Another constant topic of argument is what bedding to use. Some common choices are carpet (not recommended), aspen shavings, carefresh, Lizard Litter, Bed-A-Beast, coconut fiber, Repti-Bark or any type of reptile substrate. We personally use aspen shavings, and we love it. It's light, it's cheap, and the animals can do some serious burrowing in it. Fecal clean-up is easy, and it's pretty absorbent too. The only negative aspect would have to be the dust, but if you get the filtered kind it's not so bad and settles quickly. Avoid the rabbit bedding type of aspen shavings. They're much thinner, and are basically just aspen 'splinters'. The thin pieces could easily lodge themselves up inside a blue tongue's nose when burrowing. Another idea (but less recommended) would be cypress mulch. I've always strayed away from it because it looks so damp and it is very thick and clumpy. Repti-Bark and Bed-A-Beast, or even artificial turf are a couple other options. Your two best bets would probably be either aspen shavings, or carefresh pet bedding. Aspen looks better visually, but carefresh is probably slightly more absorbent—which could be good or bad depending on how you look at it. It absorbs fecal matter and urine quite well, but also absorbs moisture in the air which can make your tank very dry. If you're wondering what exactly carefresh is, they advertise it's "reclaimed wood pulp waste". Whatever that means, it basically looks like wet clumps of paper that have been dried. Sort of like what you get in your drier if you had paper in your pockets. It's soft, it's light, it's absorbent, and best of all, very cheap and easy to replace. Aspen looks better, and is also equally good. Cheap, light, visually appealing, absorbent, and they can really dig. The choice is your's! Both have a fair bit of dust, but as mentioned before, the dust does settle. Here are a couple brands you're likely to come across...
Here are the two varieties of aspen, shaved and shredded. If you choose aspen as a substrate, be sure it's the shaved variety (left picture).
Substrates not to use
We advise against sand and/or crushed walnut shells as excessive ingestion can be fatal. This is called impaction, and I've seen it on a number of occasions. When a blue tongue is chasing prey, or shooting his tongue around, he can't help but consume mouthfuls of these tiny pieces as they stick to anything even remotely wet. The tiny pieces build up and get backed up in the digestive tract, creating a complete blockage. If the animal is not able to pass the "clump", he will die. If you ever see a massive passing of feces packed full of substrate, this is your sign to switch substrates immediately. Eco Earth is another popular substrate that looks great, but our members have found bugs in the material on more than one occasion and in different states across America. Use at own risk. Do not use gravel. BTS will eat pebbles (which is normal and not harmful) but will often even attempt to eat large rocks which of course poses a serious choking hazard. See picture below. Do not use any type of pine or cedar products, and be sure that whatever substrate you do use is NON-aromatic. Cedar and pine shavings contain aromatic hydrocarbons called phenols (which gives it its scent). It can be quite toxic to your blue tongue, and can cause problems in the respiratory system. Actually, long term cedar and pine exposure are thought to be dangerous to all living things, and many studies have been done proving the theory. There are plenty of other great choices, so as long as you stay away from cedar, pine and other aromatic substrates, you should have nothing to worry about. Also, never use any type of wild bark or dirt you find outside. Bugs, ticks, mites, bacteria, dog crap, who knows what it could be infested with...and it's not even worth attempting to clean. DO NOT USE NEWSPAPER. The ink never dries, and it will leave your bluey's feet black and dry if used over time. The ink is also thought to be toxic under continual exposure, although not proven. Temporary use is fine. Here are two pictures of a BTS that was kept on newspaper as a substrate as well as the one gravel image mentioned above. Click to enlarge.
Blue tongued skinks are omnivorous meaning they eat both plant matter and meat, and require a multifarious diet. We use our 50/40/10 system: 50% vegetables and greens, 40% meat, mice, and insects, and 10% fruits. A large portion of their diet should include fresh vegetables and greens such as kale, collard greens, mustard greens, beet greens, bokchoy, etc. You may use virtually any fruit such as figs, papaya, mango, grapes, banana, diced apple, strawberry, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries (it's fun because they have blue tongues), melons and kiwi. Meats can include cooked shredded/ground (lean) chicken, beef or turkey, different types of worms and insects, an occasional mouse, and a small amount of cat food. Do not feed raw meats. While it's true that blue tongues eat some carrion in the wild, our processed meat is a little different than the natural way of things—hormone injections, unsanitary slaughterhouses, you name it. It's definitely important to cook out any weird bacteria or contamination. Especially since cooking it is so easy. Download the below food charts to make your food selection 100% easier. Scrambled egg (when cooked on low) is a treat they will also relish, but should only be given if your blue tongue is not eating well. Cooking anything on high oxidizes the cholesterol, so keep that in mind. Baby tomatoes and berries by the way are a great food to give them by hand...and high quality low fat soft cat or dog food works well in small amounts for substance. I would personally recommend cat food over dog food. Cat food just seems more juicier, thick, and smells a bit better. The only brands I would recommend are all natural 100% meat brands. These can often be found at health food stores. Mix up some finely cut collard greens (food processor makes the job a snap) with a small amount of cat food, add a few raspberries on the top, and you have a perfect healthy meal! Be sure to wash/rinse all fruits and vegetables. Natural baby food can be used sparingly as a last result, or you can even make your own baby food! Just purée greens and fruits in a food chopper.
For food dishes, jar lids work well as do paper plates cut into fourths. Do not use a knife to chop up greens ON the container you are serving with—this can create sharp edges on the feeding dish. A food chopper is prime for cutting your greens. When you're finally ready to offer food, you may notice that not all blueys will eat right away. Some will devour the portion in seconds, others will take their time nibbling little bits here and there. Some will actually anticipate your lowering the dish into the cage, and will come running to eat. Others will not even seem to notice, and you may want to touch his nose into the food to give him a taste. It's perfectly alright to leave the food in the terrarium for a few hours. You might want to leave the food on the cool end however, otherwise the heat from the lamp will fry it in 20 minutes. Do not leave uneaten food in the terrarium for days on end. If your animal leaves any food after a few hours, throw it away. Do not leave it in the tank overnight, and do not try to feed it to them again later. If one or two insects are left overnight or even a tiny mouse, that's fine. He can find and eat them later. I should warn you though, crickets can get down right irritating when you're trying to sleep. You may have heard that crickets have been known to "nibble" at reptiles while they sleep—this shouldn't pose any threat however unless you have a fresh baby with an army of hungry crickets living in the cage with him.
One more thing—something that bothers me to no end are people who stubbornly insist that their inadequate diet works great just because "the animal seems to be fine". In email, there's not much I can tell these people except: "Sure he seem fine, UNTIL HE DIES." That may seem harsh, but some people are so unbelievably naive, and just plain stubborn about what they think is right that often times they just won't listen. I mean, of course the animal will seem fine until he actually starts to get sick. A lot of individuals believe that if their bluey seems healthy on a diet of only crickets, then well, the diet must be ideal, and no one can tell them otherwise! In these cases, the poor animal will eventually get sick, and these people will learn the hard way. One thing that makes convincing hard is that BTS are very resilient animals. They are literally tough as nails and in the wild go without eating for months on end, and survive very harsh winters. So back to the point, yes, BTS can live quite a while on a diet of nothing but crickets which tells the owner: "I've been doing this for a long time and haven't had any problems". But in the long run folks, this diet would lead to MBD and other problems because of the lack of calcium and other nutrients in the diet.
The same logic is used for lighting as well. Some people do not even bother with heat lamps because, once again, "the animal seems just fine without it". Imagine keeping a BTS in a dark box with no light at all, but DID give him plenty of food and water. Would the animal die? No. Would he likely live in that black box for years? Probably. Is it right? Of course not! The animal may be ALIVE, but it's cruel to not give it what it needs. As mentioned before, if an individual is neglectful enough to not provide proper care because his animal "seems fine", then it is doubtful he will even recognize beginnings of potential problems. Just remember that each and every little aspect of owning and keeping these great animals is combined together to work as a whole process -- that is, each part: the lights, the water, the food, everything works together to contribute to the well-being of the animal.
To get back on subject, you could literally feed your blue tongued skink nothing, and he would live for many months. You could also provide no heat, and he would also live for months, probably even years; but it would be a terrible quality of life. To keep your animal healthy in the long run, it is vitally important to maintain a healthy diet and appropriate temperatures. These creatures live upwards of 20-30 years, but they will not live that long if given a poor diet, and poor husbandry. It's as simple as that.
Here are the most nutritionally balanced foods to offer in each food category. These are foods that have the best balance all in itself (calcium & phosphorus for example). Mix in a little cat food, add a silkworm or two, and you have the best meal money can buy.
Best Greens: Best Veggies: Best Fruit:
How to prepare cactus
Written by Jenn @ bluetongueskinks.net
Regarding the thorns: "I normally pick one that doesn't have that many—or one that only has them at one end—I'll cut that end off. Otherwise, I just pull them out. When I cut the cactus leaf, I cut it in long strips (very easy to see if I missed any spikes). I then cut it in half—so there is a skin side and a wet cactus side—and cut that into small pieces. I don't put the cactus in the chopper. I figure by cutting it, I can make sure that I don't miss any spikes."
To get the thorns off, you can also shave it with a knife and then rinse it off. It can then be placed in a chopper like any other fruit or green.
How to prepare meats
Chicken breasts, turkey breasts, lean ground turkey, lean ground beef, cooked shredded beef, etc, may all be cooked in a simple crock pot. If you don't have a crock pot, boiling in a simple pot of water works just as well. Cook it well so there is no pink remaining, and then cut into manageable pieces! We get a lot of questions about preparing meat, but there's really nothing special involved. You may also freeze large portions of meat. Quote from USDA website: "In meat and poultry products, there is little change in nutrient value during freezer storage." Frozen meats should be kept for no longer than usually 3 months. The best method for dethawing is to leave the frozen meat on the countertop, or put it in the fridge overnight. Dethawing in warm water works as well. Avoid dethawing in the microwave as it can be tricky. Avoid canned meats, lunchmeats and even deli meats! They are processed to no end, and usually very salty.
Foods to avoid
Avoid seafood. In my opinion, it is an unnecessary item. Some say it adds important 'micro-nutrients' like shrimp and different fish foods, but I don't do it which means you shouldn't do it either! Just kidding. Some BTS do actually eat small portions of water animals in the wild. If you do choose to give them some fish meat, it will not necessarily harm them. Here is a good quote from a user on the KS forum: " Because fish and reptiles are ectothermic vertebrates they tend to play host to many of the same endoparasites. This is not the case with mammals, birds and insects which have relatively few endoparasites in common with reptiles (and amphibians). So basically the reason you don't feed fish to reptiles is to reduce the chance of giving them parasites. " Now onto mushrooms. Some people feed with mushrooms, some don't. To me, there are too many questions involved like which mushrooms are the best, or which types are safe, and so on. There are hundreds of types of mushrooms, and hundreds of other great food choices, so don't bother. Avoid avocado, eggplant, and rhubarb. All are known to be toxic with some reptiles. Also, click here for a list of plants that are known to be dangerous to reptiles. Lastly, avoid spinach greens and lettuces—especially iceberg lettuce. Romaine has very little nutritional value, and iceberg is basically nothing but water. Remember, avoid canned meats, lunchmeats, and even deli meats. Also avoid citrus fruits. They're extremely sweet and very acidic. If you're going to feed them oranges, you may as well give them a bowl of orange juice! A little here and there is no problem though.
When to feed
With adults, every other day feedings are recommended. Some people feed their animals every single day, but feeding them every other day gives them that 'hunger' to eat, and may help keep them eating regularly. If you feed every day, their appetite will likely not vary in the sense that he will neither be hungry or full, thusly he may not feel the need to eat every time you provide food. This can result in sporadic eating habits in the long run in my opinion, so don't feel bad if you skip every other day. Babies and juveniles should be offered food every day (or every other day) until about one year of age. If your skink rapidly gains weight however (which is very possible and common), reduce feedings to two or three times per week. Remember, a simple jar lid sized portion is sufficient (mayo lid for example). Be sure to feed early enough that your animals have enough time to digest! You don't want to feed your animals at ten o'clock at night, then turn their heat lamps off an hour later. Feed them early enough so that they have plenty of time to bask and digest their food.
BTS can definitely (and easily) become overweight, and even obese. I'm not sure where, but somewhere before this site came along, there was a rumor floating around that BTS could not become obese. I heard it all over the place. That's not the case though as they can most assuredly become dangerously overweight just like any other animal. As far as health, I think observation is simple and accurate. If your skink is freaky thin, then obviously he needs to be fattened up a bit. Try snails, soft cat food, and pinky mice. Do not gorge him all at once, but rather gradually increase his portions. If he's so big that it makes your eyes pop out every time you look at him, then he could probably stand to lose a little weight. If he feels like a big round sausage in your hands, he might also be a bit big. Reduce feedings to only two or three times per week in these cases and decrease portion size. One hint for determining a healthy size is to use the head size in comparison to body size. If the BTS has a huge head and small body, he's likely too thin. If he has what looks like a tiny head and huge body, he's likely overweight. Remember, don't overfeed. If a BTS has to "diet", the lack of food could also mean a lack of regular needed nutrients as well—especially if someone were to get carried away with the "diet". Here are two Northerns—the first being a very thin animal, and the second an overweight animal. It's not too difficult to tell the difference.
Here is a second animal that is grossly overweight. Apparently, this animal has been in this condition for over a year. It's unusual, as an overweight animal would typically have a fat tail and this one does not. It is quite possible it has some other condition, but either way, it's a good example of showing how the legs look out of proportion with the body.
After seeing many pictures of blue tongued skinks, I think it becomes apparent which skinks are too fat and which skinks are too thin. Here is a picture of a BTS that is dangerously thin, which is obvious as the hip bones are showing. Any skink in this condition should be assessed for any illnesses, and fed in small amounts to begin with, gradually increasing week by week.
Force feeding :
This is something that seems to jump to everyone's mind when a skink will not eat. The easiest answer is...don't do it. Unless you really know what you're doing, it can be quite dangerous—if a skink is not prepared to accept food into the throat, he could very well choke. This actually happened recently to a member of our's—his skink was having trouble lapping up some egg yolk, so he lifted up the plate to let the yoke slide into his mouth. The yoke slid straight down the skink's throat causing the skink to hack and convulse violently. He soon contracted a respiratory infection from the ordeal. Simply stated, skinks sometimes have a sporadic diet, and they can live a long time on little to no food. Always provide food however—if the animal is hungry, he will eat it. If he doesn't, it's usually nothing to worry about. Remember, during the winter months many skinks cease to eat entirely as they enter into a natural brumation. Always keep an open mind though, and watch for signs of infections and other illnesses. We get into some of these later.
Should I feed with cat food?
This is an unending argument on whether cat food is good or bad for reptiles. It's commonly used but many people think it has bad effects, while others believe it's perfect for the meat portion of the diet. My personal opinion—which is solely based on the health of my animals—is that a little cat food used for substance in your skink dishes is not harmful. I probably would never consider using it by itself, but rather just mixing it into my other staple food items to give it a little texture and balance. Some people retain the idea that "cat food is unnatural, they don't eat it in the wild, so why should we use it?" Well friends, the truth of the matter is that our animals are not in the wild and essentially everything regarding keeping BTS is unnatural. Everything from their simulated environment, to non-native foods, to even the human handling and interaction. They are held captive by us (how unnatural is that?), and we do not subject them to everything they would encounter in nature for a reason. We do not keep them in sub-degree temperatures like they would encounter in Australian winters, we do not feed them rotting flesh (carrion), and so on. Anyway, back to the cat food—if you do decide to use a little bit, the important thing to remember is that "all natural" type brands are best. Check your health food stores, and don't buy the cheap stuff at Wal-mart. Look for high protein, low fat, and low ash content (2.00% or less). Everything will be clearly listed on the can under "Guaranteed Analysis". If you can't find anything special, the best "common" cat food is IAMS. I would suggest the adult chicken formula as it has a low ash content, and animal by-products are not the number one ingredient. All in all, it's best to use cat food sparingly. Pretty much all commercial cat foods contain preservatives, chemicals, fish by-products, carcinogens, other animal by-products (beaks, toes, eyes—everything leftover that is not consumed by humans) and so on—so if you do use a bit of cat food, remember to buy a high quality grade at a health food store, or other specialty store. The IAMS brand works ok in a pinch. Here are two examples of great ingredients in a cat food. The two brands are Wellness and Precise. Spot's Stew, Merrick, and Pet Promise are three other great brands and can usually be found at upscale grocery stores. You may need to order online, however.
Ingredients in Halo Spot's Stew: Whole chicken, carrots, yellow squash, zucchini, celery, green peas, string beans, turkey, chicken liver, garlic, kelp, vitamins & minerals. No grains at all. Absolutely no by-products, fillers, chemicals, or preservatives. All USDA-Approved ingredients. Now available at PetCo!
A small live mouse or fuzzy/pinky may be given once in a while as a treat, but they are not particularly the healthiest food and consist mostly of fat. To break down the common sizes of mice, a pinky is a baby mouse with no fur, a fuzzy is an older mouse with fur, and a hopper is the next size up and your blueys will get to chase it. Be sure your animal is an adult before offering mice (usually one year and up). Age isn't particularly important, but I've seen people throw in an adult mouse expecting a baby to chow down. An adult mouse can act quite ferociously defending itself and could very well injure a baby blue tongue; especially a scared one. So generally speaking, that's why we recommend to beginners that the BTS be at least one year old.
Frozen mice are also ok. Use your judgement according to your skink's size, appetite, etc. Some say live mice are not a necessary part of the diet, but it's a blast to watch, and it keeps your skink's hunting skills and instincts sharp. I believe keeping an animal as a pet that would indeed hunt rodents in the wild, but then decide to deprive them of that instinctual nature because of personal beliefs is not the correct way to approach owning an animal that does indeed "hunt" live prey. Of course, there are many people who will disagree with me because there are countless "equally nutritional methods" but I like the animals to be able to "live out" the instincts they are born with whether captive bred or wild caught. There are those who will argue that crickets can take the place of "the hunt" but it's definitely a different process. The way they hunt, chase, kill, and swallow a small rodent is completely different than slurping up crickets and worms. Keep in mind that your BTS will not be any less healthy if you don't offer a mouse here and there, but consider it food for thought. I've formed these opinions trying and re-trying all different types of foods and studying how they react to each. I truly believe they benefit. Again, this is a wide subject with many varying opinions—countless animal lovers simply can't watch a cute mouse being eaten. Please remember that every aspect of a BTS' life in the wild is important and we should reflect that as much as we can while keeping them captive in our homes. We must try our best not to deprive them of what they are born to do simply because we might not like the "sight of blood". Everything from a hiding place, to sunrise, sunset, temperature, and yes, daily eating habits must be taken into account.
Remember, a mouse should not be offered as a staple food source, but rather as a treat only—and like everybody says, your wiggling finger can resemble a wiggling mouse, especially if your skink is hungry, so keep alert during feeding time! Be careful of pet stores you are not familiar with, and always inspect the conditions the mice (or any feeder animal/insect) are being held in. Dirty, dark, smelly cages I would obviously avoid. Here's a good quote from Kelly McKinney: " If you can get a look at the housing and husbandry the store has for their live mice, that would be an excellent idea. That's why a lot of people who keep reptiles breed their own mice because they then have a better idea and control as to the conditions and health of the mice they feed their animals. Freezing kills parasites - one benefit of feeding frozen/thawed."
Live insects and worms are another live food choice, and when provided properly can offer exceptional nutrition in the meat category. Some common varieties are mealworms, superworms, waxworms, butterworms, and silkworms. That's listed from easiest to find to hardest to find, and coincidentally also from unhealthiest to healthiest. How convenient, huh? Here are some pictures...from top left to right: Superworm, Silkworm, Butterworm, Waxworm. Some other insect choices are earthworms, slugs, and snails (snails are highly recommended as their shells are a great source of calcium). Remember to "detox", that is, if you collect snails from the wild, keep them in a clean bucket for a couple days with some leaves and a little water. If they are alive after the couple days, you are usually good to go; the idea being that if the snails were poisoned, they would die during this period or rid their bodies of any contaminates. It's probably best however, to avoid wild food in heavily populated urban areas. Cockroaches are also fun for a treat. Abstain from feeding them crickets and avoid mealworms. Both have essentially no nutritional value. They can be fun however, and are readily available, so if you do throw some in once in a while, dusting them with calcium powder isn't a bad idea.
Can worms eat their way out of my skink?
NO!! No matter what you've heard, this is not true. I'm not sure where this rumor or urban legend originates, but it's an incredibly popular one. You do NOT need to cut off a superworm's head before feeding it to your BTS, and a superworm is also NOT a mealworm on steroids or any other drug/enhancer. They are a completely different species and pupate into a completely different beetle (yes, the beetles are ok to feed to BTS). So, the next time a pet store employee tells you to cut the head off of a mealie or super prior to feeding, just roll your eyes, and politely explain the truth. Don't ignore them! Be sure to set them straight if you know better. If you ignore it, the person will just spread the bad advice to someone else continuing this widespread absurdity.
Preparing Food :
Babies need finely chopped food. They have small throats, and can have a harder time eating the larger fruits/veggies that the adults are able to gulp down. Also, as I wrote above, many blueys refuse their greens, so chopping it up and mixing it into the cat food is a sneaky way to get them to eat it. Chopping your greens, tomatoes, and fruits into tiny pieces though can take forever. If you pick up a food chopper, you'll wonder how you ever lived without it! This is especially nice if you have more than one bluey. We have the "Black & Decker Handy Chopper Plus". It only costs around $10, and is very small and easy to use. It's awesome! You can dice up all your big leaved greens—which needs to be done whether you have adults or babies—tomatoes, fruits, purée cat food—just throw it all in together, hit the button, and VOILA! You've got a meal ready to eat in 2 seconds. Not too shabby. You don't need to peel any food unless it's food that you would peel yourself. Oranges or bananas for example should be peeled, but squash, figs, mango and so on should be chopped and served with skin and all.
Couple other things to mention while preparing food...be mindful of spraying your counters with kitchen cleaners, then preparing your animal's food. Perhaps your wife or husband cleaned the kitchen counters with a cleaner, then you spill a little bluey food on it a little while later. Spilling a little food is all too common, and putting it right back onto the dish is even more common. Be careful! The last thing you want is a dead animal with no apparent cause of death.
Frozen Foods :
Feeding reptiles frozen vegetables from a bag is very common because of the extreme convenience. Simply pour from the bag, dethaw, and voila. The only problem with frozen vegetables is that the actual freezing and dethawing destroys the thiamine (vitamin B1). When a blue tongued skink lacks this vitamin, it impedes the other B vitamins from properly carrying out their functions which can lead to a variety of health problems similar to the symptoms of MBD. Thiamine is crucial to the proper function of the central nervous system and also assists in carbohydrate metabolism and converting different nutrients and acids to fats and proteins. Thiamine deficiency is also often mistaken for a calcium deficiency, so it's important to be aware of the effects of feeding large portions of frozen foods and understand that it requires a completely different treatment. These are two very different conditions, and each must be treated in completely different ways. The best way to avoid this? Feed fresh foods! It's really not hard. Keep fresh greens on hand in your refrigerator, and add them with every feeding. It's really no different than keeping frozen vegetables in the freezer unless you virtually never go grocery shopping. Fresh is best. I personally never freeze anything, and always and only provide freshly sliced and mixed meals. Thiamine is sometimes referred to as Aneurin—especially in Europe.
A large, heavy, and shallow water bowl should be provided at all times, changed daily, and CLEANED daily! They tend to defecate in it, so watch it closely. The main reason for changing your water every day is because if they defecate in the cage, walk through it, then walk or soak in their water bowl...you get the idea. Bathing or soaking can also assist with shedding, so it's important to provide a large water bowl. It's also important just to have a good sized water source because these are reasonably large animals. It also helps with humidity so you're terrarium doesn't become too dry. Distilled water or tap water are both fine (unless you live out in the boondocks where water might not be as clean). You can buy purified/distilled water by the gallon at places like Costco, WinCo or even Wal-Mart for super cheap. If you have a water filter in your home like Brita or Pµr, that will work, but the chances of actually remembering to hit the filter switch every time is not good, plus statistically people do not change out their filters on a regular basis. You can also boil your own water which works great. Some good ideas for water bowls are pie plates, shallow cooking pans, or even an upside down frisbee (pretty flimsy though). Basically anything low and heavy that won't tip/spill works best. Remember, flimsy dishes can tip and spill easily which results in drenched substrate which can lead to bacteria buildup underneath. Clean your water dish every day, and even run it through the dishwasher maybe once a week for a thorough cleaning. We often get the question: "I never see my skink drinking its water, do they drink?" The answer is of course, yes. They usually drink first thing in the morning, and it's often just a few quick slurps with the tongue. Note: Filtered water is not crucial, but is recommended. Also remember to keep the water dish at the opposite end of the heat lamp.
(Written by Stacey Rader)
The "white stuff" is actually uric acid. It is not water soluble so it precipitates in water to form a soft solid. If the urates are hard as rocks, it is an indication of dehydration, or at least inadequate hydration. Normal reptile "pee" should have an amount of liquid (the excess water that is excreted by the kidneys), and the nitrogenous waste uric acid, commonly called urates (which is created by the breakdown of proteins both animal and vegetable). There should not be any calcium or other necessary mineral in the urates. Any excess calcium would be excreted with the liquid portion of the excrement, as calcium is water soluble. Urates will often appear hard and dry if the fecal material is allowed to dry out before it is removed from the cage. The gastrointestinal waste and urogenital waste are removed at the same time through the cloaca. Here is a photograph of healthy (dry) adult and baby excrement. Hope it's not too gross! The second picture shows a urate. Click to enlarge.
Tip: Remember that once a BTS goes #2, you can pretty much have him out the rest of the day without any worries—BUT, if your skink has the runs, he may go a number of times during the day, and at any time. We all know that BTS feces (heck, any feces) is pretty unpleasant, but remember that BTS "pee" is completely odorless (unlike mammal urine) and is absolutely nothing but water. Note: Blue tongues are not coprophagous.
Gut loading is raising and feeding insects and mice with a healthy or special diet in order to make them more nutritious for your skink. Many pet stores claim to sell "pre-gut loaded" crickets. This would be an advantage if it were true, but it's not always the case. Ask the employee if the insects are gut loaded. If they tell you that they don't know, that is an honest answer, and you can then ask for a manager or supervisor. If they respond "Yes, they are", then ask what they are gut loaded with. This will usually determine if the person truly knows what he or she is talking about.
One last thing to mention is that you will likely never find silkworms or butterworms in pet stores, so if you're interested in purchasing some, check out the Skink Links for websites. For fun, here is a comparative table of feeder insects—now you can really see how crickets are virtually "nutritionless" compared to high quality feeders such as the butterworms and silkworms.
Live Insect Comparisons
If you are having trouble deciding a good diet for your animal, download the following food chart it tell you which foods you should provide on a regular basis, and which foods you shouldn't. Tip: Print these out, and keep them in your glove compartment!
If your meals are well rounded and healthy, you don't necessarily need any supplements. It is understandable though, that it may be difficult to have the PERFECT diet 365 days a year. You may run out of a certain food or certain fruits or vegetables may go bad...(or some fruits may even go out of season) that's why it doesn't hurt to have some supplements handy. Usually mix in a dash or two of Vitamin/Anti-oxidant powder, and a D3/Calcium powder a once a week. Both can be purchased at your pet shop, and will cost around five to ten bucks each. Again though, if you have a healthy balanced diet it's not really necessary. Blueberries for example are a natural anti-oxidant, and egg/snail shells, figs, and collard greens are calcium enriched. Do not overdose on the fruit. It's an easy thing to do. Fruit contains more phosphorus than other foods, and if your skink began suffering from a phosphorus/calcium imbalance, it can lead to metabolic bone disease. Here is an excellent quote written by Edward Martinez that sums up my entire position on supplements: "Excessive amounts of any vitamin or mineral can lead to health problems, so I'd rather not chance it by adding artificial supplements that may be totally unnecessary. Focusing on a good diet is a much more effective way to insure proper nutrition for your BTS." The most common "oversupplementation" is indeed calcium powder. I have read that excessive calcium and vitamin D can actually de-calcify the bone, sending enough calcium into the bloodstream to calcify the soft tissue. Just think about this: Wouldn't one only supplement if their diet was inadequate? Afterall, the word "supplement" means to replace something that is otherwise missing. Feed a balanced diet, and you won't have anything missing. Again, it's much healthier than using artificial additives.
Picky Eaters :
It's very true that BT's prefer some foods and dislike others! Most all blue tongued skinks will seem a bit 'oligophagous' at times, which basically means they only seem interested in certain foods. It may get down right frustrating, but don't be fooled and don't give up. Be patient, and keep trying different things. If you purée vegetables into your cat food, this is a sneaky way to get them to eat their veggies. Try chopping up some collard greens in tiny pieces, chop some tomato bits, and mix it all in to the cat food. Most blue tongues also go crazy for scrambled eggs or banana, so be sure to give those a try. Some seem to eat everything in site, others are very picky. They do have certain tastes, and there are LOTS of different foods to try, so be creative, observant, and most important of all, varietal.
Warning! Many of us lift our skinks from behind so as their bodies are hanging head down. If they've recently taken a drink, the water could very well come back up.
This is something that individuals often seem to get carried away with. While "soaking" your BTS is not harmful, it is not always necessary. When a person feels his lizard's scratchy scales, often times the first thing that jumps to mind is: "Yikes, I better soak him!" Provide an adequately sized water source, and let him soak when he naturally feels the need to do it. He can keep his own system in check. It's just up to you to give him the tools he needs to do it. Remember, the terrarium is a SIMULATED environment meant to replicate the animal's true habitat. A tiny little water dish is just not sufficient.
Substrate always in the water bowl?
This seems to be a common problem with a lot of blue tongue owners. You fill up the bowl with fresh water, and in no time at all, the bluey has succeeded in filling it up with aspen or carefresh. Kelly McKinney (Tigergenesis) came up with a neat idea that completely resolves this issue. She created a miniature makeshift table that creates a hide space underneath, and the water bowl up on top. She uses a piece of kitchen tile with 4 thumb-sized PVC pipe legs and disguises them with fake plants. Here is a picture. This is a neat and creative way to make cool hides and keep clean water at the same time. Alternatively, you could simply keep the water bowl on top of a piece of tile. Here is a picture of Kelly's hide/water bowl:
Going on vacation :
Of course, we all like to get away for a week or two. The question is, what do we do with our precious pets? There are several common options. One would be to have a reliable friend stop by every other day to feed your animal. Your lights can be set on automatic timers. Remember to be sure your animal remains on its 12 hour photoperiod (light on at 9am, off at 9pm). Another option would be to board them out. Many pet stores offer this service on a day-to-day basis. If you're only going to be gone a few days, feeding your blue tongue a regular portion of food before you leave is fine. DO NOT leave water. Blue tongues are very hardy animals, and will be fine for just a few days. If you leave water, the chances of them defecating in it are high. Then when they drink it...bad news. Do not get a few days mixed up with a few weeks!They cannot go without water for weeks at a time. Remember to be sure you have automatic timers for your lights, and that they are working properly...proper light and day is more important than most people think. Be VERY cautious with timers however, whether you're on vacation or not. While handling your blue tongue, you will obviously remove the heat lamp from the top of the tank (if it is permanently hung, you have nothing to worry about), and place it temporarily on the floor, bed, chair or wherever. Be sure to place it back to its proper place! If the timer kicks in, and that lamp is on the carpet or somewhere else, you will have a real problem. Many people just slide the lid to the left or right to access the animal, and that is fine. Use caution doing this as well, and be sure to replace the lid immediately. If your heat lamp is turned on and gets positioned funny, it could very well melt the plastic edges of your tank creating an ugly and smelly mess.
Although not proven, I have come to believe that blue tongues find some type of ambient sounds comforting. Much like a dog, which in many books is described that a ticking clock, or radio should be left on for psychological reasons when they are alone. When we let our blue tongues roam, we always find them snuggled up asleep next to something that is emitting some type of noise or vibrations. We always run a sub-woofer very low when the television is on, and we often find him sleeping behind that (probably because of the soft vibrations). We have also found them sleeping behind the computer (soft hum from the cooling fan). Imagine them sitting in a room all day in absolute silence. I really think that this can sour their temperament because of the complete lack of stimulation. Not a sound all day, then when everyone comes home we've got chatter, television, doors opening and closing, pots and pans banging, and that can be quite a sudden shock when they've been sitting in silence for hours. The sudden change of constant movement from everybody can also make then uncomfortable. This is just something that we do personally, but we always leave a small waterfall going, a nature CD, or at least the radio. When you think about all the natural sounds they hear in the wild, we hate to leave them in utter silence when we're not at home. When you lay them on your chest, they also seem to enjoy the steady breathing. Again, this is just a theory that we have come to believe from experience. We've never read about it anywhere, or assume to push this theory on you.
Another perspective that supports this theory is their excitable reaction when you take them out of their cage. They often act incredibly stimulated, as if they have a new zest for life or haven't been out in years. This just goes to show how curious, attentive, and alert these creatures are to their surroundings, so any extra stimulation you give them while not at home (sounds for example) is an absolute plus in our opinion.
Taming or calming a feisty blue tongue can usually always be accomplished. There are always some animals however that just seem to have feisty personalities—usually only wild caught animals or Tanimbar/Kei subspecies. I would say the vast majority of captive bred babies that are handled regularly turn out to be very tame. I can't stress that fact enough: The more handling, interaction and time you spend with your animal, the better his temperament usually will be. And the earlier, the better. It's always best to try to get a baby, so you can bond and spend time with it from its very first months. There's nothing like raising a baby compared to getting an adult—there's absolutely nothing wrong with getting an adult though, of course, and there are people who prefer it.
Blue tongues usually hiss or even strike when scared or threatened. Your goal is to make them NOT scared. I know that sounds obvious, but think about it. Why are they hissing? Why are they biting? They are afraid of you, and not used to human contact (reason why most wild caughts are defensive). If YOU feel scared of your bluey because he is so defensive, consider beginning the handling wearing a pair of rawhide gloves. These gloves will not only protect you from bites, but also help protect your animal as well. If he is scared, he might nip at anything that's in front of him, and if he latched on to your hard knuckle, he could injure his mouth, or especially his tongue. This is especially risky for babies. Gloves also help with traction. It makes your hands much bigger, and their little claws can really grip the leather. Most blue tongues no matter how cranky, usually calm right down when handled though. Even if he's just a little hissy at first, once he's out, he'll likely act like a completely different animal.
I would begin by handling your animal right out in the open with people, television, and anything else he can come to expect. I know you're thinking that might give him a heart attack, but you don't want to start the calming process in a quiet enclosed bedroom because after he's doing great in there, and you want to take him out anywhere else, it's like training him all over again. So, get him used to every day activities with people around right away, otherwise you're just working backwards. I obviously wouldn't begin though with 30 daycare kids running wild in your living room, although if you have an adult from a pet store, he'd probably be used to that. Maybe just you, your wife or husband, a kid or two, and the sound from the television. Get him used to everything that he will see and hear on a regular basis. If you set him in a blanket with his head poking out, he will just watch everything going on, and take it all in. Also, try setting him on your lap, and stroke his head and back. If he tries to scurry away, do not rush your hands over to pick him up. Slowly place your hand in front of him, and let him walk onto your hand. When he does, lift up, and place him back onto your lap. When you go to do any kind of 'petting', be sure all your movements are very slow. Slowly, place your hand about four inches in front of him, and slowly outstretch a finger. Take that finger, and slowly move it directly toward his head. From here, you can rub the top of his head, or his chin. Do not sneak up behind him, and rub the back of his head and neck, it's actually better to keep your hands visible. No surprises. I know this will sound stupid, but talk cute to him! A familiar and friendly voice definitely makes a difference in my opinion. When I was first taming my feisty baby Tanimbars, I didn't say anything for about 10 minutes. Then I said something like, "hi boy", and he hunkered down, arched his back and hissed because it was a surprise to him. Don't let him burrow under a pillow as this doesn't help him get accustomed to anything. Be sure he's out and about seeing what's going on. If you leave him to go hide, he'll do just that; hide.
Bringing your animal outside :
Be extremely cautious taking your hissy animals outside (especially if you're new to it). While it's true that many animals act more defensive when taken outdoors, a scared animal may hightail it on out of there before you even know what's going on. Make sure you're comfortable picking up a feisty animal, because it won't be the same as chasing him around in his tank (where you can rest, and contemplate your next move), and he won't be easy to catch. Especially with his mouth gaping at you. Although they are generally regarded as slow and pokey, a spooked irate blue tongue can turn and move with astonishing reflexes and speed. So, just use caution when you place them outdoors, and avoid bushy and wooded areas, as you could possibly lose your pet forever. They are masters of hiding, and excellent diggers. They can even climb trees if the occasion called for it. Here's a quick shot of one of our adult BTS—he buried himself UNDER the grass. It took him about 15 seconds. This is just how quickly your animal can be out of sight. Watch them closely and never under any circumstances let them out of your sight.
Once your bluey is used to plenty of handling and interaction, it will become just a daily routine to him. Defecating, hissing and biting are all signs of being scared or nervous. Get them used to you, and they won't be nervous. If you avoid wild caught animals, mistreated/neglected animals etc, you will have nothing to worry about. And don't 'rescue' pet store reptiles! Rescuing a skink from a house with neglectful owners? Excellent. Rescuing a skink from a lowsy pet store? Bad choice. When you buy from a lowsy pet store, you are keeping them in business. They take your money, pay their bills with it, and also replace that sick skink you bought with ANOTHER sick skink. The cycle continues until the people decide enough is enough.
Escapes (losing your animal)
We have recently had several people come onto the forum worried sick about their lost skink. First off, if you know the general area of where they might be, try laying out several blankets in the middle of the floor. Blue tongues love to burrow and hide, and there's few things easier to burrow and hide in than a blanket. If you fear your skink is lost somewhere in your house, try laying down thin strips of foil, then pour flour VERY thinly across the foil. Place these strips strategically around your house, and wherever you see that the flour has been disturbed, your animal has been that way. You can even tell which direction he went (if he doesn't cross back over again) because blue tongues drag their entire bodies as they walk. Now, the smartest thing to do is confine the areas. Place the strips in bedrooms, and be 100% sure that the door is closed at all times. Then, if you see that your animal has crossed through the strip, you know that he's in that room somewhere. You also don't necessarily have to use flour...you could use virtually anything. One of the more traditional methods would be leaving food out, but it's also the most useless method since the skink would just eat, then get lost again (unless used in a confined bedroom, then if the food had been nibbled on, you would know that he was in that particular bedroom). Lastly, try creating a heat source of some kind with a heat pad.
Some common places to look for your animal if he's lost is under the stove or refrigerator, or even under and inside your furniture. Blueys can sometimes crawl underneath and up inside your couches in which case you will probably need to cut open the bottom of your couch (believe it or not, we once had to do just that). If you live in an old house that is full of open air ducts or holes, I'd have to say you're in trouble. If ever a skink has a chance to get outside, there's little to no chance of ever finding him again. If you realize soon enough though, you can quarantine off the area, call neighbors, and just basically search until you find him. HOLES are what you have to look out for. If a skink gets outside without your knowledge, or you lose him outside, the first thing he'll head for is cover. He obviously won't stay wide out in the open. Skink proof your house! We actually let our animals roam. The number one thing to be aware of is any nook or cranny that he might be able to squeeze into. We also have reclining couches, so essentially, there is no "inside" to our furniture.It's important to be careful when reclining however because of the moving parts (keep that in mind if you have recliners, as you obviously wouldn't want your skink under your chair while reclining).
Tips for preventing escape :
If you have a low tank, or there is any possibility that the animal could crawl out, be sure you have a lid that firmly attaches, and locks shut. I've seen blue tongues accomplish some ridiculous stunts, and climbing directly up the corner of their tank using their tail to its very tip is not outside their abilities (their tail is like a big muscle and they use it a lot more than one might think). Basically, if you have a 20 inch long blue tongue, he could very well climb out of a 20 inch tall enclosure (if it didn't have a lid). They use their nose, chins, tails, and even their wiry little arms to frantically and intensely accomplish what ever it is they have in mind. They're very persistent, and once they learn how to escape, they do not forget. They also have the ability to rear themselves directly up (front legs into the air) bending their back as if climbing up an invisible wall. I wouldn't have believed it had I not seen it. Just as it's important for a snake to have an attached lid, it's equally important for a blue tongued skink to have an attached lid. Keep it firmly locked at all times, and you won't have any escapes (many tanks these days come with optional padlock features). This will also keep any unruly kids from sneaking in and doing who knows what when you're not around. Remember, lids are important. BTS can climb nearly any type of surface (except glass) including screen (as in a screendoor), any type of chicken wire, wood (this includes trees and bark), etc. If you have an outdoor pen, BE SURE it's bluey proof! Here are two images; one showing a bigger screen (left), and the other a small screen (same as a screen door).
Letting your bluey roam :
Letting your animal roam around the house is a good way to give them some exercise and stimulate their senses. They often act as though they haven't been out in years, and act very excited and alert. Keep in mind however, that unless you really know what you're doing, this can be quite dangerous. Take note of these precautions. Be positive that no front or back doors, sliding patio doors, screen doors, windows, etc, are left open. Your skink will stroll right out and be gone forever. This is an easy thing that can happen, so really take notice. Keep your bluey's toenails short! Long toenails can become snagged and entangled in carpet fibers. Watch where you step. You wouldn't believe how many pet lizards have been killed this way considering how unavoidable it is. Remember, we don't advise anyone letting their animals roam unless they truly possess knowledge and experience. Lastly, don't leave little "things" around the floor that could be consumed. Check under couches, stoves, refrigerators, under cupboards in apartments, dining room tables, coffee tables, behind entertainment centers, subwoofer holes; anywhere your skink might go. You don't want him finding marbles, coins, toys, small game pieces, or even old food and eating it. We recently had a firsthand experience when a lady from our forum wrote in about a shocking story that recently occurred. This woman's skink found and ate an EIGHT INCH long camera wrist cord. The skink grew incredibly sick, and the symptoms were a total mystery as the cord did not show up in x-rays. Incredibly, the skink (named Popsicle) passed the cord out, and is alive and well today. Here is the original story:
Last night, Popsicle had his first real movement since this entire illness thing began. At first glance, the feces were in a long, thin, spiral formation. I immediately thought that there was a giant worm in his feces. I put on a pair of rubber gloves and removed the poop from his tank. I immediately noticed that the poop was very hard and could not be broken. When I looked closer, it looked like a piece of cord was underneath all the feces. I started to pick away all the feces, and I was very shocked to find the cord that attaches to my camera (that we have never used). At some point, probably when he was under the couch, Popsicle had swallowed the entire 8 inch circular loop that attaches to my camera. I have no idea why or even how he managed to eat the cord. Maybe it looked like a gigantic silkworm. I still can't believe that he ate it, and I didn't notice! I also can't believe that he managed to pass the entire cord. That should've killed him. The finding really upset me and had me shaken up greatly. I ended up sick to my stomach. My husband managed to snap a picture of the cord, and I'll post it later. It's really unbelievable that Popsicle is still alive. He's doing exceptionally well. He has enormous amounts of energy, and he's eating like a pig. I am very lucky, and I will never let Popsicle out of my sight again. No more going under the couch!!
Releasing animals into the wild
While on the subject of losing your animal outdoors, I'd like to mention releasing your animal outdoors. And yes, I'm talking about deliberately. Believe it or not, there is an amazing number of nonsensical and naive people out there. When their child becomes bored with his or her pet, some parents seem to think that it's logical to "return the animal to its natural habitat"—or even worse—"the animal will be happier or better off". Friends, beside the fact of this being completely insane and incredibly reckless and irresponsible, you've basically sentenced the animal to death. In rare cases, the animal can even multiply; killing off and endangering the native fauna and generally throwing the entire natural ecosystem out of wack. There are several documented cases of this occurring with turtles, and there are hundreds of thousands of WILD Iguanas destroying the vegetation in Florida. Think Iguanas are native to Florida? Think again. Please...if you're tired of taking care of your kid's pet, or the animal grew larger than you expected (which shouldn't be the case if you did the necessary research and made a responsible decision in acquiring the animal in the first place), then please find it a loving home where someone else can enjoy it. You may even make a few bucks. It's better than leaving the animal to die which is the epitome of culpable negligence.
Adding to your collection...
Once you have your first blue tongued skink, it's very likely you will buy more! It's a good idea to quarantine your new animal anywhere from 1-3 months. This number can be adjusted according to how healthy your animals are, and how trustworthy your seller is. When buying from strangers, you never know exactly what sort of conditions your new animal may have been subjected to, and you don't want to contaminate your other animals. What is clean and acceptable to somebody else, may not be clean and acceptable to you. So, just keep him in a separate room, and don't let him have contact with your other animals until you're sure he's a-ok! This is a good guideline for any new reptile.
Something every blue tongue owner has probably encountered at one time or another is "hissing". The majority of "hissing" is actually not hissing at all. It's just hard and fast exhaling through the nostrils. Most blue tongues will not hiss much at all, and if they do, it's only when you reach in to pick them up. "Displaying" is when your animal opens up his mouth and displays his tongue in an intimidating manner. This is done when the animal feels threatened or scared.
Blue tongues like any reptile, are capable of a pretty painful bite. Unless your's is unusually aggressive though, they seldom do. Sometimes they can get irritable, so if they warn you by opening their mouth (which is also uncommon unless they're cranky), or flashing their tongue in an intimidating manner, it's best to leave them be. Some wild caught animals may always be like this, in which case you should handle them regardless. A hard bite from an adult can definitely break the skin although that is rare unless you have one seriously angry or scared animal. To treat a wound, simply cleanse with antiseptic, apply triple antibiotic (Neosporin), and bandage. Salmonella is a very rare thing with blue tongues. If I were bit, I wouldn't worry about it in the slightest, but would definitely be more circumspect about my handling techniques!
If you look carefully, or lift the lip of your skink, you will see little "bumps" or ridges. These hard little 'knobs' are what a skink uses to grind its food and also inflict the painful bite you may have experienced. Depending on the animal, you will probably see small to medium sized rows of little bumps lining each side of the inside of the mouth. If you are bitten, this is why you see the rainbow or circle shaped series of dots on your skin.
(Written by Kelly McKinney)
All reptiles (heck, all animals) have the potential to carry salmonella. It is not harmful to them, but can be to us. But it takes an awful lot of the bacteria to affect us slightly (diarrhea, etc) and a ton to affect us seriously. It is transmitted via direct contact with feces, or through contact with something that has been contaminated with the feces of an infected animal. While it can be transmitted via open cuts, etc, the amount needed to cause any problems is extreme - you're more likely to get it from ingesting contaminated feces or something that came in contact with contaminated feces. So, basically (1) your reptile would have to have salmonella (they cannot have it one week and then have it the next) and (2) you'd have to eat their feces or touch something that came in contact with the contaminated feces and then eat that object - again you'd have to eat enough of it.
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