What Is a Blue-Tailed Skink?

L. Baran
L. Baran
Though the tail of the blue-tailed skink is indeed blue, its body is black with yellow stripes.
Though the tail of the blue-tailed skink is indeed blue, its body is black with yellow stripes.

The blue-tailed skink is a type of lizard native to Australia. As its name suggests, this small reptile features a striking blue tail at the end of a dark brown or black body. Skinks are active during the day and are able to tolerate a wide range of temperatures. Their scientific name is Cryptoblepharus egeriae.

While native to Australia's Christmas Island, these skinks are now found throughout Australia, New Zealand, Fuji and Indonesia. They also inhabit the Solomon Islands, New Guinea, Micronesia and many parts of the United States. Their preferred habitats are low level vegetation and plantations with some tree cover; while most types of skink make their homes at ground level, some will also choose a hole in a tree. The diet of this exotic lizard consists mainly of small insects, such as crickets, grasshoppers, worms and ants. These insects are generally quite easy to find amongst the vegetation and small trees where blue-tailed skinks make their homes.

Blue-tailed skinks often eat crickets.
Blue-tailed skinks often eat crickets.

The back of the blue-tailed skink has three distinct yellow stripes. One possible reason for the location and color of these stripes is that they may cause predators to direct their eyes to the bright blue tail, perhaps preventing a fatal attack to the lizard's body. As the blue-tailed skink ages, its striking colors may begin to fade or become less prominent. Male lizards may feature some red markings around the head area, while females tend to have little to no red coloring.

Blue-tailed skinks are found throughout Australia, New Zealand, Fuji, and Indonesia.
Blue-tailed skinks are found throughout Australia, New Zealand, Fuji, and Indonesia.

The average length of the blue-tailed skink is 1.5 to 2.4 inches (4 to 6 cm) from head to tail, although some may be quite larger than this. An interesting and unique feature of the striking blue tail is that it can be temporarily discarded by the lizard in a dangerous situation to distract a predator. The tail will continue to move as the skink itself scurries to safety, and should ultimately grow back. Most skinks make their homes in holes and tunnels that can be easily reached if predators are threatening.

Blue-tailed skinks make popular pets for those looking for a more exotic lizard. Caring for this type of reptile requires a moderate degree of knowledge and some specialized equipment. The temperature and humidity of the skink's environment must be carefully controlled, and access to appropriate food and water sources is essential. Skinks do not tend to tolerate much handling, and this is particularly true of the blue-tailed variety as their tails are very sensitive. The estimated life span for a skink in captivity is approximately ten years.

Fossil History of the Blue Tailed Skink

The blue tailed skink known taxonomically as Cryptoblepharus egeriae. The Cryptoblepharus family is one of several families of skinks and skink-like reptiles and currently comprises 53 species. Although many skinks are similar in appearance, possessing small bodies, relatively short legs, and thick necks, their behaviors and bodies can vary significantly. The largest in the world, the Solomon Islands skink, can grow up to 72 centimeters in length.

The first skink-like lizards appeared in the fossil record approximately 140 million years ago during the Cretaceous period, making them older by far than many of the best-known dinosaurs, such as tyrannosaurus rex. To put this figure into perspective, reptiles emerged as a distinct group around 315 million years ago. Lizards came about around 240 million years ago.

While many early lizards quickly occupied niches that required considerable size and bulk, skinks retained their relatively small bodies. At the cost of occasionally falling prey to larger animals, they used their speed, agility, and camouflage to hunt insects efficiently. Even early lizards likely used cover and concealment to safely escape and avoid larger, more powerful reptiles. Many species specialized in digging beneath the earth and tasting the air for potential threats with their tongues.

Unfortunately, small lizards are relatively uncommon in the fossil record. This is probably because their bodies tend to decay rapidly, leaving little room for conditions favorable to fossilization to occur. The Discovery of a new skink species, therefore, often provokes a lot of enthusiasm in academic circles. A 25 million-year-old find in Australia, for example, garnered international media attention as the oldest known skink fossil in the continent.

Which Skink Is Blue Tailed?

Rather confusingly, there are at least seven species that are commonly referred to as blue tailed skinks, four of which can be found in Africa, two of which are endemic to Australia and East Asia, and one of which is a common American form. Because of its extreme endangered status, however, the most important for conservation is Cryptoblepharus egeriae, the Australian form.

Interestingly Cryptoblepharus egeriae were once prevalent throughout Christmas Island but were inadvertently brought to the brink of extinction by accidentally introduced Southeast Asian wolf snakes. Today, Sydney 's Taronga Zoo manages a small population of the tiny lizards, who were officially deemed to be extinct in the wild for over ten years.

Recently, however, approximately 300 skinks were released onto a tiny island in the Cocos Island of Costa Rica. Since their introduction, the animals are believed to be doing well and the reintroduction program responsible for their translocation is being praised as a model for captive breeding and preservation. Only time, however, can say whether the efforts will ultimately prove successful.

Importantly, the story of the Australian species illustrates how devastating non-native species can be when introduced to a new habitat. Since the non-native predators responsible for the egeriae's hardships still persist throughout Chrismas Island, reintroducing the endangered lizards would almost certainly fail.

While wolf snakes have been blamed for the blue tailed skink's downfall on Christmas Island, the island's land area is becoming increasingly developed by humans. This might well have removed vital refuges from the desperate lizards.

Despite having a mostly negligible footprint on their ecosystems, the presence of skinks may be a good indicator of the health of an area. All skinks, regardless of their birthplace are especially prone to predation by foreign species. Though some possess better protections against predatory mammals, birds, and snakes than others, it is always difficult to predict how a native species will fare in response to a significant change in its environment.

How To Care for a Pet Skink

Like many other reptiles, skinks are fairly inexpensive to care for. Unlike snakes, however, they need to eat frequently. Should you choose to own one, you must prepare to provide meals daily.

Because all reptiles are cold-blooded, you must allow your skink 12 to 14 hours of light daily using a UVB fluorescent bulb and an incandescent bulb for heat-basking. Heat one end of the containment area to 32 degrees Celsius, or 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and the other end to 24 degrees Celsius, or 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

Crickets, mealworms, and waxworms are all acceptable food sources, though a mixture of each provides the best combination of nutrients. To supplement additional nutrients, add calcium every day and a mineral supplement every week.

Caring for a reptile requires prior knowledge, so you should do your best to educate yourself before taking on the responsibility. A well-prepared terrarium can mean the difference between a safe, happy skink, and a miserable, short-lived one, so be sure to provide perches, hiding places, clean bedding, and accessible food and water.

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    • Though the tail of the blue-tailed skink is indeed blue, its body is black with yellow stripes.
      Though the tail of the blue-tailed skink is indeed blue, its body is black with yellow stripes.
    • Blue-tailed skinks often eat crickets.
      By: viter
      Blue-tailed skinks often eat crickets.
    • Blue-tailed skinks are found throughout Australia, New Zealand, Fuji, and Indonesia.
      By: lesniewski
      Blue-tailed skinks are found throughout Australia, New Zealand, Fuji, and Indonesia.