COMMON NAME (SCIENTIFIC NAME)Tiliqua scincoides
DIETInsects, snails, carrion, wildflowers, fruits
RANGEAustralia, New Guinea and Tasmania.
HABITATSemi-desert, mixed woodlands, and scrublands
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Program and General Information
The blue-tongued skink is a lizard native to the forest, scrublands, and deserts of Australia and New Guinea. They can reach lengths of almost 2 feet and weigh about a pound. Blue-tongued skinks have thick, silvery scales with dark bands that make them appear glossy; coloration can vary. They use their bright blue tongues to hunt prey, ward off predators, and attract a mate. Blue-tongued skinks are solitary lizards that only meet in the spring or winter to breed. Males will pursue females. These skinks are ovoviviparous and females give birth to 10- 20 live young. Skinks take about 3 years to mature. Because of their docile nature and relatively decent size, skinks have become popular pets. By purchasing and owning an exotic animal, you could be supporting the illegal exotic pet trade so be sure to do your research and only purchase from reputable breeders.
Blue-tongued skinks are omnivores that eat both plant and animal matter. Their typical diet consists of a mixture of vegetables and protein, with minimal fruit. In the wild, they eat a variety of insects, snails, wildflowers, and fleshy leaves. Under human care, skinks can eat many types of proteins including pinky mice, mealworms, turkey, chicken, and insects. In order to ensure reptiles under human care receive the proper nutrients, many have their diets dusted with a multivitamin supplement with D3, which aids in metabolism. In the wild, skinks get these necessary nutrients naturally by licking rocks or basking in the sun all day.
Habitat and Range
Blue-tongued skinks are native to Australia and New Guinea. They are commonly found in forests, scrublands, and deserts inside burrows or other well-hidden spots. Blue-tongued skinks are specially designed to crawl into burrows for shelter and to find food. Their back legs, which look as if they have been put on backward, allow them to crawl backward out of the narrow openings of burrows. Their ear holes are located on the back of their heads and their scales are tightly interlocked and smooth to help keep dirt and debris out when crawling through burrows.
Suburban farms, gardens, and laws can often make a suitable habitat for blue- tongued skinks. Ground cover and lots of mulch provide adequate shelter for the skinks to hide in and skinks will eat many of the insects and other pests that destroy farmers’ crops, acting as natural pest control.
Common Physical Features
Blue-tongued skinks are a larger lizard species growing up to about 2 feet in length. They have a sturdily built body and relatively large head. Males do tend to have a slightly wider body, head, and neck. These skinks usually have a banded pattern that ranges in color from light brown streaks to earthy tones and silver coloration. They have a stout tail with dark bands that are believed to be unique to each individual. Their interlocked scales are supported by bony plates called osteoderms that give them extra protection from predators.
Adaptations: Blue-tongued skinks have unique adaptations that allow them to catch prey and avoid predators. These skins get their name from their bright, blue-colored tongue. They use their tongues to sniff out prey, find mates, and escape from predators. Like other reptile species, blue-tongue skinks have a Jacobson’s organ in the roof of their mouth. They will stick out their tongue in order to pick up scent particles in the air or from the surface of objects. They will then bring those particles into their mouth to the Jacobson’s organ, which will process the information from the scents. This information can help find potential mates, prey, or predators.
Their blue tongue isn’t just for sniffing! Because they are not quick enough to escape potential predators, blue-tongued skinks will employ a few fascinating defense mechanisms. When threatened, blue-tongued skinks will open their mouths wide and stick out their bright, blue tongue. Bright colors in the wild tend to indicate that an animal is either poisonous or venomous, like our poisonous, brightly colored dart frogs. The blue-tongued skink is neither poisonous nor venomous but uses its bright tongue to trick predators into thinking it is.
Another trick the blue-tongued skink employs is pretending to be a snake. Because of their banded patterns, these skinks can often look like big snakes, especially when hiding in the tall grass. Most predators prefer to stay away from big snakes and will likely avoid the skink if they think it is one. This trick is very useful for avoiding birds of prey. Skinks’ pineal gland can act as a third to spot birds high in the air. Situated on top of the skink’s head (it looks like a dark scale on the head in blue-tongued skinks), the pineal gland can detect changes in light. So, if a bird is flying over the skink, the pineal gland detects the bird’s shadow as it passes the skink alerting the skink of the predator. The skink can then tuck up its limbs and almost slither like a snake would in order to trick the bird into believing it really is one.
If all else fails and the skink cannot trick the predator into leaving it be, it does have a last resort. Like many lizards, blue-tongued skinks can release their tail, a process known as autotomy. Once a predator grabs ahold of the tail, the skink will drop the tail and run in the other direction. The tail continues to move around for a few seconds in order to keep the predator’s attention. While these skinks do have the ability to regrow their tail, it will never come back perfect. They have to regrow the tail using cartilage to replace the original bone, therefore, the tail grows back shorter, off-color, or even misshapen.
Behavior and Life Cycle
Because blue-tongue skinks are solitary, they only meet during breeding season. Males are very aggressive and will fight other males for a chance to breed; they even tend to bruise females during mating. Breeding season occurs during the spring and winter. Blue-tongued skinks are ovoviviparous, which means that females will lay eggs inside their bodies. The eggs hatch inside the body and the mother will give birth to live young. The mother can then reabsorb all of the nutrients left behind from the eggs inside her body. After reproduction occurs, females will give birth to 10-20 live young 100 days later. Several days to a few weeks after birth, baby skinks will begin to explore on their own eating slow- moving insects and licking fruit when available. They take 3 years to mature.
Purposeful Pet Ownership
Although a relatively large-sized lizard, blue-tongue skinks are incredibly docile and rarely bite unless threatened. This has made them quite popular in the pet trade. Many people don’t realize, however, just how much work goes into caring for reptile species. Reptiles require specific lighting, humidity, space, nutrients, substrate, heating, and if they do not receive the proper care then that reptile’s health can decline rapidly. It can be difficult to find veterinarians that are equipped to care for reptiles if they get sick.
By purchasing and owning an exotic animal, you could be supporting the illegal exotic pet trade. Oftentimes these exotic pets are taken out of their natural habitat to be sold in the pet trade, which can be detrimental to wild populations. One more exotic pet in captivity is one less animal in the wild which is resulting in species population numbers dropping drastically.
What can we do?: Be sure to fully research any pet before buying one. While you may think a reptile would make a cool pet, it’s important to know all of the care that goes into providing that animal with the best possible welfare, and as mentioned before reptiles require a lot of extra care. It is important to make sure that if you do buy an exotic pet that you are buying it from a reputable breeder, someone who knows how to properly care for the animal and hasn’t taken that animal from its natural habitat.
Do not release an unwanted pet into the wild. While you may think that you are doing something good by releasing the animal back into the wild, animals that have been kept under human care often do not know how to survive on their own out in the wild and could end up getting hurt or dying if left to their own devices.