Home Available About
CBE Ball Pythons
By Donna Fitzgerald
published in Reptiles Annual 2006
moved excitedly from
room to room gathering everything he needed to set up the
new cage: a 10 gallon glass tank, a hooded light, an under
tank heat pad, substrate and hide containers. He tried to
control his giddiness. Through the years, we've had many
different snakes and lizards that I've always tolerated.
This cage was going to house our 4-year old son's first
everything was ready, my husband left to go get the new
addition. I didn't realize then how much it would change my
life. He returned with a little brown bag containing a baby
blue-tongued skink. I remember saying, "What is it? Can I
hold it now?
next few weeks were joyfully spent caring for our new skink.
Our son would help hold it, giggle, watch it eat and then
giggle some more. Eventually, toys would call him away,
while snakes would lure my husband away, and I found myself
watching TV and holding Rex. That was the start of my
interest in the blue-tongued skink.
information in this article addresses the most commonly
available blue tongues of the genus Tiliqua.
Blue-tongued skinks come from Australia and many of the
neighboring islands that make up New Guinea, Tasmania, and
Indonesia. They live in a wide range of habitats from
lowland grasslands, montane forests, woodlands and coastal
areas. Tiliqua can be found from semi-humid to dry climates.
blue tongues average 15 to 27 inches in total length. They
are omnivorous and have large, triangular heads with long,
fat bodies. Their legs are little compared to their bodies,
and they have stocky tails. They are diurnal and terrestrial
in nature, and give birth to live young (viviparous). When
exploring something new, being handled and out of their
enclosure, they use their namesake blue tongues to "look
around." Blue tongues have an average life span of 15 to 20
Commonly Available Types
blue tongues typically as captives are the northern
(Tiliqua scincoides intermededia), eastern
(T.s.scincoides), Irian Jaya (T. scincoides ssp),
Tanimbar (T.s.chimearea), and Indonesian
Northerns are the largest of the group, ranging in size from
18 to 27 inches. They are a creamy tan to golden with
alternating light and dark bars across their backs that run
down to orange-and-black barred sides. Their heads and
forelimbs are a light grey-tan color. They lack a temporal
streak, which runs down the back of the eye to the ear
opening on other blue tongues.
Easterns are smaller than northerns at around 16 to 20
inches. Their color pattern can be quite variable, banded
and streaked in colors of brown, ochre, orange, gray and
black. Their forelimbs are more pale and patternless.
Easterns typically have a dark temporal streak.
Tanimbars are the smallest at 15 to 17 inches in total
length. They are usually banded in silvery gray to golden
brown with patternless forelimbs. Like the northerns, they
lack the temporal streak.
Jaya blue tongues are only slightly smaller than northerns,
with the sizes of 18 to 22 inches. Coloring is varied, and
they can display different head colors, some with the dark
temporal streak and others without it. Irian Jayas are
boldly banded lizards. Several color morphs are known to
exist, including silver gray, tan, brown and chocolate
Indonesian blue tongues range in size, averaging 17 to 19
inches. Their colors range from light silver gray to golden
brown. There are a few distinct differences between this
blue tongue and the others: These have thin bands on their
backs, as well as black limbs and a single black stripe on
the top of their heads.
BUYING BLUE TONGUES
Captive-bred blue tongues are recommended over imports; they
acclimate much easier and normally make better pets. When
you are ready to purchase a blue tongue, obtaining a healthy
specimen should be your top priority. There are several
sources for blue tongues, including pet shops, private
breeders, reptile shows and classified ads in magazines and
on the Internet. If possible, visually inspect and handle a
blue tongue before purchasing it.
are a few simple, specific things to look for in a healthy
blue tongue. Healthy specimens are generally active and
alert. Their tongues flick in and out frequently as they
smell their surroundings. Avoid skinks that appear
lethargic, drowsy or unresponsive; even the tamest ones
exhibit tongue movement and look around. The eyes should be
clear and the nostrils free of any discharge.
you are buying online and can't personally inspect your
prospective pet, ask to see pictures and inquire about
general temperament, diet, age and any other questions you
may have. Many breeders offer ongoing support, care and
feeding advice, and a health guarantee.
HOUSING YOUR SKINK
and juvenile blue tongues are solitary animals; they are not
known to live in groups in the wild. They can be quite
territorial, so house them separately unless you can provide
a very large cage with multiple hot spots and hide areas.
are many commercially available enclosures that work well
for blue tongues. Caging can be made of wood (melamine or
wood protected against moisture), plastic, glass or a
combination of these.
Because blue tongues are terrestrial, priority should be
given to floor space over cage height. Single adults can be
kept in 30- to 40-gallon long aquariums. A standard
10-gallon works well for hatchlings and juveniles. Blue
tongues grow incredibly fast and will need to be transferred
to larger cages by the time they are a year old. Blue tongue
enclosures should have secure lids to prevent escapes and to
keep other animals out.
two different types or setups: a plastic-and-glass display
cage for our pet blue tongue and a custom rack setup for my
adult breeders. The display cage houses one adult Irian Jaya
and has 4 square feet of floor space. Each of the nine tubs
within the rack setup measures approximately 2 by 3 feet;
they are arranged in three rows of three tubs. Each contains
a single adult northern blue tongue.
cage furnishings include substrate, a hide area and sturdy
water and food dishes. Most blue tongues enjoy burrowing, so
substrates that allow for these are preferable. These types
of substrates are also easy to spot clean and require less
frequent bedding changes. Choices include cypress mulch,
CareFRESH, aspen bedding, pine shavings, compressed
newspaper pellets and reptile bark. Artificial turf can be
used, but it is more labor intensive to keep clean; have a
precleaned same-size piece available for swapping out.
prefer aspen bedding and reptile bark. Both are very
absorbent, good for burrowing, easy to keep clean,
inexpensive and blue tongues like them. Some hobbyists use
prepared sand and dirt substrates with various organic
Provide hide areas in both the warm and cool zones (see
"Heating and Lighting") to offer your skink a choice of
secure places to hide and thermoregulate. Most adults adapt
well without hides but some won't, so be aware of each
individual skink's needs and adjust accordingly. I have used
various commercially made hides, lidded Rubbermaid
containers with entrance holes cut in the lids, various
sizes of PVC pipes as well as crumpled newspaper.
Commercially available hides are nice for display cages.
Plastic containers are inexpensive, easy to clean and can be
partially filled with a moist substrate to supply a humid
Additional cage furnishings include plants, rocks and
driftwood. Plastic plants offer added variety and color
without the worries of upkeep or danger if your skink
ingests them. Artificial plants are also very easy to clean.
If you add rocks, place them firmly on the bottom of the
cage so that they can't be moved and possibly end up
crushing your skink. Logs or driftwood supply hide areas and
exercise opportunities for blue tongues.
cage furnishings you use should be easy to remove and clean.
Besides spot cleaning (removing feces, shed skin and
leftover food), change bedding and clean and sterilize all
cage furnishings every four to eight weeks.
HEATING AND LIGHTING
Reptiles have no internal heating process, so they must
regulate their temperature with their environment. They
accomplish this by moving from one temperature zone to
another, which is called thermoregulation. Ambient air
temperature, digestion, pregnancy, shed cycles and illness
are factors that influence thermoregulation. You should
provide both hot and cool ends in your skink's enclosure.
tongues thrive at normal room temperature of 65 to 75
degrees Fahrenheit if given access to a hot spot at one end
of the enclosure that's between 90 and 100 degrees. This hot
spot should be available for at least 12 hours a day. Do not
let the cooler end drop below 65 degrees or rise above 85
degrees for long periods of time. Blue-tongues skinks
provided with the correct temperature range will shuttle
back and forth between the zones according to their comfort
are several heating devices and bulbs on the market. One of
the simplest and least expensive ways to provide heat is to
use regular incandescent light bulb with a hood or
reflector. This can be placed on top of or attached (many
dome reflectors come with clamps) to one end of the
enclosure. To avoid potential burns, make sure the skink is
unable to come in direct contact with the fixture (also be
mindful of other pets and curious small children that also
might come in contact with it).
may also use undertank heating, either alone or in
combination with ambient heat as described previously.
Undertank heaters come in several sizes and types with one
available to fit most applications. Avoid heat rocks,
however, as they often have areas that might get hot enough
to burn your skink.
temperature readings should be taken close to where your
blue tongue's body will be, not to high above. If you use
incandescent or spot lights, you may need to lower or raise
the bulb wattage depending on the size of the cage and the
time of year to maintain the correct temperature range.
Thermostats can be used for most of these heating devices
and are highly recommended; they provide easy and more
efficient control over cage temperatures.
you use an incandescent light bulb to heat the cage,
additional lighting is not a must. Good lighting improves
cage aesthetics, however, and is thought to improve the
well-being of most lizards. UVB/UVA lights help reptiles to
produce vitamin D3 if your skink does not receive natural
Remember that if you add additional lighting to the cage, it
may raise the overall temperature . You may need to readjust
heating devices to maintain the optimum temperature range.
Lights should be on a 12-hour day cycle in summer and eight
to 10 hours in the winter. Temperatures can drop at night,
but not below 65 degrees.
factors that determine cage humidity are temperature ,
humidity level in your home, ventilation and the amount of
moisture you introduce into the cage. Proper humidity is
important to any blue-tongued skink's health. The most
obvious sign that humidity levels might be to low is if a
skink experiences difficulty shedding.
are several ways to introduce humidity, including water
dishes. cage spraying or containers filled with a moist
substrate and placed in the cage. A combination of these,
along with manipulating cage ventilation, can provide the
desired humidity level. Water dishes with a larger surface
area increase humidity; keep these dishes at the cool end.
Daily misting of the skink or a portion of the substrate
also does the trick. Spray lightly - heavy spraying breeds
Plastic hide boxes filled with 2 to 3 inches of moist
sphagnum moss also works well. These containers need to be
remoistened periodically. Cages remaining moist all the time
are unhealthy because bacteria can flourish. Depending on
where you live, the cage setup and other factors, you may
naturally have the right humidity level. It's healthier for
the cage to be too dry rather than to moist; if needed, you
can slowly make humidity adjustments if your skink
experiences shedding problems.
BLUE TONGUE FOOD
tongues' simple feeding requirements are another plus to
owning one of these reptiles. Being omnivorous, they eat
both animal and plant matter. In nature they typically
consume fruits and flowers and slow-moving animals that
wander into their territory. Their captive diet should
consist of food from animal (protein) and vegetable sources,
and some fruits and grains. I recommend a varied diet.
Animal sources may include cooked lean red meat, turkey,
lean hamburger, boiled chicken, cooked eggs (scrambled, hard
boiled, etc.) and premium canned cat food (not dog food).
For additional variety, you can also offer an occasional
live fuzzy mouse (live weaned or adult mice can inflict
serious wounds), superworms, mealworms and crickets. These
live food items are not required, but can be used as
alternate food choices.
following vegetables are good choices: green beans, carrots,
corn, broccoli, tomatoes, zucchini, squash, spinach, romaine
lettuce and chopped mustard and collard greens. You can also
offer blue tongues pesticide-free flowers; I feed mine
roses, carnations and dandelions.
Fruits and grains to consider are grated or sliced apples,
grapes, melons, peaches, strawberries, figs, kiwi, plums and
bananas. Bran, oats and soaked muesli mixtures can also be
offered. Any of these can be from frozen/thawed, fresh or
can be a 50-50 mix of animal and vegetable matter, or 40-40
animal and vegetable matter, and 10 percent each of fruit
and grains. For example, you might provide some cooked
ground hamburger and/or a sliced hard boiled egg, and mix
that with an equal amount of vegetables. Add a smaller
amount of fruit and/or grain, maybe a small piece of banana
and a bit of oatmeal. Mix this together thoroughly and
sprinkle a vitamin/mineral supplement on top.
ratios can vary, but variety is the key to a healthy skink.
You can also mix larger amounts together and freeze for
future feedings. It's not necessary to use the four food
groups at every feeding, but try to include as many
different types in each feeding as possible.
baby blue tongues every day for the first three months and
then every other day until they are 1 year old. Adults
should be fed two to three times per week. I lightly dust
each feeding with a phosphorus-free calcium supplement with
vitamin D3. Once a week, I also lightly sprinkle on a
multivitamin supplement. Feed your skink anytime from
morning to midafternoon. Blue tongues need temperatures of
at least 80 to 85 degrees to digest their food; if they are
fed too late in the day, after their heat source is turned
down or off, the food can remain undigested in their guts.
drinking water should be provided at all times in a bowl
located on the cool end of the enclosure.
blue tongues are born ready to take on the world and can
survive independently from adults. They are small, cute and
quite hardy. They have very few, if any, special
requirements, but I do recommend housing babies separately.
out with a simple substrate, such as newspaper, paper
towels, artificial turf or old, clean towels, shirts, etc.
This eliminates the risk of babies ingesting any substrate.
Provide a hot spot of 100 degrees (babies like it a little
hotter than adults) and a cool end of 75 to 80 degrees. They
require hide areas; I use folded magazine pages, PVC pipes
and paper towel rolls.
blue tongues can be offered the same diet as adults, only
more regularly and with the food minced instead of chopped.
Don't offer fuzzy mice until babies are a year old. Don't
forget to add the calcium supplement to every meal; blue
tongues grow rapidly and can quickly become calcium
deficient. Always provide clean water in a dish at the cool
GENERAL HEALTH CONCERNS
their basic needs are met, blue tongues are very hardy with
few health problems. Even so, having a local herp
veterinarian if a problem should occur is always beneficial.
tongues can experience poor sheds and may need some help
removing stuck skin. I soak my blue tongues in lukewarm
water a few days into their shed cycle. Use enough water to
cover their bodies only. I start them with a 10- to
15-minute soak, and then rub their limbs, heads, tail tips
and especially their toes.
blue tongues' nails can quite long and need to be trimmed
periodically (usually due to a lack of rough surfaces in
captivity). Using a small pair of scissors or nail clippers,
trim just the tip of the nail following the angle. If you
see a small amount of blood, dab with a disinfectant. Start
trimming your skink's nails while it is still a baby; this
makes easier to trim its nails when it becomes an adult.
Blue-tongued skinks are one of the easiest lizards to care
for in captivity. They are able to withstand the mistakes
sometimes made by new hobbyists, making them an excellent
choice for beginners. They are long-lived, extremely hardy
and can tolerate a lot of handling. Their simple "grocery
store" diet also adds much to their appeal. They are a good
size-not too large, not too small. Additionally, most are
very intelligent and have curious and interesting
caring for many blue tongues, I am still delighted and
entertained with their different personalities and the funny
things they do. If you're looking for a somewhat large-ish
lizard that can tolerate a lot of handling, responds to
human interaction and is easy to care for, then the
blue-tongued skink is the pet for you!