Tiliqua scincoides spp.
A blue-tongue skink’s most distinguishing characteristic is, not surprisingly, its striking blue tongue, which they often display when feeling threatened. Blue tongues are large, heavy bodied, diurnal lizards that are generally shaped like a large burrito with small legs. They have a base color of brown, tan or olive, with thick dark brown or rust cross bands. They usually have pronounced alternating tan and black oblique bars on their sides. Occasionally they exhibit pink hues on their flanks and underbelly. There are often blotches or spots of black near the head or just behind the eyes. Their legs are small, short and peppered in black, brown and tan. They grow to nearly 20 inches long (50 centimeters), can weigh as much as 2 pounds (.9 kilograms) and can live 25 years.
Mainly there are three species encountered in the pet trade: Tiliqua scincoides scincoides, Tiliqua scincoides intermedia and Tiliqua gigas. The first two subspecies are native to Australia, while the latter is native to New Guinea. T. scincoides species are found in Northern, Eastern and Southeastern Australia in a variety of habitats. They are widespread and found in most every habitat except closed rainforest and the Alps. They inhabit primarily savannahs and woodlands, but are also found in rainforest ecotones, parks and gardens. T. gigas are native to Indonesia (New Guinea west to Sumatra). Within their range they inhabit virtually all types of terrain including coastal forests and woodlands, montane forests, and grasslands. They are also often found around human habitation and agricultural lands.
Blue tongue skinks are highly adaptable as their vast range can attest to. In their native range they are often kept as pets with the simplest of accommodations. That being said, they are a large lizard and require at least a 3 foot by 18 inch (90 by 45 centimeter) horizontally-oriented enclosure. They are most comfortable if they can dig their feet into the substrate (or occasionally partially bury themselves), so substrate should be chosen with this behavior in mind. Sterile potting soil, peat, mulch with some sand mixed in is a good combination. The substrate should be dry, but not dusty. A large water bowl 2-3 inches (5-8 centimeters) deep (for adult animals, juveniles should have shallower dishes) should be easily accessible at all times. Blue tongue skinks need 10 hours of UV lighting and a basking spot. This can be accomplished with two separate bulbs or by utilizing one of the many commercially available basking lights that incorporates UV. The basking spot should have a surface temperature of 95-100 degrees Fahrenheit with a drop of 10-15 degrees at the other end of the enclosure. Heating tape or heat pads can also be used underneath the enclosure which allows the use of a smaller wattage basking light. Logs, flat rocks or other heavy materials should be used to provide a hiding place. The hiding space should be located about midway between the basking spot and the cool end of the enclosure.
Blue tongue skinks are easy to accommodate as they are omnivorous and eat a plethora of food items including, but not limited to: fruits (bananas are a favorite, but they also enjoy peaches, mangos, papayas and sliced apples) and berries, flowers (hibiscus is a good choice), leafy greens, snails, slugs, earthworms, crickets, grasshoppers, locust, and carrion. In their native lands they have a reputation for stealing dog food. They can be fed high-quality dry (moistened) and wet dog and cat food in captivity as well. As with all herps, blue tongue skinks benefit from a varied diet that is dusted with a vitamin and mineral supplement.
Blue tongue skinks are large, long-lived lizards. The choice to add one to your family is a long-term commitment and involves allotting a decent amount of space to their enclosure.
Although it can be tempting to take the easy way out and feed them canned or bagged cat/dog food, blue tongues need a more varied diet and will suffer if only fed domestic pet food.
Blue tongue skinks can also deliver a painful bite if threatened. Although most individuals tame down quickly, a blue tongue bite is not soon forgotten (and they have a reputation for not letting go). Handle your lizard carefully until you become accustomed to one another.
Blue tongues are best kept singly as they can be extremely aggressive towards one another, but in larger enclosures a single male may be kept with several females (except during breeding cycles when the females become aggressive as well).