INTRODUCTION: Over 1500 species of skinks exist in the world, with the blue-tongued skin and the prehensile-tongued skin being two of the most popularly kept as pets. Lifespan, adult sizes, and diet vary greatly with the species, so be sure to research your prospective pet well.
HOUSING: Skinks should generally be housed singly throughout their lives. Housing requirements may vary between species. The following are general guidelines, however, it is recommended that you research your skink’s specific needs.
– Cage – A 30 gallon enclosure is adequate for a single juvenile skink. A single adult animal requires a minimum enclosure size of about 48 inches long x 13 inches wide x 21 inches high (55 gallon aquarium). Use a secure mesh top to prevent escape and allow proper ventilation.
– Bedding/substrate – Newspapers or paper towels are safest and easiest to replace/clean. Vinyl tile (from hardware store) or Repti-Carpet can also be used. Replace the bedding/substrate or clean the hard surface every 1-2 days to prevent exposure to waste. **SAND, GRAVEL, MULCH/BARK, OR OTHER NATURAL SUBSTRATES SHOULD NOT BE USED DUE TO DIFFICULTIES IN CLEANING, RISK OF GASTROINTESTINAL ISSUES IF EATEN, AND PROBLEMS WITH IRRITATION OF EYES AND DELICATE TISSUE OF MOUTH.
– Cage “furniture” – Although generally ground-dwelling reptiles, branches, driftwood, cork bark and/or large rocks can be provided for climbing and environmental enrichment. Also be sure to offer places to hide. **HEATED ROCKS SHOULD NEVER BE USED DUE TO RISK OF THERMAL BURNS.
– Temperature/heating – A temperature gradient should be created within the enclosure, with a warm side and a cool side. This allows the skink to regulate its temperature by changing location. Provide a daytime focal basking area of 90-100°F (use incandescent bulb, ceramic heating element, or red/other bulb; under tank heating pad can also be used if needed) on the warm side of the enclosure. Daytime temperatures on the cooler side of the enclosure should be 75-85°F. Use multiple digital thermometers with probes to ensure appropriate temperatures are maintained. Dial thermometers are often inaccurate. Nighttime temperatures can be 68-85°F throughout the enclosure. If needed, a safe under tank heating pad, ceramic heating element, or red bulb can help in maintaining recommended temperatures. Due to risk of burn injuries, always use appropriate rheostats/thermostats if using the commonly available ZooMed heating pads. Heating pads with which we have had good experiences include Ultratherm Heat Pads (beanfarm.com) and Cobra T-Rex Heat Pads (available from many pet stores).
– Lighting – Provide an ultraviolet B (5.0 UVB) light over the basking area (within 18 inches, no glass/acrylic in between) for about 12 hours per day. UVB is necessary for vitamin D production and appropriate absorption of calcium from the gastrointestinal system. Replace this bulb approximately every 6 months, as UVB production decreases with time.
FEEDING HERBIVOROUS SPECIES: such as prehensile-tailed skinks
– Vegetables – Vegetables can be fed DAILY to EVERY OTHER DAY in juveniles and adults. Offer variety of dark leafy vegetables, such as collard greens, kale, romaine lettuce, green/red leaf lettuce, or Boston lettuce, endive, spinach, parsley, bok choy, and broccoli (leaves and florets). Other vegetables (squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, peas, beans) can help make the diet more balanced. Chop/shred greens, spray with water, and offer in bowl or on plate.
– Vitamin supplements – Dust salad with a high quality calcium/vitamin D3 supplement (with NO phosphorous added) 4-5 times a week in juveniles, and 2-3 times a week in adults. Dust salad with a high quality multi-vitamin (with a vitamin A source that is NOT beta carotene) once a week in juveniles, and once every other week in adults.
– Other foods – Commercial skink pellets can also be offered to ensure a more complete diet. Due to higher vitamin and mineral content, skinks eating mainly a commercial diet may need to have their multi-vitamin and calcium supplementation reduced.
– Water bowl – Provide clean, fresh water in a dish/bowl into which your skink can easily climb (small/low for juveniles). It should be large enough to fit your pet’s entire body. Change water daily.
– Humidity – Fill a dish or semi-enclosed container large enough to fit your pet’s entire body (a baking pan or Tupperware style container with an entrance hole cut out work well) with sphagnum moss, and mist this area once or twice daily with water from a spray bottle to keep it moist, creating a higher humidity micro-environment for your pet. Watch the moss closely for mold growth and waste, and replace it completely approximately every 2 weeks, or more often if needed.
– Soaking – Soak your pet DAILY to EVERY OTHER DAY in warm, shallow water for 15-20 minutes to encourage drinking, improve hydration, and help with shedding.
SIGNS OF ILLNESS: We highly recommend that your pet be seen for an annual physical examination and fecal analysis with an experienced reptile veterinarian. Please consult a reptile veterinarian should you notice any of the following signs: weight loss, decreased appetite/thirst, abnormal stools, twitching/tremors/seizures, swelling of the limbs, inability to close the mouth properly, discharge from eyes and/or mouth, difficulty breathing, distension of the abdomen in non-breeding animals, masses/lumps, or wounds/cuts/scrapes.