How Blue Tongue Skink


Imagine having a pet that not only looks unique but also has a fascinating feature – a blue tongue! That is precisely what you’ll find in a Blue Tongue Skink. These remarkable reptiles, known for their striking blue tongues, are captivating creatures that make for great companions. In this article, we will explore the world of Blue Tongue Skinks and discover how they acquired their signature tongue coloration. So, get ready to learn more about these enchanting reptiles and the wonders of their blue tongues!

Physical Description

How Blue Tongue Skink

Size

Blue tongue skinks are a medium-sized reptile, measuring around 15 to 24 inches in length. They have a stout body with a short neck and a relatively large head. Their size can vary slightly depending on the subspecies and individual factors such as age and gender.

Coloration

The blue tongue skink is known for its vibrant and striking coloration. Their skin is usually dark brown or gray, adorned with various patterns and shades. One of their most distinctive features is their bright blue tongue, which is often displayed as a warning to predators.

Body Shape

Blue tongue skinks have a robust and cylindrical body shape, with muscular limbs and a short, stubby tail. Their body is covered in smooth, overlapping scales that provide them with protection and flexibility. These reptiles are well-adapted for life on the ground and have a low center of gravity, which aids in their movement.

Distinctive Features

Apart from their famous blue tongue, blue tongue skinks also have a few other unique features. One distinguishing characteristic is their large triangular head, equipped with powerful jaws and teeth. Additionally, they possess a thick and fleshy tongue, which is not only colored blue but also broad and flat in shape. This distinct feature aids in communication and plays a role in their feeding habits.

Habitat and Distribution

Natural Habitat

Blue tongue skinks primarily inhabit open woodland areas, grasslands, and the edges of forests. They can also be found in scrublands and semi-arid regions. These reptiles are well-adapted to a range of habitats and are particularly fond of areas with loose soil, as they enjoy burrowing and digging.

Geographic Range

Blue tongue skinks are native to Australia and can be found throughout the country. They have a relatively broad geographic range, occupying a sizable portion of mainland Australia. This includes regions such as Western Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia.

Native Countries

As mentioned earlier, blue tongue skinks are found exclusively in Australia. While they are not present in any other country, they have gained popularity among reptile enthusiasts worldwide, making them a sought-after species in the pet trade.

Diet and Feeding Habits

Omnivorous Nature

Blue tongue skinks are considered omnivores, meaning they have a varied diet that consists of both plant matter and animal protein. This versatility in their feeding habits enables them to adapt to different food sources available in their natural habitat.

Preferred Food Choices

These skinks have a diverse palate and consume a wide range of foods. In the wild, their diet typically includes fruits, vegetation, flowers, insects, spiders, small reptiles or amphibians, and even carrion. However, captive blue tongue skinks are often fed a combination of commercially available reptile diets, fresh vegetables, and occasional protein sources such as insects or cooked lean meats.

Feeding Behavior

Blue tongue skinks are opportunistic feeders and will actively forage for food in their environment. They use their keen sense of smell to locate food, as they have a well-developed Jacobson’s organ in the roof of their mouth. These reptiles are known to have a slow-moving feeding style, taking their time to thoroughly chew and digest their meals.

Behavior and Temperament

How Blue Tongue Skink

Diurnal or Nocturnal?

Blue tongue skinks are primarily diurnal, meaning they are most active during the day. They bask in the sun to regulate their body temperature and engage in various activities such as foraging, exploring their surroundings, and socializing. However, they can also exhibit some nocturnal behavior, particularly during hot summer months when they may become more active in the cooler evenings.

Territorial Behavior

Blue tongue skinks are generally solitary creatures and can be territorial, especially during the mating season. They establish and defend their territory, which can range in size based on the availability of resources. When threatened by predators or other skinks, they may display aggressive behaviors, including hissing, inflating their bodies, and engaging in physical combat.

Defense Mechanisms

When faced with a potential threat, blue tongue skinks have a few defense mechanisms at their disposal. One of their primary defenses is their intimidating display of opening their mouth wide to reveal their bright blue tongue. This act serves as a warning to would-be predators, letting them know that they are not an easy target. Additionally, they can also try to bluff their way out of danger by hissing, puffing up their bodies, or inflating their lungs.

Social Interactions

While blue tongue skinks are mostly solitary in the wild, they do engage in social interactions during certain periods. During the breeding season, males actively seek out females and compete for their attention. They may engage in ritualistic displays, such as head bobbing and tail waving, to communicate their intentions and establish dominance. However, outside of the mating season, these reptiles prefer to maintain their personal space and avoid unnecessary conflicts.

Reproduction and Lifespan

Mating Season

Blue tongue skinks have a specific breeding season, typically occurring during the warmer months of the year. The timing may vary slightly depending on the subspecies and the specific geographic location. In general, the breeding season for blue tongue skinks falls between September and December.

How Blue Tongue Skink

Courtship Behavior

During the mating season, male blue tongue skinks actively seek out receptive females to mate with. They engage in various courtship behaviors, such as head bobbing, circling the female, and licking her body. These displays serve to communicate their intentions and determine whether the female is indeed ready to mate.

Gestation Period

After successful mating, female blue tongue skinks undergo a gestation period lasting approximately three to four months. This period can vary depending on factors such as temperature and the health of the female. During this time, the female will seek out appropriate nesting spots to lay her eggs.

Offspring Characteristics

Blue tongue skinks are ovoviviparous, meaning the eggs develop within the female’s body and then give birth to fully formed live young. The litter size can range from one to as many as 25 offspring, with around 10 being the average. The newborns are relatively large compared to other reptiles, measuring around five to six inches in length.

Lifespan

With proper care, blue tongue skinks can live for quite a long time in captivity, often surpassing 20 years. However, their lifespan in the wild is generally shorter due to factors such as predation, disease, and harsh environmental conditions.

Captive Care and Housing

Choosing an Enclosure

Providing a suitable enclosure is essential for the well-being of a blue tongue skink in captivity. The enclosure should be spacious, secure, and properly ventilated. A glass terrarium or a wooden vivarium with secure lids can be suitable housing options. It is important to consider the size of the enclosure, providing enough room for the skink to move, burrow, and thermoregulate.

How Blue Tongue Skink

Temperature and Lighting Requirements

Maintaining appropriate temperature and lighting conditions is crucial for the health and happiness of a blue tongue skink. The enclosure should have a temperature gradient, allowing the skink to thermoregulate by moving between warmer and cooler areas. The warm side of the enclosure should be around 90-95°F (32-35°C), while the cooler side can range from 75-85°F (24-29°C). Providing a basking spot with a temperature of 100-110°F (38-43°C) is also important.

Substrate and Environmental Setup

Choosing a suitable substrate is essential for mimicking the natural environment of a blue tongue skink. Options such as cypress mulch, eco-earth, or reptile carpet can be used as bedding. It’s important to ensure that the substrate is not ingested by the skink, as this can lead to digestive issues. Additionally, providing hiding places such as caves, logs, and plants can create a more enriching environment for the skink.

Feeding and Watering

Blue tongue skinks have specific dietary requirements that must be met in captivity. A well-balanced diet consists of a combination of commercial reptile diets, fresh vegetables, and occasional protein sources. Fresh water should be provided daily in a shallow and sturdy dish, allowing the skink to soak and occasionally drink.

Handling and Taming Tips

Proper handling and taming techniques are crucial for establishing trust and reducing stress for both the skink and the owner. It is essential to approach the skink calmly and with slow movements. Supporting the skink’s body and avoiding excessive pressure on its limbs is important during handling. Gradually increasing the frequency and duration of handling sessions can help the skink become more comfortable with human interaction over time.

Veterinary Care

Regular veterinary check-ups are important to ensure the overall health and well-being of a blue tongue skink. A reptile-savvy veterinarian can conduct thorough examinations, provide dietary and environmental advice, and address any potential health concerns. Routine parasite screenings, such as fecal examinations, are also recommended to maintain optimal health for the skink.

Common Health Issues

How Blue Tongue Skink

Respiratory Infections

Blue tongue skinks can be susceptible to respiratory infections, especially if they are kept in improper environmental conditions or exposed to low temperatures. Symptoms may include wheezing, open-mouth breathing, mucus discharge from the nostrils, and lethargy. Prompt veterinary care is crucial to address respiratory infections and prevent complications.

Metabolic Bone Disease

Metabolic bone disease can occur in blue tongue skinks if they receive inadequate calcium and vitamin D3 in their diet or have poor access to UVB light. This disease results in weak and malformed bones, leading to mobility issues and potentially life-threatening complications. Proper nutrition, supplementation, and exposure to UVB light are essential for preventing metabolic bone disease.

Dermatitis

Skin issues, such as dermatitis, can occur in blue tongue skinks due to unsanitary conditions, high humidity, or bacterial or fungal infections. Symptoms may include skin discoloration, swelling, redness, or excessive shedding. Maintaining a clean enclosure, providing proper humidity levels, and ensuring good hygiene practices can help prevent dermatitis.

Parasites

Blue tongue skinks can be affected by various internal and external parasites, including mites, ticks, worms, and protozoa. Regular parasite screenings and prompt treatment from a veterinarian are essential for maintaining the health and well-being of the skink. Good hygiene practices and proper quarantine methods for new additions to the enclosure can also help prevent parasitic infestations.

Egg Binding

Female blue tongue skinks may experience complications during the egg-laying process, resulting in egg binding. This occurs when eggs become stuck inside the female, leading to potential health issues and even death if not properly addressed. Adequate calcium supplementation, proper nesting areas, and vigilant monitoring during the breeding season can help reduce the risk of egg binding.

Conservation Status

Threats to the Species

Blue tongue skinks face various threats in the wild that impact their population. Habitat loss and degradation, due to factors such as urbanization and agricultural expansion, are significant threats. Additionally, human activities such as illegal collection for the pet trade, predation by introduced species, and wildfires also pose risks to their survival.

Protected or Endangered?

While specific species and subspecies may have different conservation statuses, as a whole, blue tongue skinks are not currently classified as endangered. However, certain populations or subspecies may be protected under regional or national legislation, prohibiting their collection or trade. It is important to ensure that any blue tongue skinks kept in captivity are obtained legally and responsibly.

Conservation Efforts

Across Australia, various conservation efforts are in place to protect blue tongue skinks and their habitats. These efforts include the establishment of protected areas, research initiatives to better understand their biology and ecology, and educational programs aimed at raising awareness and promoting responsible ownership. Additionally, captive breeding programs play a vital role in safeguarding the genetic diversity of blue tongue skink populations.

Interaction with Humans

Popular as Pets

Blue tongue skinks have gained popularity as pets worldwide due to their unique appearance, docile nature, and relatively low maintenance requirements. Their manageable size, engaging behavior, and vibrant coloration make them attractive to reptile enthusiasts of all ages and experience levels.

Legal Considerations

Before considering a blue tongue skink as a pet, it is crucial to research and understand the legal restrictions and requirements in your region. Some countries or states may have specific regulations governing the ownership, trade, or importation of blue tongue skinks. Ensuring compliance with these regulations helps protect wild populations and ensures responsible pet ownership.

Challenges of Ownership

While blue tongue skinks can make rewarding pets, there are several considerations to keep in mind. They have specific environmental and dietary requirements that must be met, requiring careful attention and commitment from the owner. Additionally, their lifespan can exceed 20 years, which means owners must be prepared for a long-term commitment to their care.

Educational Importance

Blue tongue skinks serve as valuable educational ambassadors for reptiles and their natural habitats. They can spark curiosity and interest in people of all ages, shedding light on the importance of conservation, responsible ownership, and ecosystem dynamics. Educational programs, such as visits to schools or public demonstrations, can help foster appreciation and understanding of these unique reptiles.

Fun Facts

Blue Tongue Skink Species

The blue tongue skink comprises several different subspecies, each with its own unique characteristics. Some well-known species include the Northern blue tongue skink (Tiliqua scincoides intermedia), Eastern blue tongue skink (Tiliqua scincoides scincoides), and Western blue tongue skink (Tiliqua occipitalis). Each species has slight variations in coloration, pattern, and habitat preferences.

Unique Communication Method

Blue tongue skinks communicate through a combination of body language, vocalizations, and their distinctive blue tongue display. Head bobbing and tail waving are commonly observed behaviors used to communicate, particularly during courtship or territorial disputes. The blue tongue display serves as a warning to predators or potential threats, effectively deterring them from an encounter.

Ecosystem Role

Blue tongue skinks play an important ecological role within their native habitats. They help control populations of insects and small vertebrates, acting as natural pest controllers. Additionally, their burrowing activities help aerate and turn the soil, contributing to ecosystem health and nutrient cycling.

In conclusion, blue tongue skinks are fascinating reptiles known for their vibrant coloration, unique communication methods, and important ecological contributions. Understanding their physical characteristics, natural habitat, feeding habits, and behavioral patterns is crucial for their captive care and conservation. By promoting responsible ownership and supporting conservation efforts, we can ensure the long-term survival of these remarkable reptiles.