Blue tongue skinks

Six years ago I was taking an Australian wildlife class in Queensland, Australia.  I stayed late after a laboratory session and was walking back to my apartment alone. The sun had set and the only light was coming off the metallic buildings. I had trained myself to look down at the ground for the chance of spotting unique or dangerous wildlife. This night did not disappoint.

Every day it was easy to spot Eastern grey kangaroos. The scary part about them was at night when you could only see their red eyes glowing. They can stand six foot six inches and you never know if it is a kangaroo in the bushes or something more frightening. I was half paying attention to the mob of kangaroos in the distance when I noticed something that was squirming between me and the building. At first I didn’t notice it due to its movement but rather due to the hissing. If the animal would have remained quiet, I would have walked right on by. Apparently I was not so good at spotting wildlife as I had thought.

The animal that I encountered hissing and running away was an eastern blue tongue skink (Tiliqua scincoides). I watched it for a few seconds as it flattened itself and became flush up against a door leading to a classroom. Placing itself parallel to the door it went under and into the classroom. I can only imagine the surprise on the teacher’s face when they opened up for classes the next day.

Although wild animals do not make great pets, captive bred blue tongue skinks are growing in popularity. Above I included the scientific name for the lizard I was referring to because blue tongue is a very common name for at least twelve different lizards.

Most lizards, to a lesser extent, can smell with their tongues similar to the way snakes can.  When these skinks get scared they will keep their blue tongue out and flash it to the predator. If you decide to adopt a skink you do not have to, or should you, try to scare it. You will see their tongue quite regularly every time they want to smell something a little better.

Blue tongue skinks can grow up to 20 inches, which is quite large for a pet lizard, and can live between fifteen and twenty years. They are terrestrial and do not require high branches. Since they stay close to the ground the larger surface area you can provide them the better. A typical 50 gallon aquarium is a good starting point. Typical lizard husbandry applies, including proper lighting, heat and vitamins. These can make great critter companions for a caregiver who has some smaller lizard experience.

I have cared for four, over the past couple of years at different facilities and they always make me smile when it is feeding time. After you place the food down in their enclosure, they never fail to keep their head stationary and rotate one of their eyes up at you as if to say, “is this it?” They seen to have an insatiable appetite.

Kenny Coogan holding a captive bred blue tongue skink named Shelia

Kenny Coogan holding a captive bred blue tongue skink named Shelia

Blue tongue skinks are omnivores and their diet can include different types of dark greens, vegetables, a small amount of fruit and a source of protein. They will readily eat earthworms, snails, mealworms, superworms and crickets.

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