Should You Keep a Blue-Tongued Skink as a Pet?

Characteristics, Housing, Diet, and Other Information

Blue tongued skink (Tiliqua scincoides)
Kristian Bell / Getty Images

The blue-tongued skink is a large, diurnal lizard that is docile, quiet, gentle, and easily tamed. Due to being low-maintenance lizards and easy to care for, they are considered to be good pets for both children and beginners. Skinks are native to Australia and got their name from their distinct blue tongues. Although they are known to be beginner pets, they require a large amount of space for their habitat and specific substrates that fit their needs.

Species Overview

Common Name(s): Blue-tongued skink

Scientific Name: Tiliqua scincoides

Adult Size: Up to 20 inches long

Lifespan: Between 10 and 20 years

Can You Own a Pet Blue-Tongued Skink?

Legality

It is completely legal to own a blue-tongued skink as a personal pet, though they do require special permits to sell. Because the lizard is native to Australia and parts of Indonesia, you will likely have to go through a specialty breeder to acquire a blue-tongued skink.

Blue-Tongued Skink Behavior and Temperament

Blue-tongued skinks are ground dwellers with a flattened and elongated body somewhat resembling a snake in appearance. They are docile, quiet, gentle, and easily tamed, which is why they make great beginner pets. Native to Australia, these calm pet lizards have distinct blue tongues (which is how they got their name), short legs, and dull teeth. In the wild, blue-tongued skinks spend all their time on the ground.

Be advised that although skinks are not aggressive, they have strong jaws and teeth, and a bite from a skink can be quite painful. Despite their generally docile nature, blue-tongued skinks will bite if they feel threatened, or hiss and expose their tongues. Try to avoid provoking or startling them, and don't let small children interact with a skink without proper supervision.

Housing

Blue-tongued skinks require a large enclosure, such as a 40- to 55-gallon tank, with a secure lid. Provide a large, shallow, and sturdy water dish inside—skinks like to bathe in their water but also often defecate there, so frequent cleaning will be required.

Blue-tongued skinks don't need branches for climbing since they are strictly ground dwellers. Instead, provide them with a couple of sturdy hiding spots since they like to burrow and hide. Cork bark, wood, rocks, PVC pipes, or other reptile hideouts can be used.

Skinks are used to ample sunlight, and UVA/UVB rays help with their metabolism, bone health, and more. To ensure they get the nutrients they need, provide your pet with full spectrum UVA/UVB light for between 10 and 12 hours per day.​ This bulb will have specific instructions on how far away to keep it from your skink but typically it is about 10 to 12 inches. You should also make sure nothing is blocking the light from reaching your skink, except for a metal mesh screen if necessary.

Specific Substrate Needs

The substrate (bedding) in your blue-tongued skink's environment can consist of aspen wood shavings, cypress mulch, or even newspaper. Whatever you choose, make sure your skink is not eating it or your lizard could get an intestinal blockage. Any wood pieces or rocks should be firmly placed so they will not fall on the lizard.

Specific Humidity and Heating Needs

Since blue-tongued skinks are native to Australia (just like bearded dragons and frill-necked lizards), temperatures should be kept warm, with a thermal gradient of 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit and a basking spot of 95 degrees Fahrenheit. A combination of under-tank heating and a basking light on one side of the tank works well.

Ensure the appropriate temperature gradient is provided by measuring temperatures in various spots around the tank, not just one. Nighttime temperatures can drop to about 70 degrees Fahrenheit, but temperatures any cooler than that can cause several problems with your skink and make it more prone to getting ill. A humidity hide (such as a plastic storage box with moss or cypress mulch to hold moisture) will help your skink with shedding its skin.

What Do Blue-Tongued Skinks Eat & Drink?

Skinks are true omnivores and this preference should be reflected in their diet. Variety is the key to providing a nutritious diet to a blue-tongued skink, and a calcium/vitamin D supplement should be added to their food regularly to help prevent metabolic bone disease. You should also strive for a balanced mixture of about 60 percent vegetables and fruits and 40 percent meat items. Consider using the following foods:

  • Green beans 
  • Summer or winter squash
  • Carrots
  • Parsnips
  • Kale
  • Beets
  • Strawberries
  • Bananas
  • Melons
  • Blueberries
  • Low-fat canned dog food
  • Superworms
  • Mealworms
  • Crickets
  • Pinkie mice

You can feed your skink canned dog food or a pinkie mouse occasionally. Otherwise, stay away from items that aren't fruits, vegetables, or insects. Too much protein isn't good for lizards' digestive systems or kidneys. Younger skinks can be fed six days in a row, allowing them to fast on the seventh day. Adult skinks can be fed every other day or even every two days, depending on their size and appetite.

Common Health Problems

In general, blue-tongued skinks are very easy to care for and are not known to have major health issues. The most common health problem among skinks (as well as other reptiles) in captivity is metabolic bone disease. This condition occurs when the animal's phosphorous-to-calcium ratio is out of balance and is usually due to poor UV lighting and sometimes poor diet. Symptoms include weakened or fractured bones, tremors, lethargy, and overall weakness. Like other lizards, skinks can also suffer from vitamin A deficiency—a supplement can help prevent this from becoming serious.

Another common issue for blue-tongued skinks—and all lizards—is mouth rot, which is characterized by a foamy or cheesy secretion that comes from the mouth, teeth, and lips. It can be caused by an eating injury or stress and should be treated by a professional. Before you purchase your blue-tongued skink, be sure there's a veterinarian in your area who specializes in exotic pets such as lizards.

Grooming

Shedding

Reptiles, including lizards, all shed their skins at some point. The frequency with which blue-tongued skinks shed will depend on their age—young skinks under a year of age will shed every two to three weeks, while adult skinks will shed only once every two to three months.

If your skink isn't able to shed fully, or sheds irregularly, it may be a sign of an underlying health issue, also known as dysecdysis. Skinks shed in patches (rather than all over like a snake), so it can be harder to recognize when they're shedding incompletely. If you notice your skink having issues, try boosting the humidity in their enclosure, especially around the time of a shed. Otherwise, you may need to visit an exotics vet to help your skink properly shed and treat the underlying issue.

Purchasing Your Blue-Tongued Skink

Try to get your skink from a reputable breeder, who will have the animal's health history available. Your lizard should have clear eyes and skin that is free of blemishes or dry patches (which may indicate a skin condition). If you can watch the animal eat before purchasing, you'll be able to tell if it has a healthy appetite. A lizard that is limping, has any visible deformities, or shows signs of an incomplete shed is probably one with health issues and should be avoided.

Similar Pets to the Blue-Tongued Skink

If you're interested in a lizard that's easy to care for but aren't sure about the blue-tongued skink, there are other beginner-friendly lizards you can check out:

Otherwise, you can check out these other profiles of reptile and amphibian breeds.

FAQ
  • Are blue-tongued skinks dangerous as pets?

    No. Though they can bite if they feel threatened or attacked, blue-tongued skinks are considered docile reptiles and are not dangerous to keep as pets.

  • Why do blue-tongued skinks have blue tongues?

    It's thought by experts that blue-tongued skinks developed their signature colorful tongue as a way to intimidate predators in the wild.

  • How long do blue-tongued skinks live as pets?

    Blue-tongued skinks are known to live longer in captivity than in the wild, reaching 20 years—but sometimes closer to 30 years—with the proper care and nutrition.

Watch Now: 11 Wildly Exotic Animals That You Can Have as a Pet

Article Sources
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  1. Blue Tongue Skink Mouth Rot. Blue Tongue Skink