Description and Distribution

Blue-tongue skinks are a genus of lizards of which several different species are members, the two most common of which are the common blue-tongue (Tiliqua scincoides) and the giant New Guinea blue-tongue (Tiliqua gigas). They live in Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea.

The defining physical characteristic of a blue-tongue skink is (surprise!) its big, broad, blue tongue. The lizard uses the tongue to smell, much like snakes and monitor lizards, sampling the air for molecules that are then analyzed by the animal's Jacobson organ. The tongue also serves as a peculiar defense: If frightened, the lizard's usual reaction is to simply open its broad mouth and reveal its bright blue tongue. The bright pink of its mouth offset with the blue tongue makes predators think the lizard is poisonous, making them think twice before trying to make a feast out of the skink. In reality, though, blue-tongue skinks are peaceful and utterly non-toxic. They are heavily-built, robust lizards with thick bodies, wide heads, tiny limbs and short tails. The distinct triangular, snake-like features of the skinks' heads makes them look somewhat like overweight snakes with tiny legs. They are covered in large scales, usually brown or grey in colour, and crossed with darker bands. The skinks live in open woodlands, fields and semi-desert areas.

Diet

Most are omnivorous, and feed on wildflowers, berries, fallen fruits, spiders, snails, slugs, insects, and the occasional small mammal. Some species of blue-tongue skink live well on a purely vegetarian diet, whereas a purely carnivorous diet will result in bad, bad diseases, malnutrition and possibly death (many pet stores mistakenly tell buyers of captive-bred blue-tongues that they are insectivores or carnivores). They subsist mainly on plant-based foods, and the lazy lizards don't actually go hunting, instead eating animals if one of a suitable size comes by and the lizard is hungry.

Behaviour

Like green iguanas and water dragons, blue-tongue skinks are well-suited as pets, at least as far as reptiles go. While they have extremely strong jaws that are theoretically capable of crushing or possibly amputating a human finger, they are quite peaceful and do not attack anything that isn't a lot smaller than themselves. As the gigas doesn't grow to sizes over about 70 cm, this makes them completely harmless to humans. If treated well and often handled (but, as always with reptiles, not too often), they can eventually grow contact-seeking to a degree uncommon among lizards. Blue-tongue skinks can be safely handled by small children (with supervision, of course), a trait uncommon among captive lizards. Even in nature, blue-tongue skinks are notoriously non-agressive, Australian children reputedly sometimes catch them in the wild without the lizards protesting being handled. They are not well-suited for roaming free like iguanas and water dragons, however; they are terrible climbers, and the floors of human dwellings are not good environments for any reptile -- the typical apartment floor is climatically similar to a dry, cold, dusty desert, and no reptiles ever thrived in such a place. Pitfalls that the wannabe skink keeper should be aware of: The animals have very poor eyesight (relying primarily on their sense of smell), so if they are used to occasionally eating worms or pinky mice, anything that is pink and wriggly (like, say, a human finger wriggled to get the lizard's attention) may look like food.

Blue-tongue skinks are one of the rare species of lizards which bear live young, a typical litter ranging between 15-20 little skinks. Newborn skinks look like tiny adults, and they can fend for themselves from birth (quite fortunate, since their mother will abandon them shortly after giving birth).