Brumation is the reptile version of hibernation, lasting about 3-4 months each year, typically around fall or winter. Generally speaking, in the wild, this enables them to survive the cooler winter, when both food and heat are scarce.
Blue tongue skinks naturally occur both in temperate and tropical regions, which means that some species (temperate) normally undergo annual brumation, while others (tropical) don’t.
Tropical species that don’t normally brumate are:
- T. scincoides chimaera
- T. scincoides intermedia
- T. gigas gigas
- T. gigas evanescens
- T. ssp. (Irian Jaya)
In captivity, tropical blue tongue skink species should not be forced to brumate, although they may brumate as an instinctive reaction to your local weather if you live in a temperate climate with significant weather changes between summer and winter. Brumation for tropical species can last 1-4 months.
Temperate species that usually brumate are:
- T. multifasciata
- T. nigrolutea
- T. occipitalis
- T. rugosa
- T. scincoides scincoides
In captivity, temperate blue tongue skinks species should be encouraged to brumate, as annual brumation is vital to their long-term health. Brumation should last about 4-6 months for best results with temperate species — check the weather patterns in their native habitat for more specific information about how long they should be brumated.
Most resources say that reptiles under 1 year old should not brumate, but know that skinks as young as 7 months old may attempt to brumate. If this is the case for your skink, make sure they are well prepared to survive the process (which means take them to an experienced reptile vet for a general examination and parasite check). If they’re healthy, then let them brumate. If not, work with your vet.
Preparing Your Blue Tongue Skink for Brumation
Brumation should start in late autumn and will likely last until late winter/early spring. These are the signs that your blue tongue skink is preparing to brumate:
- reduced appetite/not eating at all
- not basking
- hiding a lot
- grumpy attitude
1) Stop feeding. When it’s time for your skink to brumate, the first thing you should do is stop feeding it for about 2 weeks before you turn off the heat. This may seem cruel, but this is essential to successful brumation. Reptiles can’t digest their food without heat, so when you stop feeding your skink, you give its body a chance to empty itself out. Otherwise, the food will rot inside its digestive tract as the skink sleeps, poisoning your pet.
2) Reduce daylight. After 1 week of nonfeeding, change your light schedule to only 6 hours/day. This helps signal a change in season and also helps your skink start to feel sleepy.
3) Turn down the heat. After the 2 week “emptying period,” reduce your skink’s basking temperature. If you have a tropical species, reduce it to about 80°F. If you have a temperate species, you can turn the heat off entirely. Leave any heatless light sources (ex: UVB, LEDs) on to continue simulating day and night. Temperatures should never dip under 55°F/13°C, and room temperature generally works well for temperate species. This final step encourages your skink to enter the deep, restorative sleep of brumation.
During brumation, a blue tongue skink will sleep near constantly and eat/drink nothing. Sometimes they will come out of hiding, walk around a bit, and then go back to sleep. It is not unusual for your skink to disappear for weeks on end or even appear dead while they are brumating.
This is the hard part, and very boring for most reptile keepers. But hang in there — there’s really not much you can do about it, and trying to wake them up will likely only make the brumation last longer.
Here’s what you CAN (and should) do:
- Don’t offer food at all — it will likely go to waste, and your skink shouldn’t brumate with food in their stomach anyway.
- Refresh their water bowl once a week, in case your skink gets thirsty “in the middle of the night.”
- If possible, weigh them once every 2 weeks with a kitchen scale to make sure they don’t lose too much weight. Unlike mammals, reptiles shouldn’t lose weight during brumation. Significant weight loss (10% of starting weight or more) means that something is wrong, and you need to call your vet.
Waking Up Your Skink
If you have a tropical blue tongue skink:
Eventually it will wake up on its own and start basking and doing normal skink things again. When this happens, go ahead and increase the basking spot temperature and daylight schedule back up to normal and start offering food again.
If you have a temperate blue tongue skink:
When the time comes, do the opposite of what you did to start brumation. First, increase the “day” period from 10 hours of light to 12 hours. After one week of this, turn the basking spot back on. You will likely see your skink wake up and start basking and drinking water. A week after you’ve turned the heat back on, you may offer food.
If your skink doesn’t start to wake up after the heat source has been on for 1 week, contact your vet.
Whether you have a temperate or tropical blue tongue skink, they may or may not be interested in food right out of brumation, and it can take a couple weeks for them to start eating again. Don’t force anything, but if your skink still hasn’t eaten a month after waking up, contact your vet.
More blue tongue skink health topics:
- Intestinal Parasites
- Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)
- Nail Trimming
- Respiratory Infection (RI)
- Scale Rot
- Spinal Deformity
- Stuck Shed