Does The Blue Tongue Lizard Need A UV Light?

Introduction

As you can gather from its name, the ubiquitous blue tongue lizard, or skink, found around Australia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea has an integral association with ultraviolet (UV) light.

Intended to be startling to predators, its most notable characteristic can be just as surprising for those who see it for the first time, which is the melanin-pigmented, UV-reflective blue tongue that looks as though it was dipped in paint.

My curiosity was further intrigued by a recent study published in Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology about the northern blue tongue skink’s cobalt-blue tongue: It is more UV-intense toward the back of the tongue appearing even brighter than the front.

Considering the popularity of the blue tongue skink as a pet, I wanted to know if it can thrive without exposure to full-spectrum light being enclosed indoors in a glass or wooden case.

Read on for the answer to that and many other questions I explored about the blue tongue skink.

So, Does the Blue Tongue Lizard Need a UV Light?

As I said earlier, in a word: Yes. The blue tongue skink will live a longer, healthier life when supplied with UVB light. In all honesty most lizards, wall geckos, iguanas, etc, will need good heating and lighting. This may be achieved both by supplying an artificial light source within its indoor habitat as well as allowing the skink to soak in the natural rays by spending time outdoors.

What is the difference? Much the same way it is for us, the skink is better able to synthesize vitamin D3 through the skin. This is crucial for the proper absorption of calcium necessary for proper bone growth and development.

Just like us, without exposure to the sun, the skink may not be able to metabolize the calcium it gets from its diet.
You should provide vitamin supplementation such as calcium and D3 and other vitamins depending on what you are feeding your lizard already.

Both UVA and UVB light are beneficial to your blue tongue skink. UVA are the long visible wavelengths. This is the light that is supposed to influence basic instinctual behaviors such as mating and eating as well as positively influencing general well-being and mental health.

UVB are the short invisible wavelengths that allow for the formation of vitamin D3 essential to bone health. Don’t think that placing a glass terrarium next to a window will help since UV rays do not penetrate the glass. The most this might do is cause the habitat to be too warm.

What is the Ideal Temperature for Blue Tongue Lizards?

The blue tongue skink is diurnal ​(Click here to see how often Blue Tongue Skins shed their skin)​​​, as opposed to nocturnal. They do not produce their own body heat. They are accustomed to hot, humid weather, so it is important to arrange the habitat to accommodate the warm heat of the day and the cool of the night.

What does that mean? The regular temperature during the day needs to range from 70 degrees up to 100 degrees, at the most. Your heat lamp is enough to achieve these temperatures if your placement is correct.

Make sure to create a cooler side to give your lizard a way to control his own comfort. You can use a handheld electronic thermometer to gauge the temperature, or you can place the skink inside the terrarium once you have everything in place and monitor the behavior.

If it is too warm, you might see the lizard retreating to the cool side of the tank, or you may find him inside his water trough. At night, you should turn the lamp off to replicate the natural atmosphere once the sun sets. The optimal temperature at night is between 60 and 70 degrees.

What is the Ideal Humidity for Blue Tongue Skinks?

The simplest method of providing for adequate humidity levels inside your reptile’s habitat is in the use of substrate and plants

. A substrate that is lightweight allows for the lizard to burrow, and if it is absorbent, you can use a spray bottle for misting to introduce moisture without soaking the interior, something you want to avoid.

Other things to avoid are:

  • Newsprint – leaves ink on the tank floor
  • Aromatic products – typically disagreeable to the reptile
  • Excess moisture – promotes the growth of bacteria

If you want to test the acceptable level of humidity, check the scales on your skink’s belly. Rough scales indicate the need to increase the moisture level, but silky smooth scales means your balance is just right and your reptile is shedding nicely.

What are the Best Water Requirements for Your Blue Tongue Lizard?

Let’s start with what to put the water in first since your lizard will need to use water when shedding. Anything that is shallow, preferably heavy and low enough to access is perfect, such as a basic 9x13 glass baking dish.

Another reason you want something of this size is to help maintain the moisture level inside the tank.

The water from the tap is the best water you can supply your lizard with, assuming it is suitable for people to drink. You don’t need to go through the effort of purchasing distilled water or installing a water softener.

The water must be changed regularly since the blue tongue skink will use it as a toilet bowl. Go ahead and disinfect the dish with a sterilizing solution. This is easily accomplished with a diluted solution of either bleach or vinegar as long as you thoroughly rinse this out before refilling it with fresh water.

What is the Best Habitat for "Blueys"?

You are not dealing with a climber with blue tongue skinks, so your enclosure does not need to be very tall. The adults can grow quite long, so the bigger the better.

You can select a smaller enclosure for juveniles, but you will just have to enlarge it as the reptile grows. There are cases where a lizard will raise up on the hindquarters and manage to pull themselves right out of the enclosure. Glass is a good choice when you consider your bluey enjoys peering out at you as much as you like to watch him.

You are better off keeping the elements inside the enclosure simple for ease of cleaning.

The typical illnesses that beset blue tongue skinks are the result of an unclean habitat or poor feeding. A 40- to 60-gallon terrarium is roomy enough for an adult skink. A screen for the top will help keep your pet contained while still allowing for ventilation.

What are the Best Accessories to Keep Your Lizard Happy?

The blue tongue lizard is a ground dweller, which eliminates the need to place branches or pile up rocks for climbing. They do like to dig and hide, which calls for areas that will allow for hiding rocks or hollow logs. Arranging different levels using branches, logs and flat rocks will aid in naturally wearing down their claws.

A flat rock placed at the heated end of the tank gives your reptile a basking stone and a way to make the most of lighting. Fake plants may be used to create a livelier space. Wooden elements are helpful for scratching especially while shedding.

You may choose to use live plants, but you will want to research the ones that do not present a toxic threat. Overall, you want to create a stress-free environment for your bluey. This video gives you a good idea of how to set things up:


Is the Blue Tongue Lizard a Specie or a Special Group of Lizards

From the family of Scinidae, there are six species of the blue tongue lizard including two sub-species. They are identified by a pale belly and darker back adorned with dark variegates.

They have small eyes that can range from a reddish-brown to grey. They have a long body and large head, but the legs are short. They grow long in the body though their tails are typically shorter tapering to a point. Their most unique characteristic is that dark blue tongue contrasted by a bright pink mouth.

What Different Types of Blue-Tongue Lizard Exist?

Though they vary in size and color, the blue tongue lizard is commonly grey having brown stripes going down the back and tail and grow to as much as a foot in the length of the body, not including the tail.

From the Reptilia class of the Tiliqua genus, the blue tongue lizard is of the scincoides species with a subclass called Lepidosauria. They break down as follows:

  • Northern Blue Tongue - T. scincoides intermedia found on the savannahs of Australia's tropical regions
  • Eastern Blue Tongue - T. scincoides scincoides found widely in the south east of Australia marked with dark stripes
  • Western Blue Tongue - T. occipitalis listed as vulnerable
  • Pygmy Blue Tongue - T. adelaidensis found in the mid-north of South Australia and listed as endangered
  • Centralian Blue Tongue - T. multifasciata listed as vulnerable
  • Blotched Blue Tongue - T. nigrolutea found in the south west but restricted to the highlands with a slightly different appearance being a dark brown with light-colored blotches down the back

What is the Ideal Diet of the Blue-Tongue Lizard

Left to their own devices in the wild, blue tongue lizards feed on a wide range of plant matter and invertebrates of the slow-moving variety. They are omnivores, but their diet tends to be restricted by what is available within the immediate area.

You want to familiarize yourself with what they eat so you can provide the same sort of variety when they are a pet in your home. In addition to plant matter, the small creatures they consume may be crickets, caterpillars, beetles or even other small lizards, but their favorite delicacy are snails and slugs.

In addition, the following list is a decent guide of what you can feed to your lizard:

  • Apple
  • Beans and Peas
  • Berries
  • Carrots
  • Figs
  • Fresh lettuce
  • Lightly blanched sweet potato
  • Melons
  • Pear
  • Pitted stone fruits
  • Squash
  • Feeder insects provide extra nutrition and trace elements

You should feed your blue tongue lizard a combination of vegetables, greens, fruits and proteins. Switch things around to provide a diverse variety of foods.

The ideal ratio for each feeding consists of 50 percent vegetables and greens; 40 percent protein, and the remaining 10 percent in fruit. Adults only need to eat every two to three days while the young ones should eat every other day.

Go ahead and feed them as much as they will consume at one time, but when they are finished, remove all remaining food stuffs.

What is the Best Season of the Year to Find Blue Tongue Lizards?

The birthing season for blue tongue lizards is January and February. You are likely to start seeing them late in January, and this holds true throughout Australia.

Pregnant mothers will give birth to as many as 21 live babies, however most of those do not survive.

They are vulnerable when young due to their poorly developed scales. Without a strong protective armor, they are susceptible to attacks from cats who are particularly attracted to them as prey.

They are engaged with foraging for food during the day when the weather is warm, but as it gets cold and winter has arrived, they will hibernate anywhere they find a deep crevice, a drain pipe, a hollow log or a pile of debris under which they can wait out the cold.

They emerge by August when you can see the return to their morning sunbathing to help warm them up before they resume foraging. September starts the breeding season all over again and continues through November.

It can be tricky for the females to maintain a constant body temperature warm enough to regulate the rate of growth in the embryos.

How Big is the Typical Blue Tongue Lizard?

The largest of the blue tongue lizards is the Northern blue tongue skink ranging between 18- and 24-inches in total length. Their heads are triangular, and they tend to be medium-sized with a heavy body overall. They have rather short, stubby legs and tails, which is why they aren’t very good climbers.

This combination of characteristics makes them slow movers. While the size of your pet bluey depends upon which species you have, count on this species to grow to an average length of 20-inches, sometimes even more than that.

What is the Lifespan of the Blue Tongue Lizard?

There is enough of a variety of types among the blue tongue skinks, and each has its own average lifespan and unique characteristics. They are considered a long-lived family of lizards.

Anyone who is planning to have one as a pet should prepare to care for them from 15 to 20 years. Among those blue tongues in captivity, many have lived as long as 20 years. They are a medium-maintenance creature, and when kept well, there have been blue tongue lizards living as long as 30 years.

Do You Need a License to Own a Blue Tongue Lizard

Due to the fact that all native reptiles fall under the protection of NSW, if you want to own a blue tongue lizard, you are required to obtain a Reptile Keeper’s License. You can pursue this through the Office of Environment and Heritage.

You want to make sure you have followed the law in all Australian states because it is illegal to take them from the wild without the proper permit.

In WA and Tasmania, no one is allowed to own one. South Australia and Victoria permit blueys to be kept by commercial dealers. You can go online to apply using the OEH website. If you are applying at a store, you can apply for a license with the assistance of their specialist reptile staff.

This legislation was enacted for the purpose of preserving the existence of wild populations of blue tongue skinks. A licensing system is the best way to monitor those species that are owned, traded or bred. If you want to know what the situation in your area provides, your state wildlife authority is a good place to start. They are also a good source for obtaining your local Herpetological Association.

What Health Issues are Blue Tongue Lizards Susceptible To?

One of the reasons the blue tongue lizard is such a popular pet is due to their hardiness. Much of what befalls them in the way of poor health or diseases can be traced back to their fundamental care.

Adding calcium and vitamin D3 supplements to the diet is for the purpose of avoiding Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD), a direct result of incorrect diet or lack of correct UV lighting exposure.

Watch your humidity levels so you can prevent Dysecdysis, or abnormal shedding. Intestinal parasites are another area of concern as blueys are susceptible to worms. In some cases, this can be fatal.

Be sure to consult an experienced reptile veterinarian if you have concerns about potential parasites. With proper feeding and care, the majority of health issues are easily avoided.

Are Blue Tongue Lizards Ideal for Beginners

Blue tongue lizards are not a high-maintenance pet. They are prone to good health because they are so hardy. They are typically calm, and while they do not necessarily like to be handled, they will tolerate it quite well. It helps that they have so much personality with a great disposition.

Their intelligence is high, and they are capable of discerning sounds and recognizing people in the home. With persistence, they are trainable. The more they are handled, the more they acclimate to the family habits, happy to lounge around with you and enjoy the tele.

As placid as they are, they are great with children because they are easy to hold.

Just don’t mistake their laziness for a lack of curiosity because when they are out of the enclosure, you could lose track of them if you don’t keep an eye open.

It is hard to resist a lizard that seems to enjoy having his chin or head scratched. The blue tongue skink is mix of reward and surprise as you get to know them.

It is the main reason I wanted to pursue this level of research on them, so I could share it here with you. If you got something worthwhile out of this article, let me know in the comments, and if you liked this piece, I hope you share it with others who might also get some value from it.

Wayne
 

Hi, this is me with my daughter and my Lizard friend. I hope you enjoy my research. Please feel free to check out my "About Me" page to find out more about me.

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