Tropical Skink Care Sheet
Developed with and approved by a qualified veterinarian.
Includes care for multiple skink species, including:
- Blue-tongued skinks
- African fire skinks
- Five-lined skinks
Several different skink species are kept as pets, including blue-tongued skinks and African fire skinks. While the care for these species is similar, there are some differences. Blue-tongued skinks are the most popular type of pet skink; they are friendly, docile lizards with a bright blue tongue. They tend to be personable and enjoy frequent interaction with their pet parents.
Typical appearance and behavior
- New skinks should be allowed to acclimate to their new habitats and begin eating before being handled
- With daily interaction to socialize them, skinks generally enjoy being handled by their pet parents
- Males and females are hard to distinguish; males typically have larger, wider heads than females
- Skinks are best kept singly as they are territorial and will fight
- Skinks are terrestrial and prefer larger amounts of open horizontal space rather than vertical space for climbing; they may climb over low rocks or logs but may fall from branches or other tall objects, so those should not be kept in their habitats
- Most tropical skinks are semi-nocturnal and will spend a portion of daylight hours hiding
- Skinks are not naturally tame; beginning with just a few minutes a day and gradually increasing duration, pet parents should spend time daily handling their new pet to get them used to being held
- Skinks have a powerful bite if highly stressed or untamed, so they should be held gently and never surprised
|Average Life Span||Up to 15+ years with proper care depending on species|
|Average Adult Size||Up to 24 inches long, depending on species|
|Diet||Blue-tongues – omnivore
African fire skink – carnivore
|Minimum Habitat Size||36" long x 18” wide x 10” high for one adult|
An appropriately sized and shaped habitat to accommodate normal behavior and exercise is needed. A juvenile skink may be housed in a 20-gallon aquarium. A glass tank may be used to house an adult skink, as long as it is well ventilated. The minimum size habitat for an adult is 36” long x 18” wide x 10” high. The habitat should have a tightly fitting mesh top to prevent escape. Skinks will reach adult size in 1 to 3 years, depending on species and under ideal conditions; upgrade habitat size as your reptile grows.
Building your habitat
- Habitat - Provide a hiding area and substrate for skink to burrow in. Maintain greater than 70% humidity by misting and soaking in a shallow bowl of warm water every day to help ensure the skink stays hydrated. Provide a humid hide box (commercially available hide or upside-down plastic box with a cutout door containing damp sphagnum moss) to increase humidity for proper shedding. A humidity gauge (hygrometer) should be used to monitor humidity levels.
- Décor - Skinks are more comfortable when they have plants, low rocks and logs where they can hide if they want. However, as they need a lot of surface area to move around, don’t overcrowd their habitats with décor
- Substrate - Commercially available, pelleted, paper-based bedding, reptile carpet, coconut fiber, cypress mulch mixed with damp sphagnum moss, or Aspen shavings can be used as substrate. Cedar chips, walnut shells, orchid bark and sand are all indigestible if consumed and can potentially lead to life-threatening gastrointestinal tract obstruction. Substrate should be 2 to 3" deep as skinks love to dig and burrow
- Temperature – Skinks require a daytime temperature gradient (95 to 100°F in the basking zone to 75 to 85°F for the cool zone). Nighttime temperatures should not fall below 70°F. There should be at least two thermometers or a point-and-shoot temperature gun to monitor habitat temperatures. Use an incandescent light or ceramic heat bulb as a primary heat source during the day, with a ceramic heat bulb or a red incandescent bulb at night. Do not use a hot rock for heat, as reptiles who sit on them commonly get burned
- Lighting – Skinks require full-spectrum ultraviolet (UV) light for 10 to 12 hours a day to ensure they receive adequate UVB exposure to make vitamin D in their skin so that they can absorb dietary calcium. Skinks without adequate UV light exposure are prone to developing metabolic bone disease with skeletal deformities, bone fractures and potential death
Cleaning your habitat
Thoroughly clean and disinfect water and food bowls daily. The habitat should be spot-cleaned daily to remove droppings and discarded food. Thoroughly clean the habitat at least once a week:
- Place skink in a secure habitat
- Scrub the tank and furnishings with a reptile habitat cleaner or 3% bleach solution
- Rinse the tank and all furnishings thoroughly with water, removing all traces of habitat cleaner or bleach smell
- Dry the tank and furnishings before putting the skink back in the habitat
What to feed your tropical skink:
- Blue-tongued species are omnivores and eat:
- 50% fresh vegetables such as leafy green vegetables (collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens), squash, peas, Brussel sprouts, carrots and bell peppers
- 40% protein. Such as insects (including gut-loaded [recently fed] crickets, roaches, earthworms and mealworms), hard-boiled eggs and frozen/thawed feeder rodents for larger skinks
- 10% fresh fruit such as mango, papaya, cantaloupe, figs and berries
- African fire skinks are carnivores and eat a variety of insects, including gut-loaded crickets, roaches, waxworms, butterworms, silkworms and mealworms. An occasional frozen/thawed pinkie mouse may be given as a treat. Adult fire skinks should be fed every two to three days
- Skinks should, in general, be offered as great a variety in their diet as possible so they don’t get bored and stop eating
Things to remember when feeding your tropical skink:
- Fresh, clean water should be available at all times
- Feed juveniles daily and adults every two to three days
- Chop vegetables and fruits for blue-tongued skinks to make them easier to eat
- Vitamin supplementation should be alternated every day by sprinkling food lightly with powdered calcium without vitamin D and calcium with vitamin D, plus a multivitamin supplement once a week. Insects can be lightly dusted with calcium and vitamin supplements by placing them inside a plastic bag with the powdered supplements and shaking the bag lightly to coat the insects prior to feeding them to the lizard
- Vegetables and fruits not eaten within 10 hours should be discarded
- Offer food from a shallow dish or feeding tank rather than feeding off the habitat floor to lessen accidental ingestion of substrate
Tropical skink care
Skinks regularly shed their skin; ensure humidity of habitat is at the appropriate level (40 to 60%) to allow proper shedding. To facilitate shedding, soak in warm water in a large, shallow container that allows the skink to immerse their entire body but that is easy to climb out of, as skinks are not good swimmers. Alternatively, provide a shed box, a hide box with damp sphagnum moss that will aid in shedding.
Where to buy a skink
Skinks are available for purchase at your Petco Pet Care Center. Please call ahead to check availability.
- Appropriately sized habitat
- Live reptile food
- Food and water dish
- Mealworm dish
- Hideaway place
- Heat light
- Heat fixture
- Under-tank heater
- UVB lighting and fixture
- Multivitamin supplement
- Calcium supplement with and without vitamin D
- Cricket keeper
- Cricket food
- Cricket quencher
- Humidity gauge
House adult skinks separately, and do not house different reptile species together. Occasionally, a male/female pair or two females may be housed together, but they must be monitored closely for fighting.
Signs of a healthy skink
- Active and alert
- Clear, bright eyes with no swelling or discharge
- Full, muscular tail
- Supple skin with no sores, swellings or discoloration
- Droppings are firm, not runny or bloody
- Eats and passes stool regularly
- Clear nose and vent
Red flags (If you notice any of these signs, contact your veterinarian.)
- Weight loss or decreased appetite
- Discharge or bubbles from eyes, mouth or nose
- Lesions, swelling or discoloration of skin or retained shed
- Sneezing, runny nose, difficulty breathing
- Weakness or paralysis of limbs
- Runny or bloody stool or lack of stool
|Health Issue||Symptoms or Causes||Suggested Action|
|Health Issue Gastro-intestinal disease||Symptoms or Causes Runny stools, caked or smeared stool around the vent, weight loss and loss of appetite; may be caused by bacterial, viral or parasitic infection or nutritional imbalance.||Suggested Action Consult your veterinarian.|
|Health Issue Metabolic bone disease/vitamin deficiency||Symptoms or Causes Inability to absorb calcium due to insufficient UVB light or inappropriate diet or supplementation. If untreated, can lead to skeletal deformities, soft or fractured bones, swollen limbs, decreased appetite, weight loss, lethargy, seizures and death.||Suggested Action Consult your veterinarian and provide ample UVB lighting and the proper amount of calcium/vitamin supplements.|
|Health Issue Respiratory disease||Symptoms or Causes Labored breathing, discharge or bubbles from eyes, nose or mouth, decreased appetite and lethargy. Can be caused by inappropriate temperature, humidity or lighting in habitat, predisposing to infection.||Suggested Action Consult your veterinarian and ensure habitat has the proper temperature, lighting and humidity.|
- Where do skinks live? In nature, depending on species, skinks are found in Africa and Australia.
- What do blue-tongued skinks eat? Blue-tongued skinks eat 50% fresh vegetables such as leafy green vegetables (collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens), squash, peas, Brussel sprouts, carrots and bell peppers; 40% protein (insects, including gut-loaded crickets, roaches, earthworms and mealworms, plus hard-boiled eggs and frozen/thawed feeder rodents for larger skinks); and 10% fresh fruit.
- How big do blue-tongued skinks get? Up to 24” long, depending on species.
- How long do blue-tongued skinks live? 15+ years with proper care and nutrition.
- What does a skink look like? Blue-tongued skinks are large (up to 24” long) lizards with gray to brown scales and dark stripes across their body and a long tail. They have a gray belly, reddish-brown eyes and a dark stripe from their eyes back down their neck. African fire skinks are large (14 to 15" long) lizards with stout, bright red bodies, black and white spots on their sides and yellow-brown backs. Peter’s banded skinks are smaller (5 to 7" long) with short tails and orange/yellow and black banded pattern of scales.
- What type of animal is a skink? A reptile.
- What does skink poop look like? Since skinks collect both stool and urine into the same chamber (the cloaca) that then empties through to the outside through the same opening (the vent), they pass brownish-green feces followed by a small amount of solid white urine (called uric acid). Their urine is mainly solid so that they can retain water.
- Can skinks climb? Blue-tongued skinks can climb over low rocks and logs but are not good climbers and can fall off high places. African fire skinks are somewhat better climbers.
- How do you sex a blue-tongued skink? Males and females are hard to distinguish; males typically have larger, wider heads than females.
- How big do fire skinks get? Adults are 14 to 15" long.
Additional care sheets
Notes and sources
Ask a Pet Care Center associate about Petco's selection of products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All products carry a 100% money-back guarantee.
Because all reptiles are potential carriers of infectious diseases, such as Salmonella bacteria, always wash your hands before and after handling your reptile or habitat contents to help prevent the potential spread of disease.
Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physicians before purchasing or caring for reptiles and should consider having a pet other than a reptile.
Go to the Centers for Disease Control at cdc.gov/healthypets for more information about skinks and disease.
The information on this Care Sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If you need additional information, please contact your veterinarian as appropriate.