Caring for your Blue Tongue Lizards

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Caring for your Blue Tongue Lizards
This care guide is designed to help you care for Eastern Blue Tongue Skink (Tiliqua scincoides), Western Blue Tongue
Skink (Pictured above) (Tiliqua occipitalis), Blotched Blue Tongue Skink (Tiliqua nigrolutea), Centralian Blue Tongue
Skink (Tiliqua multifasciata) as well as the Shingleback Skink (Tiliqua rugosa)
Natural History
The iconic Blue-tongue Lizards are a group of six medium to large sized skinks. 5 of the species (the exception of the
Pygmy Blue-tongue (Tiliqua adelaidensis) are considered to be robust generalist lizards, that is, they adapt to and
thrive in a variety of habitats from the hot dry deserts of central Australia to the temperate forests of the eastern
coast.
All Blue-tongue Lizards are diurnally active and will emerge from their shelter in the morning to bask and search for
food, moving between areas of sun and shade to regulate their temperature throughout the day. In hot weather
they will avoid the harsh heat by retreating to shelter. They are not picky when it comes to shelter site selection,
they will utilise burrows, hollow logs, leaf litter or vegetation to hide under. I have even encountered a Shingleback
sleeping out in the open at night!
They are omnivorous lizards foraging for vegetation such as fungi, flowers, fruits and leaves, as well as insects, snails
and the eggs of other animals.
Of these 6 species, 5 are commonly kept as pets. Due to their robust build, ease of keeping and gentle nature they
can be considered one of the best pet lizards to keep.
Housing and Enclosures
While I mention that Blue-tongue Lizards are easy to keep I feel
that it is important to add that complacency should not become a
part of Blue-tongue husbandry. They are large skinks and are
natural wanderers and should not be deprived of a large area in
which to move around. Therefore when deciding whether to keep
a ‘Bluey’ or not it will be important to consider how much space
you can allocate for them in your house.
A full grown Blue-tongue should have an enclosure no smaller than
120cm by 60cm. Any smaller and you are limiting their chance to
move – not only will this result in a bored lizard but an overweight
one at that! If you can, provide as large an enclosure as possible.
Eastern Blue Tongue Skink
(Tiliqua scincoides)
Indoor Enclosures
Indoor enclosures can be constructed of many different materials. The traditional glass reptile terrarium is a popular
choice, with some brands such as Reptile One offering very affordable models. Fish tanks can also be a suitable
choice for conversion to a reptile terrarium. Wooden terrariums are also popular (and may be a better choice for
keepers living in cooler southern climates as the wood provides insulation). Wooden terrariums may be a less
desirable choice for keepers in hot northern climates where more ventilation is necessary. You can construct your
own terrarium out of wood, and some keepers have converted old wooden TV units into stylish enclosures. There
are also fibreglass styles and mesh covered terrariums available.
Outdoor Enclosures
Some keepers may choose to keep their skinks outside with housing options varying from corrugated tin pits,
cement lined pits or bird aviaries. It is important to consider the following when choosing to house them outside:
 The materials with which the enclosure is constructed should not be abrasive (like aviary mesh) that could
cause injury from rubbing
 Is the climate appropriate for the Blue-tongue? While it may be achievable, keeping Blue-tongues outdoors
in southern cold climates may be difficult, just as keeping them in hot climates may be also
 Ensure variation in the temperatures. Your ‘Bluey’ will need areas of direct sun to bask as well as areas of
shade and shelter to keep cool
 Ensure adequate drainage is allowed in the enclosure. If the ground cannot not dry then there is a high risk
of your lizard developing skin infections
 Keep predators out! Cats, dogs, native birds and snakes are all potential predators of your lizard so it is
important to create a barrier between them such as fine mesh.
Substrate
Blue-tongues naturally occur on a variety of substrates from
fine desert sand, stony or rocky areas through to fertile soils
covered in leaf litter. There are many substrates that are
perfectly suitable for your Blue-tongue and what one keeper
prefers, another may not.
We prefer to use coarse substrates that have minimal dust
(negative effects of dust can be amplified in an enclosed
environment). We have used bark, coco-fibre, newspaper and
wood pellets, aspen chips and fake grass successfully. Other
options include lino, cage carpet or newspaper. You will have
to try out different substrates to find out what your preferred
option is.
This Western Blue Tongue Skink has a
natural substrate of sand and stone
While not as common in skinks as dragons, be aware that any particulate substrates can be swallowed by your lizard
increasing the risk of intestinal obstruction.
Heating
I have encountered a concerning high number of Blue-tongue keepers who provide only a small heat mat and others
who offer them no heat at all! It is critical to the health and wellbeing both physically and psychologically to provide
your Blue-tongue Lizard with a broad spectrum basking site.
Most Blue Tongue Lizards have a preferred body temperature of between 3033°C and providing a temperature gradient from 25°C at the cool zone, 30°C in
the warm zone and a basking site of 35-38°C will give your blue tongue the
opportunity to precisely regulate their body temperature. (Refer to our care
guide “Creating a Temperature Gradient” to help you)
Not only will providing a basking site help your blue tongue to thermoregulate
but they will also enjoy soaking up the warmth! If you do not yet have a broad
spectrum basking light for your Blue Tongue, pop one on now, I can almost
guarantee your lizard will go straight to it!
Heating can be provided in several different ways and it can be a confusing decision to make when planning your
enclosure. (Refer to our care guide “Heat and UV Lights” information on the different types of heat sources
available). The authors preferred method of heating for blue tongues is:


An incandescent heat light to provide a central basking site during daylight hours
A moonlight heat light to raise ambient night time temperatures (while night-time heating may not be
necessary in all climates, it will benefit very young or sick bluetongues)
These heat lights should be connected to a thermostat which will maintain the
temperature required as set on the thermostat.
A thermometer is an important tool for any reptile keeper to regularly check that the
enclosure temperatures are appropriate (as well as to check proper functioning of your
thermostat). Analogue or digital thermometers can be permanently fixed in the
enclosure or a handheld infrared thermometer can be used to instantly measure
different temperature zones within the terrarium.
Feeding
While the diets of different Tiliqua species varies slightly they are all omnivorous feeders foraging for vegetation and
invertebrates. Fungi, flowers, seeds and foliage make up the plant matter portion of their diet and invertebrates
such as snails, spiders, beetles and larvae make up the rest of the diet. They have been known to occasionally feed
on small mammals and birds however this is more likely to be from their opportunistic feeding behaviour rather than
food preference.
Captive Diet
In captivity we can certainly provide them with a similar nutritious and varied diet. A mixture of fruits, vegetables,
flowers, foliage and insects can be chopped to the appropriate size and offered in a clean bowl. Leafy foods such as
endive and celery leaves can be chopped slightly larger than crunchy foods like carrots and cabbage. A simply
guideline to follow is to thinly slice food and cut them into lengths no longer than the space between the lizards
eyes. Read our ‘Guide to Lizard Foods’ for fruits, vegetables and plants that are suitable for your Blue Tongues.
Insect Foods
There are a variety of insects suitable for offering to Blue-Tongues
including wood roaches, crickets, mealworms, silkworms and snails.
Limit the size of the insect so that it is smaller than the space between
the lizard’s eyes. All insects can be fed live to the lizard and doing so
encourages natural hunting behaviour and exercise (Snails can be
offered with shell on, they will crush and spit out the shell).
Mealworms are a favourite food for many blue tongues however they
carry little nutritional benefit and contain high quantities of
indigestible chitin, low calcium and extremely high phosphorus. For
these reasons they should only be offered occasionally (if at all) as a
treat.
Commercial Diets
There are many commercial pellet or granule style foods available on the market for Blue Tongue Skinks. While we
recommend offering a fresh and varied diet we can highly recommend Vetafarm Lizard Food as food to incorporate
into the diet. Most Blue Tongues enjoy the food either on its own or mixed with other foods.
Other Foods
Some keepers like to offer foods such as mince, steak and chicken. While it will maintain the lizards, these meat diets
offer no benefit to the lizards at all. A meat diet offers too much protein while at the same time being void of
essential vitamins, minerals and other beneficial nutrients. Health issues arising from nutritional deficiencies occur in
lizards maintained on meat.
Eggs are a popular food item and may also be part of their natural diet. Eggs can be offered raw or cooked (but hold
the salt!) and will be lavished by most skinks.
Offering tinned dog and cat food is a controversial topic among keepers. We do not recommend the feeding of these
foods as they are developed for animals with completely different nutritional requirements to lizards. They are high
in fat and protein which often results in overweight skinks. The author has (through personal observation) noticed a
link between dog and cat foods with gastrointestinal upsets and dysectysis (problems with shedding skin). The
overall health and wellbeing of Tiliqua species in care greatly improves on a fresh food diet rather than tinned food.
How often and how much?
Newborn skinks are independent of their mother immediately and will feed on the same foods as fully grown adults.
They will need more frequent feeding however and should be fed every 1 to 2 days to promote growth and healthy
condition. As your lizard grows you can slowly reduce the frequency of feeding with adults only requiring a meal 3 or
4 times a week. It can be difficult to know how much to feed them and over time you will learn how much your lizard
eats. A rough guideline to start with is to offer a mass of food roughly the same size as your lizards head.
Remember to remove any uneaten food by the end of the day to prevent rotting food. Not only is this unsanitary,
but attracts pest insects such as ants and flies. Wash food bowls after use.
Supplementation
A fresh and varied diet will provide a range of vitamins, minerals and
nutrients necessary to your lizard. There are supplements available that can
be added to your lizards diet to ensure they receive everything they need.
Wombaroo Reptile Supplement is a supplement we use and recommend and
it can be fed as pellets, dusted on insects or sprinkled on salads. Vetafarm
Multical Dust is another powder supplement that can be periodically used.
Common nutritional deficiencies include what is referred to as ‘MBD’ or
Metabolic Bone Disease which arises from imbalances of calcium,
phosphorus and vitamin D. Calcium and vitamin D specific supplements are
also available.
Common Concerns and Health Problems
When the appropriate care is provided for your Blue Tongues you should not come across many health issues.
However, it is important to be aware of problems and health concerns that may arise with your lizards in order to
recognise and prevent potential problems. Common issues with your ‘Blueys’ may include the following:
Parasites
Just like your pet dog or cat, lizards can carry “worms” (internal parasites) that can potentially cause sickness. Some
parasites may always present in your lizard’s intestinal tract and some veterinarians argue that they are a normal
part of gastrointestinal flora. While your Blue Tongue may have some parasites in their intestinal tract that do not
cause illness, problems such as inappropriate heating, lack of hygiene, injury, stress or other illness may elevate
parasite numbers which causes illness. There are commercially available ‘reptile wormers’ although these products
cannot treat all parasites that infect your skinks. It is recommended that you request your veterinarian to run a
faecal sample to determine what parasites may be affecting your skink before using any worming treatments.
Signs of a parasitic infection may include diarrhoea, lethargy,
loss of appetite and anorexia.
Nutritional Disorders
An inadequate diet can lead to many problems which are
beyond the scope of this care guide. Common nutritional
disorders in Blue Tongues as well as other lizards is commonly
called ‘Metabolic Bone Disease’ or ‘MDB’ which is a
generalised term for a variety of issues arising from an
imbalance of vitamins and minerals and incorrect husbandry
practices. Disorders arising from the diet may result in bone
deformities, developmental problems and can seriously affect
the correct functioning of your skink’s body.
This Eastern Blue Tongue is showing
kyphosis, a bone deformity resulting from a
nutritional deficiency
Providing your Blue Tongue with an appropriate and varied diet as well as understanding their requirements for UV
lighting will generally avoid many nutritional disorders
Injuries inflicted by other lizards
Blue Tongues are capable of inflicting nasty injuries to each other. It is commonly seen in growing lizards that are
kept together, or in lizards kept in too small an enclosure. Adult males will also engage in combat as well.
It is possible to house Tiliqua species together with some species more tolerant than others. The carer must be
selective with the individuals intended to be housed together and to monitor behavioural signs for aggression or
stress and immediately separate.
Respiratory Infection
A bacterial infection of the respiratory tract in reptiles is often referred to as respiratory infection or ‘RI’. Inadequate
temperatures, toxic or dusty substrates, high humidity and unhygienic enclosures are common causes of respiratory
infections. Symptoms can include open mouthed breathing, dyspnoea (noticeable difficulty in breathing), wheezing
or excess mucous or bubbles forming in the mouth or nose. These may also be accompanied by loss of appetite,
lethargy and depression.
Supportive therapy, antibiotic therapy and husbandry corrections are needed to resolve a respiratory infection and
the keeper should follow veterinarian’s advice. If a respiratory infection is suspected we recommend that you
immediately review your skinks heat gradient and provide day and night-time heating until you can arrange a vet
appointment.
Scale Rot – Bacterial Skin Infections
Blue Tongue can also suffer from bacterial infections on the underside of their stomach which is commonly referred
to as scale rot. This is usually caused by unhygienic conditions combined with sub-optimal temperatures. They
appear as blister-like lesions underneath scales and can result in the loss of scales. Aggressive treatment must be
given and the help of a veterinarian should be sought as soon as the issue is noticed.
*While every care is taken to ensure the accuracy of the information in this document, it should only be used as a
guideline and should not replace the advice of a veterinarian’s. Western Reptile Rescue Inc, its members and the
author take no responsibility in the misuse of the information provided