The red-eyed crocodile skink is known, as much for the orange color around its eyes, as for its similarity to an infant crocodile or alligator. If you are thinking about getting one, then don’t miss this PetPonder article. It tells you all that you will need to know about red-eyed crocodile skink care.
Some scientists believe that the red-eyed crocodile skink is the missing link between modern reptiles and dinosaurs.
The red-eyed crocodile skink is a species native to the humid tropical forests on the islands of New Guinea and Indonesia. It is a brownish-black lizard, about 7″ to 10″ long, with a cream-colored belly, and an orange circle surrounding the eyes which gives it its name. It has three rows of spiky projections running along its spine.
This lizard was virtually unknown until 1994, when some specimens were imported from the Indonesian island of Irian Jaya. Even today, very little is known about its life in the wild, since it is a rare species. What is known though, is that it is a shy animal, which spends the day hiding underneath forest litter, and comes out at night to hunt for snails and insects, but will also consume flowers and fruits if available. Despite this, in captivity, it is mostly fed with insects.
The males are much larger than the females. It is known as Tribolonotus gracilis in the scientific community, but has many other common names too, like the orange-eyed crocodile skink, red-eyed bush crocodile skink, armored skink, and helmeted skink. Despite its scaly appearance and creepy reputation of being a reptile, the gentle nature of this lizard has earned it a share of followers. It is rare in the pet market, and efforts to carry out large-scale breeding are still in their infancy. Instructions on how to take care of a red-eyed crocodile skink follow.
The red-eyed crocodile skink does not require frequent handling. One should always hold it delicately, without pinching or squeezing it. It tends to leap out of the hands when not held carefully, and can fall to its death. It may bite if it feels threatened, though it prefers to freeze or even ‘play dead’ in such a case.
It needs an enclosure which is at least 18″ long × 30″ wide × 15″ high. To set up an enclosure, use a tank of around 10 to 20 gallons in capacity, though 20 gallons is recommended. The rule is to provide a space of 10 gallons for each skink. The enclosure should be divided into a warm area and a cool area. It can be placed in partial sunlight for basking, as strong sunlight can dry out the enclosure. Add some wood or twigs, as these animals, being arboreal, enjoy climbing on them to bask in light, and this can also lower their stress level.
These skinks are fossorial by nature, which means that they enjoy burrowing and digging. For this purpose, fill the bottom of the enclosure with a 2″ – 4″ layer of cypress mulch, which has the added advantage of conserving moisture. Alternately, you can use a mixture of medium aquarium pebbles and Eco earth. These animals also enjoy staying immersed in water for short periods, for which, you can create a pond with a bowl of water. However, the water level should be such that it should allow the skink to stay immersed without drowning in it, which can occur in deeper water.
Make sure to provide suitable ‘hides’ in the cage, which is nothing but an enclosed area where the skink can lie concealed. Several ‘hides’ are available in the market, such as the Exo Terra Snake Cave. Using a screen cover to close the top is generally not recommended, as it leads to moisture loss. But if using it, seal a portion of it to maintain a decent level of humidity.
The enclosure should be cleaned at least once a week or two, depending on how many individuals are housed in it. The cypress mulch should be replaced once a week, to remove any litter dropped by the skink. Transfer the skink to an alternate enclosure while cleaning. Also, replace the water in the bowl daily, as the skink may defecate in it, which can spread pathogens. Make sure to mist the cage regularly.
Humidity is the most important factor of a skink’s enclosure. Spray warm water every day, and use a terrarium fogger or humidifier to maintain an adequate level of moisture. One can also use a pesticide mister with a capacity of 1 – 2 gallons. Also, keep a hygrometer in the enclosure to monitor the humidity level, which should be maintained between 70% to 95%. Growing terrarium plants will also help conserve moisture.
The temperature in the warm area of the enclosure should be between 80 to 85ºF, though 82ºF is ideal. Additionally, the basking area should have a temperature of around 89ºF. The temperature in the cool zone should be maintained at around 75ºF. Heating can be achieved by providing a 24-hour light-less heat source in the enclosure. One can use a basking heat lamp along with a fluorescent tube, such as ReptiSun 5.0 or Exo Terra 10.0. Using a full spectrum light (UVA/UVB) is also beneficial. Always use a thermostat and keep a thermometer, at both, the warm and cool areas, to monitor the temperature.
Using a night-time heating source is generally not required, unless the temperature plummets, which can occur in winter. In such cases, ceramic emitters or infrared lamps should be used. Do not use heating rocks, as they may malfunction and overheat, which can cause serious, even fatal burns. These skinks prefer overhead heating sources, like the sun, so using undertank heaters is not recommended. The temperature at night should not go below 72ºF. Lighting should be modified to synchronize with the day and night patterns of the skink. In the summers, the lights should be kept on longer in the day, as compared to winters.
These skinks are insectivorous, which means that they prefer to eat live insects. Feeder insects, which have been gut-loaded with a high quality gut-load for insects, should be given. These include earthworms, large crickets, freshly-molted mealworms, superworms, silkworms, butterworms, and occasional waxworms, as they have a high fat content. Drop the insect directly inside the enclosure, and the skink will find it for itself. Well-grown adults can sometimes be given a pinkie mouse, but keep this to a minimum. Young skinks should be fed daily, while adults every other day.
It is recommended to dust the feeder insects with vitamin and mineral powders. Provide a non-phosphorus calcium supplement at least once a week, and in case of an egg-laying female, a daily dose is recommended. A multivitamin supplement should be given once a week, though vitamin-dusted worms can be given on alternate days as well. Dusting is recommended thrice a week for juveniles, and once a week for adults.
The red-eyed crocodile skink is shy by nature, and prefers to spend the day in hiding, even in captivity. It rushes to hide whenever any movement is seen outside its enclosure. It is crepuscular, which means, it is mostly active during dawn and dusk. Two males or two females should advisably not be kept in a common enclosure, as males tend to fight each other over territory, while females do so for good nesting sites.
You can keep one male and one or many females in one enclosure, though this may lead to breeding. This skink can emit squawking sounds when it is distressed; a rare ability in lizards. It sounds like a high-pitched bark. They generally run for cover or freeze on the spot when in danger, though they are known to bite too sometimes.
When a breeding pair is kept in a common enclosure, the female lays eggs once every 5 weeks. She buries them in the substrate and guards them until they hatches, which takes around 60 – 65 days. Maintaining a temperature around 76ºF is recommended for the eggs to incubate well. Red-eyed crocodile skinks take good care of both, eggs and juveniles, and are even known to ‘bark’ when their infants are in danger. On hatching, the juveniles are around 2″ to 3″ in length, and can weigh as little as 3 grams.
The young skinks should be fed with small insects like crickets and waxworms, and with larger insects like mealworms as they grow bigger. Several juveniles can be kept together, though only until they reach sexual maturity, which is when they may fight each other. The young skinks stay with their mother for 3 or 4 years. They can make loud sounds when in danger or when startled. The exact lifespan of these skinks is not clear, but they have been observed to live for more than 10 years in captivity, though the maximum recorded lifespan has been 12 years.
Though the red-eyed crocodile skink is a hardy species, improper care can be detrimental to its health. Since most of the specimens available are captured in the wild, they may carry parasites. This can be ascertained by a fecal examination carried out by a vet who specializes in reptile care. One more thing is, if the humidity level in the enclosure drops too low, then it can cause eye infections in the skink, which can lead to orbital dislocation and even death, if not diagnosed early.
The bottom line is, the red-eyed crocodile skink has a unique ability to climb, swim, and burrow. It should be provided with a humid habitat, where it can indulge in these activities.