Classification and Range
Common blue-tongued skinks belong to a family containing over 600 species of lizards, Scincidae. Together they are members of the genus Tiliqua, a group of six species of large blue-tongued skinks that are found in Australia and eastern Indonesia.
Two subspecies of the common blue-tongued skink live in Australia: eastern blue-tongued skink (Tiliqua scincoides scincoides) and northern blue-tongued skink (Tiliqua scincoides intermedia). The eastern blue-tongued skink, the subspecies that can be seen at Woodland Park Zoo, is native to southeastern South Australia through Victoria, to eastern New South Wales and throughout most of Queensland. The northern blue-tongued skink ranges from Queensland to northwestern Western Australia.
The eastern blue-tongued skink can be found in coastal and montane woodlands and forests, to less arid parts of the Australia's interior.
The common blue-tongued skink is one of the larger blue-tongued skinks. The eastern blue-tongued skink can reach a snout to tail tip length of 22 inches (56 cm), but averages about 17 inches (45 cm).
Average weight is about 10-18 ounces (283-510 gr). The northern blue-tongued skink tends to be larger than the eastern blue-tongued skink.
Up to 20 years
In the wild: Common blue-tongued skinks are omnivores and feed on a variety of animal and plant materials including insects, snails, flowers, fruits and berries At the zoo: Greens, fruit, mealworms, crickets and canned dog food (the older/obese dog formula that contains less fat and protein)
About 50% of skink species lay eggs; the others bear live young. The majority of those that bear live young carry eggs internally which are hatched just before the young leave their mother’s body. Blue-tongued skinks carry shell-less membrane-enclosed “egg” sacs internally, which rupture and “hatch” as the sacs are expelled from the mother’s body.
Blue-tongued skinks, however, have a more elaborate placenta-like structure which supplies the developing embryos with oxygen and carries away carbon dioxide. The embryos of all reptiles derive their sustenance from the yolks of their eggs or sacs, whether they are born live or hatch from eggs.
Females normally give birth to about 10 live young, but can produce up to 25 young in a litter. Newly hatched young average 4 inches (10 cm) in length and weigh about .5 ounce (14 gr). If they can find enough to eat, they grow very quickly; babies raised at Woodland Park Zoo reached adult size in less than one year.
Don't Tail on Me!
The common blue-tongued skink is a diurnal, ground-dwelling lizard. It has a broad, flat body, short limbs and tail, and smooth, overlapping scales which help to keep out dirt, sand and other debris. The smaller subspecies, the eastern blue-tongued skink, is pale silvery-gray to brown on top, with a series of irregular, dark brown cross bands on the upper surface of the body and tail. The cross bands frequently have small, white, dark-edged spots. The larger subspecies, the northern blue-tongued skink, is darker brown on top, usually with pale cross band markings on its back.
The common blue-tongued skink spends the majority of its day searching the ground for food and basking in the sun. At night it seeks shelter in logs, leaf litter or other ground debris. Although a normally shy and docile animal, when disturbed it will stand its ground and present a formidable appearance. Puffing up its broad, flat body, it can transform itself into a larger, more threatening opponent. Opening its bright, pink mouth and thrusting out a startling blue tongue, it will emit a loud hiss. Although a blue-tongued skink has no well defined teeth, it is capable of a powerful and painful bite, and will tenaciously hang on to its adversary. A blue-tongued skink can make a hasty retreat, and if grabbed from the rear by a predator will shed its tail. The lost portion of the tail will eventually grow back.
Location at the Zoo
Blue-tongued skinks can be seen in the Day Exhibit, and are also often used for educational “hands-on” presentations for zoo visitors.
Blue-tongued skinks are one of the most popular pet lizards in Australia. This is due to their gentle disposition, longevity, overall beauty and ease of care. Wild populations of blue-tongued skinks remain stable. This cannot be said, however, for many wild reptile species. Many species of snakes, lizards, crocodiles and turtles are removed from the wild for the pet trade or are killed to make products for sale. As a result, many reptiles are endangered or are declining rapidly.
Reptiles as Pets
We do not recommend reptiles as pets for most people as they require very specialized diets and environments. We also receive hundreds of requests each year to take former pet iguanas, boas and other reptiles but we cannot accept these due to space, health and unknown backgrounds. If you need to find a reptile or amphibian a new home, we suggest you contact a local herpetological group in your area.
In the Puget Sound region, contact the Pacific Northwest Herpetological Society as a resource. If you do choose to get a reptile as a pet, please learn as much as possible about their care and the best species before making your decision and never accept wild-caught animals as pets or release non-native reptiles or amphibians into the wild.
How You Can Help!
The effort to save endangered species requires cooperation and support at the international, national, regional and individual levels. You can help in this cause. Join and become active in Woodland Park Zoo and other conservation organizations of your choice. Don't buy products made from wild animal parts and buy only captive-bred reptiles as pets.
Contact Woodland Park Zoo at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out other ways you can support conservation programs at the zoo. Discover more about lizards and other reptiles by contacting the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles at 303 W. 39th St., PO Box 626, Hays, KS 67601. Learn other ways you can help conserve wildlife and the habitats they require for survival by visiting our How You Can Help page.
Sources and Suggested Reading
Burton, Maurice. 1984. Encyclopedia of Reptiles, Amphibians & Other Cold-Blooded Animals. BPC Publishing Ltd., San Sebastian, Spain. 252 p.
Cogger, Harold G. 1992. Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY. 775 p.
Matero, Robert. 1993. Reptiles (Eyes on Nature Series). Kidsbooks, Inc., Chicago, IL. 29 p.
Morris, Joshua. 1995. A Look Inside Reptiles. Reader's Digest Young Families, Inc., China. 19 p.