Blue Tongued Skink

STATUSLeast Concern

COMMON NAME (SCIENTIFIC NAME)Tiliqua scincoides

DIETInsects, small reptiles and a variety of plant material and fruits

RANGEAustralia, New Guinea and Tasmania.

HABITATSemi-desert, mixed woodlands, and scrublands

Blue Tongued Skink

NOTE: Education Animals are “behind-the-scenes” animals & only appear to the public during Educational events. This includes scheduled events or programs such as daily animal mingles, private onsite programs, and zoo reaches. For more information, please reach out to edureservations@lvzoo.org.

Program and General Information

The Blue-Tongued Skink is a lizard native to Australia, New Guinea, and Tasmania. It has thick, silvery scales with dark bands that make it appear glossy. The skink is a larger lizard that can be almost 2 feet and weigh about a pound. It lives in forests, scrublands, or deserts in burrows or other well-hidden spots. The skink is omnivorous and typically eats flowers, bugs, snails, and other fleshy leaves. The skink uses its tongue to smell for prey, predators, and mates, and to ward off predators. When it is time to mate, the males are aggressive and fight for females. The females are ovoviviparous and give birth to as many as 20 live young. Its conservation status is least concern but it is still threatened by invasive species including the cane Toad and feral cats and dogs.

Common Physical Features

The Blue-Tongued skink is a large lizard with a sturdily built body and relatively large head. Coloration differs from light brown streaks to earthy tones and silver coloration. The Blue-Tongued skink has a stout tail with dark bands. These are believed to be unique to each individual. The lizard has a bright blue tongue which acts as their main form of defense. Their scales are supported by bony plates called osteoderms that give them extra protection from predators.

Habitat and Global Range

Blue-Tongued Skinks live in Australia, New Guinea, and Tasmania. They commonly live in semi-desert ecosystems with burrows. They also live in grasslands and scrublands and use leaf litter or logs to hide. Skinks are ground-dwelling animals and typically use burrows to escape predators and the scorching heat.

Diet

Blue-Tongued Skinks are omnivores that eat a mixture of vegetables and protein, with minimal fruit. In the wild, they eat a variety of bugs, snails, flowers, and fleshy leaves. Under human care, they can eat many types of protein including pinky mice, mealworms, insects, turkey, chicken, and lean beef. As well, they can eat most vegetables. Like most reptiles, they also require a multivitamin supplement with D3 if they are kept in captivity. This aids the lizard in metabolism. Normally skinks get these nutrients naturally by licking rocks or basking in the sun all day.

Behavior and Life Cycle

Blue-Tongued Skinks are solitary lizards that only meet in the spring or winter to breed. Males are very aggressive and fight other males for a chance to breed. During copulation, they tend to even bruise females. After reproduction, females give birth 100 days later to 10 to 20 live young. They are ovoviviparous which means the eggs are hatched inside the parent and then the mother gives live birth. The baby skinks will take 3 years to mature.

Although a relatively large species of lizard, Blue-Tongued Skinks are incredibly docile. In fact, their friendly nature has led them to be a very popular reptile in the pet community. They rarely bit but like all animals will defend themselves if they feel threatened. They are not quick enough to outrun most predators, so they have developed a fascinating defense technique. The Blue-Tongued Skink, when threatened, sticks out and expands its bright blue tongue. Bright colors usually indicate an animal is either venomous or poisonous. While the Blue-Tongued Skink is neither, it can fool predators to avoid being eaten long enough to escape. Like many lizards, the Blue-Tongued Skink can release its tail (a process known as autotomy) as a last resort to escape.

Fun Facts

  • The Blue-Tongued Skink is not poisonous but is blue tongue tricks predators into thinking that it is.
  • Skinks may look like snakes, but they have external ears and eyelids which makes them lizards.
  • They are threatened by the invasive Cane Toad which is toxic to the skinks.
  • The Blue-Tongued Skink uses its tongue to detect food, predators, and potential mates.
  • They are ovoviviparous which means they give birth to live young that hatch from eggs inside their mother.
  • They commonly eat snails or insects but in captivity can eat ground turkey, beef, and chicken.

Conservation Messaging

The Blue-Tongued Skink is not endangered, but the lizard is facing new threats from human disturbances. Feral dogs and cats have become a non-natural predator to young skinks. As well, the Northern Blue-Tongued Skink eats the invasive Cane Toad which poisons and kills them. Certain skink populations are decreasing due to this invasive species.

As a zoo, we keep this organism to educate the Lehigh Valley about the lizard. While it is not native to our area, it provides a significant role in Australia and New Guinea’s ecosystems that requires attention. Going to zoos and other conservancies supports protection of even least concern species that are impacted by human disturbances such as invasive species.