Skinks (Scincidae) as Pets: An Introduction

Skinks have a cylindrical body with mostly smooth, shining scales. Because the limbs are very short, even missing in some species, skinks progress with a creeping motion so that they are often confused with snakes.

Differences between the sexes: Femoral and preanal pores are missing; other secondary sex characteristics are only seldom present. An imprecise way of determining sex is the comparison of skull and tail size. The skull of the male is somewhat larger and fuller than that of the female; the underside of the male tail is somewhat thickened at the base. Sex differentiation through the analysis of testosterone may be a useful method, but it has not been tested well enough yet.

Monkey Tail Skink

Reproduction: Most species are ovoviviparous. Some have a juvenile skin in the period just after hatching to protect them from being eaten by their parents.

General maintenance advice: Skinks, which are generally peaceful and rather inactive when kept in isolation, would need little living space if the species were not so aggressive with each other. If you need to make a separation to keep the peace, remove the dominant, stronger animal because the submissive one will be at an advantage if there is a recombination later.

Gerrard's blue-tongued skink*

Tilqua gerrardii (Gray, 1845)

Total length: 14 inches (35 cm). Head-torso length: 1 inches (18 cm).

Distribution and Description: Eastern Australia (from south of the Cape York peninsula, southward to the middle of the New South Wales).

Habitat: Rain forests. Identifying characteristics: On both sides of the lower jaw there is a greatly enlarged back tooth for breaking snail shells.

Behavior: Diurnal but also often remains hidden all day long. Inhabits ground, stumps, low-growing copses. For the most part lives on its own but is usually sociable in a group. Ovoviviparous.

Maintenance: Terrarium 40 x 20 x 20 inches (100 x 50 x 50 cm) for four lizards.

Decorations: Branches, stumps, plants from the rain forests of Australia. UV lighting off and on.

Temperature: By day 77° to 82°F (25 – 28°C); by night 68° to 77°F (20 -25°C).

Humidity: 60 to 90 percent.

Food: Snails and as a suitable substitute food, prepared cat food. Because of the high concentrations of vitamins A and D in commercial cat and dog foods, they must be fed sparingly, rather than as staples of the captive lizard's diet. Drinking water will be licked from the plants; spray plants with water once daily.

Blue-tongued skink

Tilqua gigas (Schneider, 1801)

Total length: 22 inches (55 cm). Head-torso length: 12 inches (30 cm).

Distribution and Description: New Guinea. Habitat: Grassy forests.

Identifying characteristics: Blue tongue.

Behavior: Diurnal. Lives in ground, stumps, and stones. Likes to dig in ground. Solitary usually, very aggressive when first placed with others. Ovoviviparous.

Maintenance: Terrarium 60 x 28 x 20 inches (150 X 70 x 50 cm) for three lizards.

Decorations: Stones, stumps, well arranged rubble. Caves and hollows with emergency exits. No living plants, only dry branches or grasses, since blue-tongued skinks like to dig. Sunning places and UV lighting. Sun terrarium.

Temperature: By day 77° to 90°F (25 -32°C); by night 64° to 72°F (18 – 22°C). Pseudo-winter rest from November to February at 64° to 72°F (18 – 22°C reflector lamps not turned on). Humidity: 50 to 75 percent.

Food: Snails, insects, freshwater fish, baby rats and mice; in natural habitat, small reptiles and amphibians as well. Some animals also like weeds, fruit, carrots, rice. Drinking water is licked from the decorations or from shallow saucers.

Spiny-tailed skink*

Egernia cunninghami (Gray, 1845)

Total length: 14 inches (25 cm). Head-torso length: 6 inches (16 cm).

Distribution and Description: Southeastern Australia. Habitat: Dry bush country, rocky slopes. Identifying characteristics: Scales are ridged or “keeled.”

Behavior: Diurnal. Lives in ground, stones, stumps. Likes to burrow in ground. Lives in loose groups. Ovoviviparous.

Maintenance: Shallow terrarium 48 x 24 x 20 inches (120 x 60 x 50 cm) for three lizards.

Decorations: Stones, stumps, well constructed rock piles. Caves and hollows with emergency exits. No living plants but only dried branches or grasses, because the animals like to dig. Sunning places and UV lighting. Sun terrarium.

Temperature: By day 77° to 90°F (25 – 32°C); by night 64° to 72°F (18 – 22°C). From November to February, pseudo-winter rest at 59° to 68°F (15 -20°C; reflector lamps not turned on).

Humidity: 50 to 75 percent.

Food: Snails, insects, freshwater fish, baby rats and mice; in natural habitat, small reptiles and amphibians also. Some animals also like weeds, fruit, carrots, rice. Drinking water is licked from the decorations or from shallow saucers.

Five-lined skink

Eumecesfasciatus (Linnaeus, 1758)

Total length: 9 inches (22 cm). Head-torso length: 4 inches (10 cm).

Distribution and Description: Eastern North America.

Habitat: Woods, brush country. Identifying characteristics: During courtship the head of the male turns red.

Behavior: Inhabits ground, stumps, underbrush, sometimes also tree-dwelling. Mostly lives on its own. Ovoviviparous. Female guards the eggs.

Maintenance: Terrarium 20 x 20 x 20 inches (50 x 50 X 50 cm) for five lizards.

Decorations: Stumps, branches, brush. Plants from the temperate zones of the Americas.

Temperature: Because of the very broad north-south expanse of the distribution area, the climate zones are very different. (Ask where the animal comes from at the time of purchase.) By day 64° to 86°F (18 – 30°C); by night 54° to 64°F (12- 18°C) Pseudo-winter rest from November to February at 59° to 68°F (15 – 20°C; reflector lamps not turned on).

Humidity: 60 to 90 percent.

Food: Insects and spiders, occasionally snails. Drinking water is licked from the plants; spray them with water once daily.

Mabuya quinquetaeniata (Lichtenstein, 1823)

Total length: 10 inches (25 cm). Head-torso length: 4 inches (9 cm).

Distribution and Description: Africa, south from the Sahara to the Kalahari desert.

Habitat: Savannahs, briar-covered plains, and thin woods.

Identifying characteristics: Skin color pales at sexual maturity; males are then almost entirely brown.

Behavior: Diurnal. Inhabits ground, stones, stumps, occasionally also trees. Swims now and then. Lives in loose groups.

Maintenance: Terrarium 20 x 20 x 20 inches (50 x 50 x 50 cm) for four lizards.

Decorations: Stones, stumps, branches, twigs. Water container. Plants from Africa. Sunning places and UV lighting.

Temperature: By day 77° to 95°F (25 – 35°C); by night 64° to 68°F (18 – 20°C).

Humidity: 50 to 80 percent.

Food: Insects, spiders, baby mice; occasionally ripe fruit.

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