Tonawanda News

September 29, 2013

CRITTER COMPANIONS: Blue-tongue skinks at home

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — 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 6 feet, 6 inches tall and you never knew if it was a kangaroo in the bushes or something more frightening. 

I was kind of paying attention to the mob of kangaroos in the distance when I noticed something that was squirming between me and the building. The real reason why I noticed it was due to the hissing. If the animal had remained quite, I would have walked right on by. 

Apparently I was not as trained in the field of spotting wildlife as I 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. It went under the door 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 can smell with their tongues similar to the way snakes can, but to a lesser extent. 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 should not 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 15 and 20 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 blue-tongue skinks over the past couple 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.

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.

Kenny Coogan has a B.S. in animal behavior. Please email your questions to kenny.coogan@yahoo.com, or search for “Critter Companions by Kenny Coogan” on Facebook.

Kenny Coogan has a B.S. in animal behavior. Please email your questions to kenny.coogan@yahoo.com, or search for "Critter Companions by Kenny Coogan" on Facebook.