Good decorations make a reptile’s terrarium look cool, but they’re also important for exercise, mental stimulation, and keeping your skink healthy. In zoos, enclosure decor and “toys” are called enrichment items. If you’re not clear on how enrichment is beneficial to lizards, please watch/listen to my YouTube video, How to Provide Enrichment for Lizards.
Skinks like to hide. It’s part of their burrower nature. So you’ll need one cool dry and one warm humid hide to help them feel secure, which sounds more complicated than it is. Just put a hidey-hole on the cool side, then another one on the warm side, with some sphagnum moss inside to make it humid. Half logs or large cork rounds make excellent hides.
Large branches, logs, cork bark, and rocks are excellent for this purpose. Some say that that blueys aren’t good climbers, but I have a Merauke who begs to differ. If you collect these items from outside, give them a good scrub and soak in a disinfectant compatible with porous surfaces, such as Clean Break or F10SC. NEVER bake rocks, as they may explode! However, pieces of wood may be safely baked at 225-250°F/110/120°C for 2-3 hours.
If you’re using topsoil or bioactive substrate, live plants make an excellent addition to your terrarium. Wheat grass, sedge grass, carex grass, carrot, pothos, and snake plant are good for starters. For more ideas of nontoxic, reptile-safe plants, I recommend referencing The Tortoise Table.
Refer to Bioactive Reptile and Amphibian Setups USA for further information on suitable plants for your enclosure. Keep in mind that the plants you use need to be able to take a beating; skinks love to trample plants!
Alternatively, you can use artificial plants. Custom Reptile Habitats has a great selection of durable, realistic-looking artificial plants that are safe for using in reptile terrariums.
PetBackdrops.com offers a lovely selection of backgrounds for all kinds of reptile enclosures. Aside from helping your setup look nice, a good background can help your skink feel more secure, especially if the terrarium’s made of glass. For best results, three sides of the enclosure should be covered.
Blue Tongue Skink Terrarium Design Ideas
I can’t over-emphasize the importance of providing appropriate environmental enrichment to your blue tongue skink! Here’s a great quote from Robert W. Mendyk’s excellent 2014 paper, “On the Thermal Husbandry of Monitor Lizards” to drive the point home:
“Successful herpetological husbandry demands that the biological requirements of a species are met, and that the environmental conditions provided in captivity replicate, as closely as possible, those available and familiar to a species in nature… Although some reptile species may do well in captivity when provided with minimalistic or ‘reductionist’ husbandry conditions, such conditions are probably inappropriate for most species as they offer less potential to fulfil biological needs…” (p.621)
Yes, the paper is on monitor lizards, but Mendyk’s statement is as true for blue tongue skinks as it is for monitors. A blue tongue skink enclosure should roughly replicate the appearance of their natural habitat, as their evolution (and therefore basically everything about them) was shaped by that environment. Browse photos of wild Tiliqua species on iNaturalist or Flickr, and you’ll see that blue tongue skink habitat varies significantly by species, from rocky desert to tropical forest.
Here are some photos of blue tongue skink habitat to use as a reference point. This section will be gradually expanded.
Northern blue tongue skinks (Tiliqua scincoides intermedia):
Indonesian blue tongue skinks (Tiliqua gigas ssp. and Tiliqua sp. “Irian Jaya”):