What to Know About Blue-Tongued Skinks

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on November 17, 2022
5 min read

Blue-tongued skinks are popular pets among reptile enthusiasts. They’re relatively small lizards that only grow up to 24 inches long. They’re docile and like to eat insects, fruits, and vegetables, so caring for them is fairly straightforward. They are awake during the day, so you can observe your exotic pet during regular waking hours.

They are long-lived pets, with a lifespan of up to 30 years. Bringing a blue-tongued skink into your family is exciting, but it is also a significant commitment. Learn more about blue-tongued skinks and how to care for them properly here.

Blue-tongued skink is the common name used for nine different species of lizards native to Australia, Tasmania, Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia. They are all characterized by a vivid blue tongue that contrasts with the brown and grey coloring of their bodies. Blue-tongued skinks are usually between 12 and 24 inches long.

Skinks have scales similar to snake scales. They lay flat along the lizard’s body and look slightly glossy. Their coloring is designed to blend into their natural habitat. They are burrowing creatures; their rear legs hinge to the rear, and this adaptation allows them to back out of their burrow quickly.

Skinks are native to the southern hemisphere. They are typically found in forests or scrubland, though they can be seen in suburban parks and yards as well. They do not climb like some lizard species. Instead, they stay close to the ground and dig underground burrows for shelter.

Blue-tongued skinks are not venomous or poisonous, but they want predators to think they are. The blue tongue is thought to be an adaptation meant to convince predators that the skink could poison them. In nature, bright colors are often a sign that an animal is venomous or poisonous.

Skinks also defend themselves by pretending to be snakes. They can tuck their legs up and slither along the ground to convince snake-wary birds or other predators to stay away. They can also detach their tails as a distraction to predators while they get away. 

The blue-tongued skink personality is generally very relaxed. They are a calm and docile species. They don’t bite or claw humans.  If they get scared or upset, they puff up and make hissing noises, but won't attack.

Caring for any reptile includes creating a climate-controlled habitat for it. Reptiles can't control their own body temperature, so they need their environment to be consistently warm enough for them. They also need space for behaviors like basking and burrowing. 

You will need a good amount of space for an enclosure for a blue-tongued skink. In nature, they roam over a fair distance and need space to walk in captivity. At a minimum, you will need a 40 to 55-gallon tank to house a skink, though bigger enclosures are usually better. 

You will need to line the enclosure with a substrate such as a reptile carpet or towels. Skinks like to burrow, so a layer of mulch or non-abrasive wood chips such as aspen is good for them (do not use pine or cedar chips). You should provide logs, low rocks, and branches for them to climb over and around. Skinks like snug spaces to hide in, so include small boxes or rock caves in the enclosure.

Blue-tongued skinks require UVB light for good health. Skinks typically get this from sun exposure, but glass filters out UVB rays. Indoor skinks will need a special UVB lamp in their enclosure. The light should be on a timer that shuts it off after 14 hours of light. Replace the UVB bulbs every 6 to 12 months.

Skinks will also need heat lamps in their tank. The daytime temperature of the tank should be between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. At night the temperature can drop to 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. You should provide at least one basking spot where the temperature is between 90 and 105 degrees Fahrenheit. You can arrange this by placing a flat rock directly under a heat lamp, though it must be low enough that the lizard won’t be able to touch the lamp directly. 

Skinks need humidity for the health of their skin. Keeping the substrate slightly damp will produce adequate humidity in the enclosure.

If outdoor temperatures are warm enough, you can let skinks go outside. Make sure to set up a secure enclosure for them that is free from any plants that could make them sick. They will dig so you will need a fence that extends unground to keep them from burrowing their way out of the enclosure. It's safest to bring them inside overnight to keep them away from predators and ensure they're warm enough.

Blue-tongued skinks are omnivores that eat a combination of vegetables, insects, and small animals. In the wild, they tend to eat insects, snails, wildflowers, and leaves.

You can feed a skink many types of protein, such as pinky mice, mealworms, crickets, earthworms, and snails. You should also offer them a variety of fruits and vegetables, such as:

  • Banana
  • Beans
  • Blueberries
  • Carrots 
  • Cherries
  • Collard greens 
  • Escarole
  • Peaches or nectarines
  • Pears
  • Strawberries
  • Squash

Blue-tongued skinks need a vitamin and mineral supplement. You can dust their food with the supplement before offering it to the skink. Adult skinks should be fed two to three times per week.

When given proper care, blue-tongued skinks can live up to 30 years in captivity. Having a skink as a pet is a long-term commitment. You should be certain you can care for a skink for many years before you choose to bring one home.

It is also important to be cautious when buying a blue-tongued skink. Illegal animal traders capture wild lizards and sell them to pet stores. This practice is bad for wild populations of animals. It’s better to work with a breeder who is not taking animals out of their habitat.  

If you have questions about getting a blue-tongued skink or how to care for one, talk to a vet specializing in exotic animals. They can help you get everything you need to provide your skink a happy home.