Reptile Ravings


 Keeping Blue-tongue Lizards

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


Should I provide UVB light to a Blue-tongued Skink and if so what is the best way?

The choice is ultimately and always yours. Many people use UVB lamps and some keepers choose to use synthetic supplements. In both cases, successful captive breedings have been recorded. I am happy to give you some forward thinking advice though, and explain the reasons behind that advice.

We as a reptile keeping community are really starting to learn more and more about reptiles and amphibians and their relationship with their natural environments. Studying the lizard’s needs before purchase will give a much better idea of how to care for it and what to expect when housing it in vivarium surroundings.

The Blue-tongued Skink—Tiliqua species—is a highly adapted and very successful opportunistic species. It really does take all that it needs from the wild to thrive. They are opportunist feeders with a large proportion of snails featuring in their diet. They will however eat rodents, eggs (they represent an excellent food which should not be overlooked), small nestling birds, reptiles, amphibians and all sorts of invertebrates and vegetation. They live in woodland areas.

With any species, it pays to look at its country of origin, the type of habitat where it is found, including the altitude, the weather patterns in its environment, elevation above sea level and of course how the reptile adapts to its environment. This information will help you to recreate the best habitat possible.

These particular skinks are basically crepuscular but do display a tendency to bask in the open for long periods. Based on my experience in keeping them myself, and from various other observations, this species will bask in a relatively high UV (ultra violet) index if given the opportunity.

In their homelands in Australia and Papua New Guinea, Blue-tongued Skinks are true forest dwellers. They make use of the leaf letter and low bushes and trees, and, given their weight and profile, they are surprisingly good climbers as well. In a location of this type, the canopy itself will reduce the amount of available light and energy from light that forces its way through to the ground level.

Yet it is important to be aware of the fact that the UV index at the outset in that part of the world where these lizards are found is far more powerful than is the case in here the UK and other northern hemisphere countries, even in full summer. They therefore experience far stronger light exposure. You need to work out the exact limitations of the size of your enclosure and also the limitations of the technology that you decide to use, bearing in mind that UVB decreases in power the further from the lamp that the light travels. The skink will in turn be able to adjust its exposure by means of the ‘light and shade’ method, provided that you incorporate adequate cover into the vivarium.

A Suitable Set-up

The development of HOT5 lamps have really helped to re-create these dedicated light levels and indexes safely. They have also allowed full use to be made of the light and shade method. This is simply about providing heat and light over a specific part of the vivarium, to the upper index required and matching that with cool and shade at the opposite end.

By so doing, you are effectively creating a gradient extending from full sun to total shade. The animal then chooses its own exposure by selecting the amount of light that it requires at that time. In a 1.5m (5ft) enclosure that is 0.6m (2ft) high, I would suggest using a 39w 86cm/34in D3 6% T5 lamp and reflector. This will light just over half of the enclosure and allow you to offer this dedicated basking and shaded area.

NEVER lower lamps into the vivarum in the way that used to be advised. Light hitting the eye from the side poses a very real risk to the reptile’s well-being, by potentially causing ophthalmic damage. It is far better to fit the system and reflect the light properly downwards on to the animal where it is needed most.

A lamp that is not being used in association with a reflector is wasting about two-thirds of its energy from the top and sides of the lamp. Fit the lamp to the roof of the enclosure as this is the safest fitting method. Then adjust the décor in the vivarium so that the animal can choose its own elevation and as such, set its own exposure to the graduated index.

Avoid placing the décor so that the skinks (or indeed any other animal) can get closer than about 25-30cm (10-12in) to a lamp at the highest point. This may pose a glare risk and in some cases, it could provide an unnaturally high index to that species.

Use of Foodstuffs

You can then use a good quality supplement, as in the Vetark™ range, in accordance with the recommended instructions of the brand. Always make sure that all live foods are gut-loaded, having been offered a vitamin and mineral food. Your skinks will then benefit when they eat this prey.

Many people feed garden snails to skinks, but after speaking to an exotics vet about this, it is not advised. Not only can snails come into contact with poisons but they pose a very real parasite risk, carrying diseases such as lungworm. You can buy snails from specialist live food suppliers that are safe though, or you can start a giant land snail colony at home. These snails are very easy to look after and breed, and so you should be guaranteed a regular supply of molluscs for your skinks.

John Courteney-Smith

Arcadia Reptile Products Manager

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