Enclosure: Size & Substrate

Terrarium Size

An adult blue tongue skink requires minimum 6-8 ft of floor space. Most people house their skinks in 36”x18”x18” glass terrariums, also known as 40-gallon breeder-style tanks, although some argue that a 48″x24″x18″ enclosure is a more suitable minimum. Skinks are extremely active and love to explore, so bigger is better.

Front-opening enclosures are considered best for skinks. Since there’s no screen on top, they don’t dry out easily, which is important because humidity is essential for shedding and general health. They are strong and clever, so whether you’re using a front- or top-opening cage, it must be securely latched to prevent escape.

Skink enclosures are generally made of wood, glass, or melamine.

  • Wood: Holds heat well, but stain prone and tends to mold in high humidity. Must be chemically treated. Avoid pine and cedar.
  • Glass: Attractive and easy to clean. But is heavy and holds heat poorly. Must be covered on 3 sides to help the skink feel secure.
  • Melamine: Holds heat well, easy to clean. Overall best choice.

Never house more than one skink per enclosure. I promise s/he will not get lonely! But if possible, position the enclosure in a relatively mainstream area of house where s/he can watch you. Skinks like to watch you just as much as you like to watch them!

Substrate Options

“Substrate” is another word for bedding. Blue tongue skinks are burrowing lizards, so they require 4-6 inches of deep, soft, loose substrate. But which kind of substrate you need depends on your type of skink. Australian species need dry substrates, and Indonesian species need humid substrates.

Dry:

  • Paper towels
  • Aspen shavings
  • Untreated topsoil
  • Do not use: Pine shavings, CareFresh rodent bedding, sand

Humid:

  • Cypress mulch
  • Sugar cane mulch
  • Sphagnum moss
  • Coconut fiber or husk
  • Untreated (organic) topsoil
  • Do not use: Cedar or pine mulch, peat moss 

Bioactive Substrate

Bioactive substrate can be used for both Australian and Indonesian type skinks. While traditional housing depends on the keeper for maintenance, bioactive setups are self-sustaining, miniature ecosystems. So a bioactive substrate needs more than just one or two components; it has layers. For example, a humid bioactive substrate might include untreated topsoil, cypress mulch, leaf litter, and moss over a drainage layer of gravel.

What makes this work is the “cleanup crew,” or bugs. They clean up uneaten food, fallen leaves, and fecal remains, making bioactive substrates incredibly low maintenance. All you need to do is wipe off the glass and remove large pieces of waste.  Also, skinks enjoy digging up the bugs and snacking on them, so they make excellent mental stimulation as well.

Springtails and isopods (wood lice) make a good starter cleanup crew. For details on going bioactive, join Reptile and Amphibian Bioactive Setups on Facebook. Be sure to read the group files before asking questions.


Next → Temperature & Humidity Requirements