Socializing Indonesian Blue-tongued Skinks

Let’s face it, the majority of bluetongue skinks in the pet trade today are bluetongue skinks (or subspecies) imported from Indonesia. This could mean that the unsuspecting buyer expecting the easy-to-handle, captive-bred blue-tongued skink ends up with a hissing, lonely, defensive animal that they are not prepared for. Although the animal may never calm down to the point of being a captive bred blue-tongued skink, we can “socialize” this blue to the point that handling does not put as much stress on the animal.

By socializing, I really mean getting the skink used to human contact so that when it’s needed (or the human caretaker wants) it won’t be stressed. Stress causes many problems for reptiles in captivity. From illnesses, to not eating, to just putting them in a really bad mood. So really, when working with most wild-caught reptiles, taking steps similar to this can help them adjust to life in captivity.

The first thing to always remember is to remain calm. It can be quite a task working with an animal that is deathly afraid of you and just wants to run away. It can also be intimidating when a blue-tongued skink opens its mouth, threatens to bite you, and hisses. They may bite you and you have to accept it. Trust me, when it comes to Blue Tongue Skinks, the thought of being bitten is far more painful than the bite itself. Anyway, 99% of the time they’re just bluffing, and as soon as you get close to them, they stop bluffing and try to run away.

Okay, now that you’ve gotten over your fears of the not-so-terrible bluish bite… Well, what’s next? Patience. This is not going to be an easy task. This bluey was caught (or bred) and sent to a pet store. He probably doesn’t trust humans. So it’s going to be a slow and steady process.

This is where I would start. Sleep in a t-shirt for a few days (make sure you don’t wear perfume or deodorant beforehand, take a shower if you have one) and then tie the openings so the skink can’t get in. Put this in your enclosure and leave it there. It will hide under your shirt, lay on top of it, and begin to associate your scent with safety and security.

Then I would go to manual feeding. The title of that is self explanatory, removing the bits of food by hand. If the animal is too afraid to try, don’t force it. Just let him eat by himself and try again the next time you feed him, he’ll figure it out eventually.

Once the Bluey allows you to pick it up with just a little whistle and no gawking, start the driving sessions. He just lets the skink walk on you and explore. Start for the first week by keeping them very short, about five minutes. The second week increases up to ten minutes. Week three goes up to fifteen. Once the skink is comfortable in the fifteen minute handling range, it should be ready to continue for longer. However, remember that the skink still needs the warmth and UVB lighting in their enclosure, so don’t leave them out for too long.

Remember, you will have good days and bad days. One day you may think you’ve made real progress and then the next the bluey could be right back where you started. They will come, you just need to take the time to do it!

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