters and UV lights as you set it up. Also, be sure to select a model that offers ventilation grills, to allow for the proper flow of air into your blue tongue skink cage.
For the more creative reader, of course, it is entirely possible to build your own vivarium from wood. The benefits here are that a custom home build can be the cheapest option of all, and allows you the opportunity to create the “perfect” cage to suit your home.
Heating & Temperatures
Supplementary heating is necessary if your blue tongue skink is to remain happy and healthy. As with other lizards, it is advisable to try and mimic nature, by offering one particularly hot basking spot, combined with other cooler areas within the cage. In this way your pet can move around as they would in nature, regulating their body temperature by moving around the cage.
For blue tongue skinks the hotspot should reach a temperature of around 100’F or 37’C. This should be positioned at one end of the cage, allowing the other end to reach a cooler 20-25’C (~70-80’F). The benefit of a larger vivarium is that this thermal gradient is easier to accomplish.
A hotspot of this temperature requires a serious heater, especially in the colder months. Consequently the best options are typically either a ceramic bulb (my personal choice) or a light-producing heat lamp.
Be aware that both these options can get very hot so some serious precautions should be taken to prevent either you or your pet from getting burned. Firstly, these over tank heat emitters should never be used without a suitable thermostat to prevent overheating. If you want to learn about choosing and using reptile thermostats then please click here.
Thermostats with a day/night setting can be particularly useful, as they allow you to maintain some warmth in the cage during the night, while still showing a daily cycle as in nature.
Secondly you’ll want to make sure that your pet lizard cannot come into direct contact with the heat source. This means placing it high enough in the cage so that you pet cannot reach it, placing it outside the cage (such as when using an Exo Terra) or protecting it with a mesh cover.
Finally, be sure to invest in a good quality reptile thermometer so that you can regularly monitor the temperature of your blue tongue skink. Satisfy yourself that the hotspot is of a suitable temperature, and that the cooler end is indeed cooler. Some reptile keepers opt to place a flat rock under their heat lamp, which helps to trap the heat meaning your pet can warm up quicker when it so chooses.
UV Lighting for Blue Tongue Skinks
We’re unable to see ultraviolet light, but it plays a crucial role in the life of your blue tongue skink. Firstly, and most importantly, it is necessary for the proper synthesis of vitamin D. When ultraviolet light strikes the skin, it produces this essential vitamin which, in turn, helps to absorb and use calcium from the diet.
In short, a blue tongue skink that doesn’t have access to UV light is likely to suffer from skeletal problems caused by this inability to use calcium – something often known in the hobby as “metabolic bone disease”.
While this should be reason alone to provide UV light for your blue tongue skink, there is also some evidence that a suitable source of UV light seems to positively affect the behavior of many reptiles, encouraging more activity, a better appetite and even more successful breeding.
UV lights have come a long way over the years, and providing such a light source is easier that ever before. The two most common types are fluorescent tubes or compact fluorescent bulbs. Both are equally effective, assuming the majority of your cage is bathed in this light.
When selecting a UV light you’ll want to consider the strength of the light given. As blue tongues naturally hail from Australasia, with the strong almost desert-like sun that it offers, a bulb at the stronger end of the spectrum is recommended. A 10-12% UVB bulb is an excellent place to start.
Your UV light should be left on during the day before being turned off at night. Personally I like to use a cheap timer to turn the light on and off automatically, giving a day length of around 12-14 hours.
Lastly, while blue tongue skinks need regular access to UV light, they should also have the opportunity to escape from the glare when they so choose. Therefore, be mindful to include a hide or two, where your skink can completely conceal themselves if they wish. I’m a fan of the curved wooden “Habba Huts” for this purpose but almost any enclosed object, like a nice curve of cork bark, will work.
Blue Tongue Skink Set-Up
As relatively large and powerful lizards, blue tongue skinks typically aren’t kept in carefully designed cage setups as used for poison dart frogs or day geckos. Instead, the primary consideration should be the health of your pet, combined with the practicalities of care.
A range of substrates can be used, including reptile-safe sand, beech chippings or orchid bark. Blue tongue skinks very rarely try to burrow so only an inch or so of substrate is needed on the floor of their cage.
As discussed previously, at least one hide should be available so that your skink can hide away when they choose. I have written more about choosing a reptile hide here.
The other piece of equipment you’ll need is a shallow water bowl. Fresh water should be provided at all times, though you may not see your skink drinking regularly. The water should be replenished daily, and the bowl scrubbed clean and allowed to dry once a week to prevent bacterial build-up.
Routine maintenance is minimal with a well-kept skink. Monitor the environmental conditions in the cage on a regular basis, paying particular attention to any unusual changes in behavior that you observe. For example, if you notice that your blue tongue skink is spending much longer than usual under their basking spot then it may be that the cage isn’t quite as warm as your skink would like.
Spot clean the cage regularly to keep it smelling fresh. Faeces can be easily removed, and any uneaten food should be taken away the same day to prevent it spoiling.
Feeding Blue Tongue Skinks
One thing that has helped to make blue tongue skinks such popular pets is that they are omnivores; meaning that they will eat a broad range of different animal-based and plant-based foods.
I have written extensively about feeding your blue tongue skink here, but as a brief overview you should aim for roughly a 50/50 mixture of plants and meat over the course of a week.
In terms of acceptable plants some safe options include green leafy vegetables, squash, peas and green beans, brussel sprouts and carrots. Blue tongues will also eat many fruits, though due to their higher sugar content these should be fed in moderation. Examples of suitable fruits include berries (blueberries, strawberries etc.), mango and melon.
“Selective feeding” is the name given to the process of eating certain food items while ignoring others. It’s like the child that wants ice cream before they’ve eaten their kale. Of course, this feeding behavior can lead to nutritional deficiencies over the long term. It is therefore advisable to carefully chop or grate plant-based food stuffs, and mix them up to form a “salad” which makes selective feeding less problematic.
There are a range of different foods that can make up the “meat” part of the diet. This can include super premium cat or dog food, commercial formulas like Repashy Bluey Buffet, live feeder insects like mealworms and waxworms, cooked chicken or even the odd pinkie mouse.
Handling Blue Tongue Skinks
An interesting study took blood samples from blue tongue skinks behaving normally in their cages. They were then handled for a period of time before further blood samples were taken. The goal of the experiment was to assess just how much being handled stresses out blue tongue skinks. They found that in this species “brief periods of handling… do not appear to cause chronic stress”. In other words, handling your blue tongue skink, when done in a safe environment, doesn’t seem to upset your pet whatsoever.
Blue tongue skinks are in many ways the perfect pet for someone who wants a lizard that they can handle. They’re reasonably slow moving, quite chunky which makes them easy to pick up, and as we have seen the action seems to cause them no distress.
As with any exotic pet, great care should be taken when handling your lizard. Aim to hold them gently but firmly, and ideally position yourself very close to the floor or over a soft surface like a couch or mattress so that if your skink falls it won’t be harmed.
Appreciate that it can take time for your blue tongue skink to get used to handling. The key is to move slowly, and to gently introduce the concept with regular, short handling sessions. Offering a favorite food item at the same time can help your skink to associate handling with a positive experience.
Photo by phozographer
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