Newborn and Juvenile Care :
One of our most popular questions is: "When are the babies usually born, so I can stay home and watch." Unfortunately, it's hard to say. I've seen them born at all different times, according to many different places in the world. A friend of our's in Florida, Ray, says his babies are consistently born around 3:30-4:00 PM every year. One hint that a female is about to give birth is a total desist in eating about a week prior to the event. She will also become much more active instead of her usual burrowing and hiding (pregnant females tend to burrow, hide, and generally do nothing while gravid). This isn't always the case though, as some females will eat right up until the actual day of the birth. When the big day comes, congratulations! And don't be devastated if there is a stillbirth. It is also possible you may see a few unfertilized embryonic sacks. These are commonly referred to as an ovum, or 'ova' in the plural form. It is commonly thought that this is not a correct term, as the term 'ovum' is Latin for egg, and blue tongues are neither oviparous or ovoviviparous. But, it's really no different than a human female's eggs. These little unfertilized 'ova' are a small dime to quarter sized ball (or other shape) that sometimes occur with the birth. They are normally an amber/orange color, and don't be startled or prevent your female from eating them; they are harmless and full of nutrients. Keep in mind that these 'ova' are not necessarily supposed to occur. It only likely means that you didn't quite introduce your pair at the precise or optimal time, or other times it's a total mystery...
Blue-tongued Skink Giving Birth to Live Babies
Fecundity depends on your female's species and size; you may have anywhere from 5-15 babies. Any more than that, while not unheard of, is a little more unusual. Offspring are born in a clear mucus membrane which is connected by the umbilical cord to little sacks called the placenta. When the female gives birth, she may turn and nudge the baby, or see if it is something she should eat (like an unfertilized ovum). When the babies emerge, they quickly break off the umbilical cord and consume the placenta (or afterbirth). This is their first meal, and is an EXTREMELY important meal. The consumed placenta is enriched with vitamins, antibodies and everything the newborn needs to get started in life. If another baby were to come along and eat his brother's placenta, that baby would probably die. While it's understandable that you will probably miss the actual birth, I wouldn't worry about this too much...it's normally an unlikely occurrence. This first picture shows a 20 second old baby. He will quickly awake, and devour the afterbirth. The 2nd picture shows a clear shot of the actual placenta that will be consumed momentarily, and the third shows the placenta entirely eaten. All that still remains is the umbilical cord. The next two images show a baby that still has his dried umbilical attached after two or three days. This poses no immediate threat, and will soon snap off on its own. NEVER yank or pull an umbilical cord if it doesn't want to come off right away. This can cause profuse bleeding, or even permanent damage. The last picture shows three fresh babies gobbling up their first meal.
The newborns are usually active immediately. The mother just drops them off, and they're left to fend for themselves. This also means they're independent from their first breath, and don't require their mother's care at any time. As a good rule, babies can be housed together (with towels for substrate) with no problems till about their first shed. After this, they can become territorial and even violent toward one another. It's important to get them separated at this point, or toes and tails may be bitten off. It's been my experience that the more you handle your babies, the longer they can be housed together. If they're irritable toward you, they will likely be irritable toward each other, so interaction at an early age is beneficial for the babies, and it also makes for a great pet later down the road (getting them used to human contact as a baby definitely improves their temperament later on). Keeping them well fed also helps them to tolerate each other longer. Babies can be housed individually in 10 gallon terrariums. They grow VERY fast, so it's important to be prepared with larger tanks at about 3 months of age. Do not use aspen, or any type of regular adult substrate. They're quite sensitive at this young age, and you don't want to risk any splinters in the nose, eyes, or even indigestion of small substrate pieces. Use clean towels, or artificial turf. You can even use soft sweaters or shirts, the babies can really have a blast tunneling through the long sleeves. This also gives them a bit of privacy and separation from each other compared to the turf. Remember, at the first sign of aggression, it's important to separate all of them.
DO NOT feed babies live food while being housed together. Once they get a taste of a wiggling worm or anything similar, tails, legs and toes begin to look awfully familiar to their previous meal. Also when housing babies together, it's actually been tested and somewhat proven that a smaller enclosure works best. It seems that when multiple babies are housed in extremely large living quarters, they are much quicker to become aggressive toward one another. We believe this may be because they become accustom to being alone because of the large space and then when one comes across another one, it's a bit of a surprise and they can become territorial. However, when they are "crammed" in together, fights are slim to none especially when they are interacted with and held regularly. This has been tested with several veteran keepers and is quite effective. Keep in mind we don't mean keeping 10 babies in a ten gallon. A 20 gallon however, would be sufficient, but not for very long. Lastly, keep them well-fed. A baby who is full is much less likely to hunt for something to eat. Full stomachs help exponentially on reducing the number of fights and bites.
A newborn's diet is really no different than the adults. For the first couple weeks, feed them daily with soft cat food only, and subsequently use the standard chunkier diet with vegetables and whatever else you feed your adults. Some examples are finely chopped collard greens mixed into some soft cat food (IAMS chicken adult formula is good). BEWARE the stems of the leaves! Be sure the large bases of the stem are removed, and that no long stringy pieces are left. They can choke. Also, refrain from mice until they're about 8-12 months of age. Provide plenty of hide boxes (paper towel tubes work great), and a heat lamp with a 50-100 watt bulb (depending on your tank size). It is always said that babies need it hotter than the adults. I believe that the regular 100 degree basking spot is fine. NO LOWER than 100 though, and the cool gradient can be in the 80 degree range (opposite end of hot side). Don't forget, it's always fun to take them outside and let them get a little sunshine! Nothing beats a hot summer sun. Beware of chemically treated or fertilized lawns however. One other weird note, babies defecate a lot more than the adults so "waste cycles" will probably not be effective with babies. They're pretty unpredictable.
Provide a small shallow water dish such as an ash tray. You can use bottled water, but tap is fine too if you have reasonably clean water. A paper plate or Tupperware lid work well for group feedings as they are very low to the ground making it easily accessible. Standard jar lids make good individual feeding dishes. You may need to shove their noses in the food the first few times so they get the idea.
The babies can sometimes appear nearly full size in one year! The heads are usually the last to grow. It's not uncommon to see a big fat body accompanied with a tiny little head—especially if the skink is really well-fed. This is usually a good sign that they might be getting a little too much to eat. Try to pay attention to body proportion. Do you have a monster burrito of a skink with tiny legs? Cease the feeding a bit until those legs look more proportionate. Of course all BTS legs are small, but you'll be able to tell the difference. View the obesity section for a good example.
One other weird note—Ray had a baby born that was completely patternless. Almost like an albino. As it crawled out of its placenta, the mother turned, looked at it, then lunged toward it biting it and killing it. We thought that this might be nature's way...as the mother would naturally kill any different looking or sick animal to prevent an eventual contamination of a species. It's never happened with any other baby, and Ray has bred hundreds of blue tongued skinks. I should also mention that Ray was devastated when this happened. Who knows what type of BTS it would have grown up to be.
One more tip: do you have a baby who just doesn't seem to calm down? People often give a baby many hiding places and deep substrate to burrow in. This can be good and bad when trying to interact with a baby skink. The problem is if he's a little hissy, he might learn that he can just hide in there all day and never come out If he's "forced" to be out a little bit, I think this helps acclimate them better and faster, because in the long run, if they're scared all the time, that causes more stress than the initial stress of not having immediate substrate to burrow in.
The following pictures show an Eastern blue tongue skink birth in elapsed time. The correct order is from left to right. They are still shots from a video recorder filmed by Ray Gurgui. Notice the minutes and seconds, and you'll see the birth lasts less than a minute! Click each picture to enlarge.
Written by Zach at bluetongueskinks.net
Also thanks to Ray Gurgui for contributing to this sheet!
All days, months, and hours are Western Pacific Time, USA. Different climates, time zones, and atmosphere should certainly be taken into account when deciding on your own breeding methods. Please remember that there is no "right or wrong way" to breed your animals. As long as you get the results you want, that's all that matters. The methods written below are the basic methods I use, but every experienced breeder will have his own. Don't be afraid to vacillate between different breeding methods, ideas, or suggestions.
Breeding blue tongue skinks can be very rewarding, but takes a bit of patience and commitment. The process starts with a 'cooling period' called brumation that lasts from about mid-November to Feb-March. This is to simulate the winter months they endure in their natural environment, and is somewhat similar to hibernation. Begin lowering your temperatures around mid-November, and offer NO food whatsoever during the winter period. Don't worry, it won't kill them. Water should always be available. Only decent sized, healthy and hearty animals should be considered for breeding; never cool any sick or abnormally thin animals. Begin by gradually reducing their daylight hours from 12 to 10 hours, then bring it down to 8 on the new year. Also, during the cool down period I usually turn on their heat lamps for 1-2 hours each day so they can warm up a little if they want. Not everyone does this, but in the wild they often come out and forage around. They don't hibernate in that they would enter a deep slumber and not wake up for months at a time. Also, two weeks PRIOR to cooling, cease ALL feeding. You don't want undigested food left to rot in the stomach as they enter brumation (no heat to assist with digestion).
Do not handle your animals during brumation! They do not eat during brumation because they are very cold and therefore cannot properly digest food. If you handle them, they will warm up, become active, and the organs will start working full fledge (the body slows way down during bruamtion). You want them pretty much dormant the entire winter. Some breeders even put their animals in shoe box sized enclosures for the entire winter with no light. Some BTS in Australia would definitely experience this as they would go underground while the entire land is covered in deep snow. One method I use sometimes is to place my entire collection in the garage. The garage is naturally much cooler than the house during winter, and it works perfect. If you use this method, there are no questions or worries on how to cool; simply place them in the garage and you're set. The brumating temperature that works perfect for me is 50 degrees. My max brumating temperature would be probably 55-60, and my minimum would be no lower than 40. While BTS definitely experience temps in the wild colder than 40 degrees, I believe that their shelter typically would provide some warmth, and it also must be understood that not all BTS would survive a cold harsh winter. I'm not into replicating extreme conditions even if it would be accurate. One needs to understand that nature is indeed harsh and that animals do die in nature due to weather. I write this because I've spoken with some hardcore breeders who copy wild conditions to a T. It's just not necessary in my opinion. The colder the temperatures, the longer and harder your BTS will sleep. If you have a particularly warm day, this will increase the temps in the garage and you may see your BTS scurry about for a short while probably to take a quick drink. Even if your heat lamps are left on for 8 hours a day, if it's 40-50 degrees, they will probably not use them. If it warms up outside, the BTS will definitely recognize it, and will likely warm up for a bit under the heat lamp. A brief sun tan is not the same as handling. The sudden stress factor will play a role in the general disruption of your animal's winter sleep. Do your best to disrupt them as little as possible while walking in and out of your garage. Note: This is talked about later, but I strongly believe a nature CD (water, crickets, birds, etc) plays a role—it definitely makes a difference when you compare it to absolute dead silence. BTS are so aware and curious of their surroundings. I believe this includes any sound that they might hear. For fun, here is a chart showing average annual low temperatures in Australia. Click to enlarge.
The following day, Alex had the hemipene surgically removed, and singed. Here is his encounter:
As mid February rolls around, slowly begin warming them up again! By this time, your skinks may have already become active. Gradually begin turning their normal lighting and heat sources back to normal, and start offering a little food. DO NOT be alarmed if they won't eat. They often reject food for a short time following the winter months. After going without food for so long, plain food can look unappealing. Often, a live fuzzy mouse will 'boost' them back into the eating mode, as it's visually stimulating and something they can chase. Note: Some people do not offer food until after the breeding event. The choice is your's, but usually they won't eat anyway. If they do eat though, do not offer much food. After going without eating for so long, a ton of food at once could very well be regurgitated. Offer very little, as in a spoonful. You may begin introducing your pair any time at this point.
The time is here! First off, it's important to provide an environment that is conducive to the breeding event. For example, introduce the female into the MALE's cage. The male is doing all the work here, so he should be in the place he's accustomed too (this isn't particularly important, so if you were unable to use the male's enclosure for whatever reason it's ok). Also, remove all substrate before introducing the pair, or cover it completely with a towel. When they mate, the male's hemipenes are fully exposed for a long period of time (right before actual copulation that is, and for a bit after). A single touch to almost any type of substrate will stick to him like crazy, and then when he mates with the female, the substrate could get trapped inside her (and him). Once you have introduced them, just sit and observe. The male could start nipping at the female's hind quarters, he may bite at her side, they could circle each other, they could lash out at each other, or they could do nothing. Be prepared. The female's tail will probably flail around erratically, which is a good sign. If all goes well, the male will eventually secure a firm neck hold on your female, and they will attempt to mate. The female cooperates by lifting her tail, the male tucks his tail underneath, and copulation takes place. This can last anywhere from 30 seconds to even a few minutes (in the wild they have been seen copulating for much, much longer). You should watch the entire event to make sure feet and tails aren't getting torn off. NEVER leave them on their own unattended for ANY amount of time. This is extraordinarily dangerous. During the breeding season (or any time during the year really), if animals are left together, they can and will breed each other senseless causing terrible damage. Remember when breeding, it's important to only put them together for the approximate 5-10 minute session, then separate them immediately. Remember that they are not in the wild where they will be able to run away; they are trapped in a small indoor terrarium with no escape. There is really no arguing this. I receive nonstop email messages from people who *received* animals that were previously living together peacefully, and therefore they think since they did it, I can do it. It's one of the most frustrating things when people say: "well, they haven't fought yet, so I'm going to stick with it". Blue tongued skinks should never, ever, be housed together unless you have a large outdoor environment, and just because they haven't lashed out yet does NOT mean that it won't happen at some point. Of course, ultimately, it's each person's individual choice, but knowing the extreme risk, I can't understand how anyone would go ahead and do it. It only takes one time, and then one will ask himself "why didn't I listen." I've seen it countless times and it just tears me up because it's so avoidable. Keep in mind that I'm talking about keeping pairs together in an attempt to breed, but this same advice should definitey be taken any time during the year, breeding season or not.
If you're a beginner, let it be known that their behavior may scare you! Breeding looks vicious, but it's completely normal and part of nature. DO NOT split the pair up if the male is biting the female. Remember that granted this is likely a poignant experience for the female, this is nature's way, and is supposed to happen. It's important however to intervene immediately if the tail, foot, or head is being held on to. The neck hold is what you want, and enables the male to hold the female in one spot so copulation can take place. Congratulations if you are successful. They will simply split up when finished. The male may look dazed for about 30 seconds, so give him a second to collect himself before taking him out (but watch out for a suddenly aggressive female). His hemipenes (usually only one) may remain everted for a couple minutes. In this case, placing him on a hard flat surface will let the animal know that he needs to "repackage". Do not put them on their substrate with the hemipenes still everted because again, when he brings them back in, the substrate can stick and get sucked right in with the sex organs. Remember, males are normally aggressive and it takes lots of situating and resituating to breed, so be prepared for bite marks on your female. Some bites marks are worse than others, so don't be afraid to treat the wound with a little hydrogen peroxide. You can apply it with a Q-tip, and roll it on, do not rub. The roughed up scales will pull the cotton right off if you rub. Scars are not normally permanent, and should heal nicely within several months. If your pair ignored each other, or lashed out at one another, don't fret. Simply try again in a day or two (or be sure that you do indeed have a pair)! Keep in mind, there are always the peculiarly misogynist males, and some pairs are just simply not compatible. One more note, it's better to have a female that is larger than the male. This just makes the event easier on the female and guarantees that you have a strong, healthy girl who can withstand the thrashing and multiple bites. If you have an abnormally aggressive female however, then a larger male may be needed. Once you suspect your female is gravid, remove substrate and use simple towels. When the babies are born, they quickly consume the afterbirth. You don't want bits of aspen or carefresh being digested; especially at their most vulnerable time. This is simply a precaution
Overly aggressive female?
Sometimes females are downright aggressive, and do not want to be messed with. There are a number of reasons why this might be. To begin with, the animal might not be ready to breed and will naturally ward off any suitors until she IS ready (possibly not ovulating yet). Another reason might be that the female may assume that she is being attacked, and naturally defend herself. This is especially common for first time breeders. Here are a couple of hints. Place a pen or something similar between her mouth and the male's body during the "hold" to keep her from biting his leg or tail. After her initial defensive maneuvers, she will likely calm down. Try "roughing the female up" yourself. If I have an overly aggressive female, I will take my fingers, grab the nape, and simulate the breeding movement by turning her in different directions. She'll actually act as if she's being bred, and after a short bit, she calms down realizing that she's not being attacked. Give it a try! Once she calms down, slip the male in there and hope for some luck. It's easy to become discouraged if a female seems unwilling, but don't give up, and try to think creatively. Socks can even be a useful tool. Place a small booty over the female's head, and sometimes, it will calm her down enough to allow the male to copulate. However, other times, she may act even more aggressive. Worst case scenario; you have a female who is naturally aggressive to people and other animals alike. In these cases, more unorthodox methods may need to be introduced, one such being placing small strips of tape around the female's mouth. This is talked about a little later, but it is not harmless in the least. It sounds awful, but it is simple, and keeps the female's mouth closed just enough so she can't open up far enough to clamp down on the male's legs or tail. It can work wonders if you're willing to give it a try and can get past the thought of it seeming cruel. It is truly and completely harmless, and sometimes necessary. Especially if you are trying to breed a valuable animal, and in most cases of which, murphy's law indicates the valuable one's will always be a challenge.
Here's another suggestion. Try taking both animals out, and putting them on your bed or somewhere similar. This will give them more room to manuever and display more natural breeding behavior (compared to being confined in a tank). I do this, and place the female in strategic positions in where she'll walk by him stimulating his senses. Sometimes when the female is running away it will strike an urge in the male to chase her. It works! Of course, it's out of the male's "territory" and his scent is not there as it would be in the cage, but that is not always crucial. It's what works. And I've had good luck using this method. Note: Cover your bed with a sheet as fluids are bound to get on it. Also, a bed is useful because it's raised off the ground, and you can sit on your knees and closely observe. It's also in perfect reaching distance if you need to intervene.
The following series of images display the rare cases when females are seriously aggressive. In this case, the female actually kicked the male's hemipene with her back legs as he attempted to copulate. The female's quick jerks and sharp nails punctured the blood-filled hemipene essentially "deflating" it, leaving it permanently damaged and unusable.
"The 'operation' went very well—she looks to be healing up great! Last night I cut away about an inch of dead tissue under the second tie-off, and this morning I cut away another centimeter or two of dead tissue under the first tie-off—now he just has a little nub sticking out under the first tie-off...I am planning on just continuing to clean and disinfect the area about twice a day, and I think that the last little bit of dead tissue under the first tie-off will fall off on its own."
The female that did this is actually the big white Northern, Lissa, from the Northern page. She is unusually very aggressive toward other blue tongues, but not with people. While breeding her to the animal shown here, Alex had to carefully tape her mouth shut so she could not fully open it. As previously mentioned, this may seem cruel, but does not hurt the animal whatsoever, nor is the mouth fully closed—but closed only enough to keep her from being able to bite the male. As you can see, Lissa still succeeded in injuring the male.
Usually, we recommend that the female should be at least two years old before breeding, and the male about one year old. Essentially, a male could breed at any age if he'll actually do it, but you have to be careful because the females can fight back, and if the male is too young (and small), he could die from a bite. In the wild, females do not usually breed until they are two, sometimes three years of age.
Unsure of sex? :
If you're unsure of your animal's genders, carefully place them together and observe. Your female will likely start wagging her tail like a whip in a frantic motion, or even ever so slightly. Your male will likely freeze, and stare. He will then take two or three short steps, then bolt towards her biting onto the neck. Even if you do have a male and female, there is always the possibility that they might not do anything, so be patient and be sure to keep trying. Be sure your animals are at least over a year old; the female preferably should be two years or older. If you combine two males, they will likely act very aggressive toward each other; more so if they have an aggressive personality. Two combined females would likely result in absolutely nothing unless you had fairly aggressive natured females. We go into great detail about this in the below sections on determining sex.
How do I tell if my female is gravid (pregnant)?
The number one way to tell is to weigh her before breeding, then weigh her at different intervals subsequent to breeding. When you notice exponential weight gain, that's your sign! You will also begin to notice weight fluctuations and temperament changes in your female, and at this point, she will require more food. Feedings should now be offered every day, and a small calcium supplement added with each of those meals (figs are an excellent natural calcium source and so are eggshells). Gravid females will probably get particularly grumpy upon reaching full term, but rejoice! Babies are on the way. Gestation can last anywhere from three to sometimes even six months depending on the species. You may start seeing changes as early as one month. You will probably know when you're female is gravid simply by looking. She will likely start ballooning up, and look enormous. There are times though when you will have no idea, and babies may come popping out completely unexpected. It's actually not that uncommon. Sometimes babies are even born over a series of days. You might get five babies on Monday, then two more on Wednesday. That's not too terribly common, but does happen occasionally. Once in a while (very rarely), the female will even store sperm which can propagate at any time resulting in offspring sometimes even a year after mating. Sometimes a female will give birth normally, then somehow retain sperm from that breeding season and give birth the next year when no new mating has taken place! This is not scientifically proven, but several keepers have reported it. Read about it here. Lastly, heavy labored breathing is an excellent sign. When the babies become larger inside the mother it presses up against her lungs; so when you begin noticing extremely heavy breaths every 5-10 seconds, it's likely she will give birth any day. Look for breaths so big and labored that it literally lifts the animal up when she breathes.
Note: Do not treat gravid females with medicine.
The following pictures show the initial breeding steps. Each picture is accompanied with a live action video.
•The female entices by twitching her tail.
•The male shows interest and reacts with a secure neck hold to keep her in position.
•The female cooperates by lifting her tail, the male tucks his tail underneath, and copulation takes place. This can last anywhere from 30 seconds to over a minute.
Blue tongued skink.Patternless breeding.
Some people may be thinking my articles are one-sided and unfair. If you have some reasonable claims on why hybridizing would be beneficial or important, I will gladly post it. I strongly believe in presenting both sides of an issue, and letting new readers decide for themselves. In regards to blue tongued skinks only (no other reptiles or animals), I haven't heard a supportive reason yet.
An intergrade is a cross between two animals of the same species, but different subspecies. For example, a Northern is scientifically described as Tiliqua scincoides intermedia. A Tanimbar is described as Tiliqua scincoides chimaerea. You notice that they are the same species (scincoides), but different subspecies (intermedia and chimaerea). A cross between two such animals is called an intergrade. A hybrid is a cross between two completely different species such as a Blotched (Tiliqua nigrolutea), and a Western (Tiliqua occipitalis). Here is a good quote from Edward Martinez: " This is another reason to discourage intersubspecies breeding—that eventually you'd end up with a single, mongrel group of animals. You would not have the distinctive dark eye stripe of Easterns nor the bright orange bands of Northerns nor the black forelegs of Indonesians. Instead, you'd just have an animal that looks a little like all of its ancestors but lacks any uniqueness."
(To breed by the continued mating of closely related individuals, especially to preserve desirable traits in a stock)
Believe it or not, inbreeding is not necessarily harmful or damaging. Besides the idea of it seeming morally wrong, breeding offspring back to the parents is not detrimental to their health unless it's done over many multiple generations. Inbreeding is usually experimented with when a single reptile has a very attractive or rare feature. Let's make up a scenario and say a baby is born with a white head. That baby would then be bred back to one of the parents in hope of creating more babies with the same white head. This all depends on genes. Now, if you just happen to acquire a white headed male and wanted to produce look-alike babies, you would breed the male to a regular female, and that would produce regular looking babies called hets (heterozygous) which basically means they carry the 'white-headed gene'. You would then breed one of the babies back to the white headed male, and voila! Keep in mind that it may not even work, and depends on whether the gene is recessive or co-dominant. Sometimes certain traits aren't even related to genes (as far as mutations go) at all and it could be just a color phase. Genes can be terribly confusing!
Shipping any live animal should always be done overnight to reduce stress. UPS, USPS/Express Mail, or FedEx, may all be used, but prior arrangements may have to be made with UPS & FedEx. As far as I know, UPS does not allow snakes, but does allow lizards. FedEx allows snakes, but special permits must be acquired. These rules are always changing, and the funny thing is, none of the employees seem to know exactly what is allowed and what isn't. You could call customer service 5 times in a row, and each person would tell you something different. If nobody knows the rules, I'm personally not going to advertise to all of them that I'm shipping live reptiles; especially when the majority of people are afraid of them. This however, is just my personal decision I've made based on their disorganized guidelines. Once everything is concrete and set in stone, I will be happy to follow the rules -- but certainly not when I have one person telling me "we don't ship live reptiles", another telling me "you have to obtain special permits", or yet another telling me "don't worry about it, just write it on the box" -- What if a person is handling my labeled box and thinks that their company's rules state "No shipping of live reptiles"? I don't even want to think what he might do with the package. With shipping any live reptile, if you go by the book, the Latin name is supposed to be clearly displayed on the outside of the box. This doesn't seem to be enforced however (as many people are not even aware of it and they just want to get through their day), and many people will simply write: "Live harmless reptile". Experienced herpers have experienced problems with letting the world know what is being sent however. When a shipping company sees "live critter" on the package, they end up routing it differently and it very often gets there a day later than expected. Instead of writing live critter in big letters, I would just write the Latin name of the animal in small letters on the bottom of the box. Technically, if you don't, you are in violation of the Lacey Act.
UPS and FedEx are recommended over USPS. The postal service has not been reliable in my experience with overnighting, and also does not offer AM deliveries on overnight shipping. Packages (if they arrive the next day as they're supposed to) often will not arrive until six in the afternoon. UPS usually offers guaranteed 10-11:00 AM deliveries (unless an individual is way out in the boondocks).
A good box size to start out with for a baby blue tongue skink, is 12 x 9 x 6. Write Perishable. Handle With Care, -AND- arrows pointing up on the outside of the box. Remember, we do NOT advise advertising to the world that your package contains a living breathing reptile. It can cause way more trouble than it's worth. Next, place the animal in a cloth bag, and fill the bag with shredded newspaper. Tie the end of the bag TIGHTLY, place it into the box, and fill the excess area with stryrofoam peanuts (also, entire inside perimeter of box should be lined with styrofoam inserts). Be sure everything is packed TIGHTLY! You don't want your animal bouncing around during its trip. Next thing to do is research the weather and temperatures of where you are shipping to. Look on weather.com, and talk with your customer. If the temperature is under 60 degrees, it's a good idea to include a heat pack. If the temperature is over 90 degrees, include several ice packs, or ship when temperatures are cooler. A BTS can withstand the cold—it cannot withstand excessive heat in a sealed box in which it cannot escape. Use your judgement. If you're shipping to Arizona in the summertime, then obviously don't use a heat pack, and remember that your animal should arrive in the morning, thusly it would not be exposed to the hotter daytime temperatures. Also, be prepared for excrement in the container—doesn't always happen, but it can be gross! To avoid, refrain from feeding the animal one or two days prior to shipping. Remember, the inside of your shipping boxes should be lined with half inch styrofoam inserts (for shock absorption) as seen here:
Blue tongued skinks. Big female mating
(A hybrid is an offspring of two animals of different species. I.e. the offspring of a Blotched and an Eastern)
Plainly put, we are against the cross breeding of any blue tongue skink. Crossing the species does nothing except put hybrids out onto the market, and there is absolutely NO POINT. People who breed hybrids and sell them, or even give them away have absolutely no control over where they end up in the long run. The easily forgotten fact that they arehybrids will probably also not be retained, and they will be sold as a Blotched, or an Eastern, or whatever... when they are in fact mixed. But who knows for sure once the blue tongue is shipped around? It looks like an Eastern doesn't it? Or a Blotched? There will be no way to tell for sure. Once the animals get changed hands one too many times, the fact that they are hybrids fizzles away. Plus, when you make hybrids, what do you have? It's not an Eastern, it's not a Northern; it's a mutt. And when you sell it or give it away, and that person breeds it (even if they say they aren't going to), it just starts a whole chain reaction of mixed animals. Many individuals maintain the excuse: "The babies are pretty", but there is no valid reason to mix up the species. While some hybridization does occur naturally in the wild, it is not near enough to endanger or contaminate a species. In their natural environment, the ratio of hybridization is something like 1% of totalwild populations.
Another problem with deliberate hybridization is the very frustrating obstacle of recognizing, determining, and IDing mongrel animals. A lot of people come to this site wondering what species of skink they have. Do you think they want to hear (after probably being told something else) "You have a hybrid". A mutt, a mongrel, a mix, call it what you want, but it's not even a real blue tongue species. And this is only if we can ID it. Half the time we have no idea for sure (100% sure).
It's also a big problem because many (if not most) people don't even know there are different BTS species. A blue tongued skink is a blue tongued skink to them. They then breed whatever they have, and sell them to people calling them "easterns", "Irian Jaya" or usually just "blue tongue skink"—they then come here wanting us to ID them, and often times it's just impossible to say because who knows what it's mixed with or even if ITS original parents may have been hybrids. In the BTS pet trade, if people hybridize, we will eventually not have any pure species, but just a bunch of halfbreeds that are unidentifiable. This is mainly because we CANNOT get any new species from Australia. As always with mixed species, without the history of the animal, it's impossible to determine the mix beyond a shadow of a doubt. We can make pretty accurate guesses, but you can never be 100% without knowing its history. Now imagine that animal breeding with another. Mixed animals can spread exponentially and the threat is particularly dangerous because of the rarity of the BTS in the United States. People just aren't educated enough about them, and they're anxious to earn some cash with what they have. We recently met a seller who bred an Irian Jaya with an Eastern. He was a nice enough guy, but he just didn't know about the different species—and neither did the pet store who sold them as a "breeding pair"). The babies looked almost 100% Irian Jaya. If this keeps up, there will soon be no Easterns in the United States. Exportation from Australia is, of course, illegal, and some believe that the lacking eye stripe (of the Eastern) in American specimens is a direct result of hybridization. I'd like to nip this problem in the bud, and STRONGLY advise anyone and everyone against it.
To further my point with one last example, let's consider someone breeding together two incredibly valuable animals such as the Western and Centralian. What would you think about this? To show what I mean, the Western is worth about two thousand dollars, and the Centralian is worth probably even more. Now imagine instead of finding the proper mates, someone bred the two together, creating a hybrid that was worth nothing. If you know anything about the species, this would be plain insanity for both the breeder (investment wise), and for customers. In reality, a person who knew what he had, would not do this simply for investment reasons. Well, I believe this same respect should be given to lesser valuable animals as well. If this doesn't quite make sense, consider two random very valuable (and possibly rare) animals. Somebody takes one of the rare animals and instead of finding it a proper mate, he breeds it to the other rare animal of a completely different species. Would you consider this a responsible thing to do? Of course not. And a rare or valuable animal should not be what opens our eyes to the problem of intentional hybridizing. An animal is an animal created by nature no matter how big, small, rare, or common, and they should be appreciated exactly how they were created by nature. I've had several people ask me about dogs. Since all dogs are essentially man-made and traits are bred over hundreds and thousands of years (and mixes are generally thought to be stronger/smarter) then this could be seen as a valid argument to cross breed your blue tongue. However, pure bred dogs are not pure in the same way that your blue tongue is a pure wild species.
My views may seem extreme to some, but when it all comes down to it, there is just not one good reason to mix up the species—especially when hybrid animals can propagate. Many hybrid animals such as mules are unable to produce offspring, so contamination of the species is not a threat. This is not the case with blue tongued skinks. Blue tongue hybrids CAN reproduce. Here is a hybrid animal. This is likely a Shingleback x Eastern.
Upon receiving your package, sit in an open space away from any place a skink could run and hide. Once in a while, the skink will have wiggled his way out of the cloth bag, so when you open the box he could come running out. This is why it's important to efficiently tie off the bag. When you open your box, be gentle. Do not excitedly start fishing through the styrofoam peanuts frantically searching for the animal. It's been a rough dark ride. It's also a good idea to open the box in a dim room. Sudden bright lights can be very frightening and cause the animal to jerk violently and try to run away. Once you have the cloth bag open, peer inside and try to see how the animal is situated. He is likely very irritable and may strike. If you can rub his head outside the bag, this may help distract him while you stick your hand in to grab him from behind. If you'd like, feel free to hold him in your lap for a minute or two, but promptly place him into his new home with a pre-heated heat lamp. You want everything nice and warm before placing him inside. Leave him be, and feel free to offer food the same day/evening. It's possible he will not eat for a couple weeks so don't get paranoid; just let him get acclimated, and avoid any big surprises like dogs, sudden loud noises, etc. Try to refrain from handling for a couple days, then begin handling him every day. If he is a bit huffy, or even downright aggressive, don't fret. Regular handling will definitely tame him down. Do not however, avoid handling him because you are afraid or don't feel a bond. If you leave him alone, he will never tame down. Once again, interaction is the key!
MALE or FEMALE?
I'm sure you've heard a hundred times by now that it's next to impossible to tell male from female, but it's really not that difficult when you know what to look for. Like I'm sure you've heard before, the male will often have a larger, bulkier and more triangular head, thicker tail base, slimmer sides, and huskier throat. You've probably also read that males tend to have brighter, more orange colored eyes, while the female's are more brown (which is actually not true). In fact, none of these methods are accurate at all. The reason I say this is because if you look at your skink and see that it has a large head with orange eyes, you will probably assume it is a male. This is not true! While many males due tend to have bulky heads, just because your animal's head seems bulky does not make it a male by a long shot. These methods can only be used as clues, and I wouldn't even use them for that. Here is some reasoning of why these methods are not accurate:
Large bulky head—There are no set sizes for blue tongued skinks. When it comes to sheer body size, males are not bigger than females, and females are not bigger than males (generally speaking). Naturally, if you have a very large female, she will likely have a very large head. If you have a very small male, he might have a very small head. To top it off, sometimes heads are even disproportionate. If an animal was malnourished during his crucial first year, his growth may have been stunted. This can affect all sizes of the animal. Tail length, body length, head shape/size, etc. The point is, looking at your animal and observing (what you think) is a large head is not accurate because any number of the above mentioned variables could be in affect. All in all, blue tongued skinks come in many shapes and sizes, male or female. Generally however, males do tend to have bulkier heads than females in comparably sized and analogous species, but remember to consider all the variables and remember that nothing is concrete. For example, if you browse some of the pictures on this site I'll bet you can't recognize which are male and which are female based on head shape—Try it!
Slimmer sides—I've heard and read about this method all over the place, and it's supposed to indicate male. It is a grossly inaccurate method however because the majority of captive bred skinks out there are pretty fat! Diet plays a large role in the shape and size of your skink, and again, skinks (male or female) come in many shapes and sizes. And what are "slim sides" exactly? It's a subjective term as slim sides could mean a slim skink, or maybe just a narrow shape? Or maybe it is just the outer shape of the sides of the stomach that need to be curved a certain way, or NOT curved! Determining exactly what "slim sides" means entirely depends upon who's reading it, and how they personally comprehend it. I have always taken it to mean just a "thin skink". Slim sides says to me, a thin cylindrical aerodynamic body, and I think that all blue tongued skinks have this characteristic for the most part.
Husky throat—Another supposed male trait that essentially, does not mean anything. Some people think that males seem to have somewhat of a "craw" looking throat sort of like a male pigeon. I do see this, but I've seen the same characteristics in females. Plus, not all males have this feature anyway.
Eye shape and color—One of the most widely written about and popular methods—it is often said that males have bright orange eyes while females have brown eyes. Nothing could be farther from the truth as I've seen brown, orange, and everything in between present on both males and females. I don't know how this got started; perhaps the idea was borrowed from another reptile species. It's surprising that it is so widely written about, but is not even close to being even somewhat accurate. I wonder if this method stems from the simple fact that a person can look at eye color, assume they know, and be happy. The majority of people are interested in knowing gender so that they can appropriately name their animal, and be confident calling it a him or her. In these cases, 100% I.D is not crucial because no breeding is being done (you obviously have to be 100% positive of gender in order to breed), thusly gender determination by eye color is just fine with the average person. Another aspect is eye shape, and my friend, Mike Smoker, believes he is noticing a differentiating trend in the shape of the eye. We'll see how that develops.
Thick tail base—Yet another method for determining the sex of the male. The male hemipenes are generally, a pretty big organ. If you've ever seen them during defecation or mating, you know that they can pop out pretty far, and are a pretty good size. When they are tucked away in the general area of the base of the tail, sometimes the sheer mass of the organ can push on the inside walls of the tail creating a bit of a bulge. Sometimes lifting the tail in a "c" shape toward the head can create a better viewing angle. This method can give you a pretty good idea, but the only problem is that lots of fat is stored in the tail; especially on well fed animals. What you see as a possible male with a thick tail base could very well be a healthy tail with plenty of fat storage. It can be difficult to differentiate, especially to the untrained eye. That's why this method is not 100%. We talk about this a little bit more below.
Squeezing the tail base—Similar to the above method, this method is used for "feeling" the hemipenes packed away inside the tail. The organ is soft, so when you squeeze the tail base (from the left and right) and it feels a bit squishy, this is supposed to indicate male. The female would have more of a hard solid tail base because of the lack of the soft organs. Again however, fat storage comes into play. Fat is not a hard substance, so if you have a healthy female with lots of fat storage (remember fat is stored in the tail), then one could very well mistake the squishy fat for squishy hemipenes.
Breeding marks on back—Seeing scars and/or a "roughed up" area near the neck and upper back are good indications that the animal is female. What you're seeing is likely breeding marks inflicted when the male bred the female. This is a good indication, but not 100% as a male could have attacked another male in an "attempt" to breed. It could also just be a wound or scar from a fight.
Popping/Probing—Popping is when an individual "pops" out the male's hemipenes by force. It is much easier to accomplish with babies and juveniles, but usually much more difficult with adults. It's also not 100%—if a person is unable to pop out the hemipenes, he might automatically assume that he has a female. This is not the case—the hemipenes just might be so tightly packed away that they cannot be popped out. When this occurs, many will just assume that the gender is female. Especially if he doesn't know what he's doing. I actually know of several very experienced people that have been wrong many a time using this method. It can also be dangerous—forcing the male to evert his sex organs could very well damage/sterilize them. This is basically what is done: Usually two people turn the animal in an awry or upside down position, take a steel bar a little bit thinner than a pencil, force back the flap, stick in their thumb, and force the hemipenes out. In my opinion, this shouldn't be done. Usually, the person hardly knows what he's doing, although there are actually a handful of individuals that can use this method fairly efficiently. The chances of you coming across a "real" expert however, are slim to none. One problem is that anyone who offers to pop your skink will most likely claim to know exactly what he's doing. Anybody can exaggerate or even lie, and it's a bit scary. That's another reason I would never allow any of my animals to be popped by anybody simply because you cannot tell if that person has popped a hundred animals, or maybe only five animals. You just can't be sure unless the person is a close friend. If a person IS able to evert the hemipenes however, then obviously you do have a male, but I wouldn't even take the risk to begin with. I would only reserve this method for tight knit reptile groups, and herpers who personally know each other and are comfortable popping their animals. Popping and probing is also known to sterilize the animal. This of course means, depriving the animal of the ability to produce sperm/offspring. Lastly, you risk dislocating or even breaking bones. This can happen much easier than one might think. If you attempt to hold your BTS upside down, he will wiggle and fight as if he were about to be eaten for lunch. When you force a BTS in an upside down position, he will tighten up and wiggle to his maximum strength. I've heard time and time again of animal's backs breaking, displaced hip bones, and even permanent paralysis. It's NOT worth it.
Ultrasounds/X-rays—Ultrasounds can be used by detecting mature follicles in a female, but not immature females. Females normally sexually mature at around 2-3 years of age. This means of course, that this method would not work on two young animals. The only downside to this is that you'd need someone with a trained eye. Vets can make mistakes and some probably will not even know what they're looking at, so thusly, the method is not fully 100%, but still fairly effective. As I understand it, X-rays are dangerous to the animal, and should never be performed.
Bottom line: All blue tongued skinks are different based on their age, their weight, and their species! Many people overfeed their skinks, and they might look like big fat females because their head looks small compared to their fat body. Some skinks are just fat period. Some have big heads, some have small heads. A lot of Irian Jayas, male or female, have HUGE heads; even when they're born. Shingleback's always have huge heads. My male Irian Jaya has brown eyes and he's fat! My male and female both have brown eyes for that matter. So you see, it completely depends on a number of factors. Here is a head comparison of my IJ pair, and an eye comparison sheet for fun. Remember, neither is a solid method for determining gender. It may only provide you with a clue at best.
Irian Jaya Head Comparison: Female (left), Male (right)
Here's a few of the more reliable methods. As mentioned above, males have two sex organs called the hemipenes. You can often see these hemi-penile bulges protruding out at the tail base. Check your skink's underside, look right at the flap, and see if it bulges out to the left and right. If it does, you possibly have a male. The following picture is just to give you the general idea. Real hemi-penile bulges would be placed a bit higher, and probably not quite as evident. All animals are different though. Depending on size, weight, and age, it can often be difficult to determine. If your animal's tail is thin, it does NOT mean it's a female. Again, these are just clues. This animal's thick tail is likely just fat storage.
Matt Meier's Irian Jaya
Here's a 100% accurate method. I'm sure you've read that occasionally the males drop a "sperm plug." See picture. If you see this in your skink's excrement, you have a definite male. It only happens at random, and usually during the winter months only. Sometimes only a vestige of the sperm plugs are seen as it's understandable that you won't be there every time your skink defecates. Certain substrates will also disguise the plugs as it can blend in and absorb almost immediately—especially with a hot heat lamp. Artificial turf is a good substrate to use when you're in search for these plugs. Pay attention to every bathroom break if you want to find out. Here's what we do: We feed our blue tongued skinks at about 5 or 6 o'clock in the afternoon, then take them outside like dogs at about noon the next morning. They always do their thing right away! Do this for a week straight if you can, or come up with your own schedule. Or, just try to be there when your skink defecates. Look for these clear semen 'strands'. Another good reason to get them on a 'feeding schedule' is because it's nice to hold our skinks, and let them roam around without the terrible fear of getting you know what on our best sofas. It works! It also keeps their cages a lot cleaner. Here's a little trick that surprisingly, I haven't seen on any websites. Very often, when your skink defecates/urinates, the hemipenes will 'pop out' for about a second. See picture of Hemipenes. How old does your skink have to be to see these hemipenes? As early as 3 months. Sperm plugs can sometimes be seen by 6 months, but are usually seen more towards one year of age. The following images display seminal plugs and everted hemipenes. Notice the far right picture taken by Mike Burns; you can actually see the seminal plugs being released by the hemipenes.
The last reliable method is something I call Gender by Behavior, which of course means, determining gender by behavior. Putting animals together and seeing how they react to each other is very effective. The only downsides are (1) you have to have multiple animals, and (2) you need to have a fair bit of knowledge in order to recognize traits, and be comfortable with fierce breeding behavior. Breeding season is the best time to experiment as both sexes are usually ready to breed, and much more likely to display traits. Cooling should be done (read section on breeding) to entice and prepare for the experiment, and ages should be a minimum of at least 6 months to a year. Remember, we are NOT breeding the animals, but simply observing specific behavior to determine the sex. Only experiment with two animals at a time. To begin, carefully put the two animals together and carefully monitor their behavior. Watch for a quivering tail in either animal, and also watch for a complete halt in movement. Males often will stop in their tracks and stare. They will then take two or three short steps, then bolt at blinding speed toward the female (often knocking her back pretty far) and latch on to the nape of the neck, or sometimes the side of the stomach. If and when this occurs, continue to watch and do not split them up. The animal doing the biting is very likely a male, especially if he begins moving her around with his mouth up, down, left, and right, sometimes with surprising strength. Do not be alarmed if you hear a few cracking scales, as that happens. By this time, if the animal being bitten does not fight back, this is one step closer that that animal is a female. If her tail is moving around in a "snake-like" manner this is another step closer. Keep watching, but do NOT let them breed. Be right there to intervene. Keep an eye on the "female's" tail, and see if she starts to lift up a little bit. If the other animal begins rearing his tail underneath, this pretty much seals the deal for having a male. For the maximum 100% proof, continue to watch, but keep the male's vent from actually touching the female. When he begins rearing his tail underneath, the male sex organs (hemipenes) will now evert at any moment, and all you need is a glimpse. That will be your 100% proof you are looking for.
Now, you can essentially use any species for this method. Remember, we are not breeding, but simply determining "gender by behavior", so if you have an energetic male Eastern that seems to want to mate with anything, try placing him with a Northern of unknown sex. Some males seem to be ready for mating any time of the year, and usually are easier to identify than the females using the behavioral method. At times, males will "recognize" females by sniffing and nipping at their hindquarters. This is an excellent sign for determining both the male, and female. Some males however, are simply out of control and will charge anything that moves; male or female. In these cases, watch the other animal's reaction. See if it lifts its tail. See if its tail whips around erratically. If it's not a female, the male obviously will not be able to breed, and the receiving animal will not lift the tail or accept the male's advances. It might fight back. One other thing I noticed in females—but is probably not consistent—is a unique and attentive "watchful" head motion. Some of my females seem to jerk their heads toward the male in an excited attentive sort of way. This only occurs in the first minute or so, and subsequently, the female just looks straight ahead and is motionless.
Traits to watch for in the male:
Complete halt in movement—The male will likely freeze for up to 30 seconds or more, then bolt toward the female. We call this event the look of interest or the look of intent.
Latching on—The male will bite onto the other animal and hold on.
Movement—If the previous action was not an offensive attack, the male will begin moving the female around with his mouth. Up, down, left, and right, he will situate her, and re-situate her until he is ready to evert the hemipenes. We call this the "mating movement".
Rearing tail underneath—If and when the male begins to rear his tail underneath the other animal, this is a sure sign of being a male. This action pretty much seals the deal unless you have some insane confused skink.
And finally, hemipenis eversion—You will see the male sex organs evert (sometimes surprisingly far) as he attempts to copulate. Your animal is now 100% a male.
Traits to watch for in the female:
Oscillating tail—watch for an erratic, wagging, "snake-like" tail movement.
Eventual elevation of the tail— This is the female preparing to "accept" the male's sexual advances to complete copulation.
Not fighting back—If you are experimenting during breeding season (do so for best results), the female normally should not act immoderately defensive toward a male's sexual advances. A few nips in return is not uncommon during courtship.
Teasing—Although this doesn't always happen, a sexually excited female will sometimes walk by the male actually enticing him. This happens especially when the male is not showing much interest. She will walk by with somewhat of a jerky motion, tail flailing, and intently watch him the whole time. Not all females do this. Some run away, some fight back, it entirely depends on the male's actions, environment, temperature, etc.
These are the 3 sure fire methods. We've devised our own composition we call the "Three E's"
¹) Ejection or dispersion of seminal plugs = MALE
²) Eversion of hemipenes during excretion = MALE
³) Expression or behavior. How does your animal react when placed with another blue tongue?
Do not put young blue tongues together (under six months). They probably will not display breeding behavior, and will either ignore each other, or fight
Interesting note: One theory as to why snakes and lizards have TWO hemipenes is because they never know which side they'll be able to line up with the female.
Written by Zach @ bluetongueskinks.net
Please select or follow below :
Please select or follow below :