Fire Skink (Mochlus fernandi)
Welcome to the ReptiFiles Fire Skink Care Sheet! This care sheet was written by a professional reptile husbandry specialist, compiled based on reputable sources such as scientific research papers, natural history data, and the experiences of longtime keepers and breeders of this species. You can find a list of these sources at the bottom of this page.
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Introduction to Fire Skinks
Fire skinks (Mochlus fernandi) are a diurnal, insectivorous type of terrestrial lizard native to west central Africa. They prefer forest for habitat and spend most of their time in and around their burrows.
Fire skinks can measure up to 12-15″ / 30-38cm long as adults, and are easily recognizable by their colorful appearance: a glossy red and bronze body with black markings and white speckling. Limbs and eyes are black, and the underside is striped black and white. They have a typical skink build with a long, robust body and short but strong limbs.
Captive-bred fire skinks are known to make more active and personable pets than their wild-caught counterparts. If you pay attention to providing high-quality fire skink care, your pet may live up to 15-20 years.
Fire Skink Shopping List
These are products I personally recommend for setting up a functional fire skink terrarium. Some of the links in this care sheet are paid links — if you’d like to know why ReptiFiles uses paid links, visit this page.
- Front-opening 36”L x 18”W x 18”H terrarium, or larger
- 50w Arcadia Halogen Heat Lamp
- 5.5″ Fluker’s Dimmable Repta-Clamp Lamp
- 22″ Arcadia Forest 6% ProT5 UVB kit
- Vivarium Electronics T5 HO Dual Bulb Light Strip
- Zilla 24/7 Digital Power Center
- Zoo Med Digital Thermometer/Hygrometer Combo, x2
- Exo Terra Mister
- Zoo Med ReptiSoil, 45-67 quarts
- Hides/caves, x2
- Environmental enrichment
- Food and water dishes
- Repashy Calcium Plus LoD supplement
- Soft-tipped feeding tongs
- Rescue RTU veterinary disinfectant
- Spray bottle (for disinfectant)
Fire Skink Enclosure Size
Fire skinks need an enclosure that is large enough to give them adequate opportunity to explore, hunt, and generally exercise natural behaviors. Considering that a fire skink can grow up to 15″/38cm long, the minimum recommended enclosure size for housing a single fire skink is 36”L x 18”W x 18”H / 90 x 45 x 45cm or similar. However, larger is always better!
Here are some enclosures that are appropriate for housing fire skinks:
- Carolina Custom Cages Terrarium, Large 36Lx18Dx18H
- REPTI ZOO Reptile Terrarium 36″ x 18″ x 18″
- Exo Terra Large/Wide Natural Terrarium (36” x 18” x 18”)
Can multiple fire skinks be housed in the same enclosure?
Maybe. Fire skinks are solitary animals, so they’re perfectly happy living alone. That said, multiple females can be kept together if the enclosure is large enough to give each individual enough space, but males should never be housed together.
Lighting & UVB for Fire Skinks
Fire skinks are diurnal, which means that they are primarily active during the day. They have been noted to be particularly active in the morning and late afternoon. To help regulate their day/night cycle, a fire skink’s lights should be left on for 12 hours/day.
Technically fire skinks can survive without UVB lighting as long as they get plenty of supplemented vitamin D3. However, you are still going to get the best results from using UVB lighting rather than relying on supplements.
UVB lighting can be tricky, because in order to get the right strength of UVB (measured by UV Index, or UVI), distance must be considered. As a rough estimate, to provide appropriate UVB to a fire skink in an 18” tall enclosure, you will need:
- 22″ T5 HO Zoo Med Reptisun 5.0 OR Arcadia Forest 6% UVB bulb
- 24″ VE T5 HO Fixture OR Arcadia ProT5 Kit
If the bulb is mounted over mesh, the basking surface should be placed so the bulb is 8-10″ / 20-25cm above the skink’s back when basking.
The bulb itself should be roughly 1/2 of the enclosure’s length, no more than 2/3. UVB bulbs must be replaced every 12 months in order to remain effective.
(These recommendations are approximations based on measurements taken with the abovementioned T5 HO fixtures and assuming a 35% mesh block. It is strongly recommended to use a Solarmeter 6.5 to determine the best placement to achieve a UVI of 3.0-4.0 in the basking area.)
Because fire skinks are diurnal, they are likely to benefit from additional illumination in their enclosure beyond just a heat lamp and a UVB lamp — these are quite dim compared to sunlight! Providing extra light can offer benefits such as increased activity, better appetite, and better hormonal (i.e. long-term) health.
If you have live plants in your setup, a high-PAR ~6500K LED grow light such as the Arcadia JungleDawn LED Bar will yield the best results. If you don’t have live plants, one or two ~6500K T5 HO grow lights such as the Vivarium Electronics T5 HO Dual Bulb Light Strip will work well. Your daylight lamp should span 75-100% of the enclosure’s length.
Fire Skink Temperature Requirements
Humans are warm-blooded, which means that our body temperature is automatically regulated. Fire skinks, however, are cold-blooded, and more specifically they are poikilothermic, which means they need to move between areas of different temperatures in order to regulate their body temperature. In the wild, fire skinks generally warm up by basking in the sun. In captivity, sunlight can be replicated with a white heat lamp.
- Basking temperature: 92-96°F (33-35.5°C)
- Cool zone temperature: 75-85°F (24-29°C)
- Nighttime temperature: 70-75°F (21-24°C)
You will need one or two ~50w halogen heat bulbs for basking, such as the Arcadia Halogen Heat Lamp or the Zoo Med Repti Tuff Halogen bulb in a dimmable dome lamp such as the Fluker’s 5.5″ Dimmable Clamp Lamp. This wattage should be plenty, but results will vary based on your room temperature. If you notice that things are too warm, dial down the heat down or switch to a lower wattage bulb (in this case, an incandescent rather than a halogen). If your basking area is too cool, you will need a higher wattage bulb.
To track enclosure temperatures, use two digital probe thermometers, with one probe on the basking surface and the other probe on the cool end. Most reptile-brand digital probe thermometers function well.
Fire Skink Humidity Requirements
Fire skinks should have average humidity levels between 60-70%. Ambient humidity should be tracked via digital probe hygrometer with the probe placed in the middle of the setup.
To raise the humidity in your enclosure, you can use a pressure sprayer like the Exo Terra Mister to mist the habitat every evening and morning, as well as possibly in the middle of the day. Alternatively you can install a Mistking automatic misting system. The enclosure should be well ventilated enough to dry out a bit between mistings.
It’s good practice to use a reptile humidifier/fogger at night to help maintain high nightly humidity levels (if you need the help). Make sure to use reverse-osmosis or distilled water, and thoroughly clean out and sanitize the humidifier with veterinary-grade disinfectant like Rescue or F10SC weekly to prevent illness. For optimal results, connect your fogger to a humidistat such as the Inkbird brand.
Fire Skink Substrate Options
Substrate is an important part of a fire skink terrarium because this species likes to burrow and hang out in their tunnels. A good substrate also helps maintain optimal humidity levels and creates a natural humid hide. It’s best to use a moisture-retentive substrate that is similar to tropical soil. Here are some reliable options:
- DIY mix: 40% organic topsoil, 40% coconut fiber, 20% fine sand
- Zoo Med Reptisoil
- Zoo Med Eco Earth
- Exo Terra Plantation Soil
You will need 4-6″ / 10-15cm of substrate for your skink to dig around in.
Feces and urates should be removed daily, and contaminated substrate should be scooped out and replaced. Substrate should be completely replaced once every 3-4 months, depending on your needs.
Decorating Your Fire Skink Terrarium
Decorations play a vital role in your skink’s enclosure as environmental enrichment. Enrichment items encourage exercise, stimulate your pet’s natural instincts, and help promote overall wellbeing, so don’t be afraid to go a little crazy! And, of course, they make the enclosure look nicer!
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- (secured) rock stacks
- hollow logs
- cork flats
- broad, low branches
- extra hides
- live or artificial plants
Arrange these items in a way that encourages your skink to climb and explore, offers plenty of shelter, and creates areas of both light and shade.
Feeding Your Fire Skink
Fire skinks are insectivores, which means that they need a varied diet of insects to get the right nutrition. Juvenile fire skinks should be fed daily to every other day, while full-grown adults should be fed 2x/week. Offer as many insects as the lizard is capable of eating in a 5-minute period, with each feeder being no larger than the animal’s head.
Best feeders for fire skinks: crickets, isopods, dubia roaches, discoid roaches, mealworms and beetles, superworms and beetles, earthworms, hornworms, silkworms, feeder geckos, feeder anoles
The key to providing a healthy, balanced diet for your pet is VARIETY. Provide as varied of a diet as you possibly can, and you will be rewarded with a healthier pet that always looks forward to mealtime. Treat options include pinky mice, quail eggs, and berries.
Feeder insects need to be “dusted” with a light coating of calcium powder before every feeding to balance their calcium-phosphorus ratio, and adding a multivitamin to the routine helps prevent deficiencies from developing.
There are many options, but Repashy CalciumPlus is a solid all-in-one supplement for getting started. For best results, use as directed by the label.
Handling Your Fire Skink
Fire skinks are generally more of a look-but-don’t-touch display animal rather than a pet that you can handle regularly. Some tame down and tolerate handling better than others, but they’re slippery and very quick, so handling should be attempted with caution.
If you want to interact with your pet fire skink, one of the best methods is to offering food or treats via soft-tipped feeding tongs. However, wait at least 2 weeks for the skink to settle into its new home before trying to introduce yourself.
Akani, G. C., Luiselli, L., Ogbeibu, A. E., Uwaegbu, M., & Ebere, N. (2009). Activity patterns and habitat selection in a population of the African fire skink (Lygosoma fernandi) from the Niger Delta, Nigeria. Herpetological Journal, 19, 207–211. https://www.thebhs.org/publications/the-herpetological-journal/volume-19-number-4-october-2009/561-06-activity-patterns-and-habitat-selection-in-a-population-of-the-african-fire-skink-i-lygosoma-fernandi-i-from-the-niger-delta-nigeria/file
Baines, F. M., Chattell, J., Dale, J., Garrick, D., Gill, I., Goetz, M., Skelton, T., & Swatman, M. (2016). How much UVB does my reptile need? The UV-Tool, a guide to the selection of UV lighting for reptiles and amphibians in captivity. Journal of Zoo and Aquarium Research, 1, 55. https://doi.org/10.19227/jzar.v4i1.150
Brownlee, W. (2015, January 6). The African Fire Skink. Reptiles Magazine. https://reptilesmagazine.com/the-african-fire-skink/
Eniang, E. A., Amadi, N., Petrozzi, F., Vignoli, L., Akani, G. C., & Luiselli, L. (2014). Inter-seasonal and inter-habitat variations in the diet of the African fire skink, Lygosoma fernandi, from southern Nigeria. Amphibia-Reptilia. https://brill.com/view/journals/amre/35/3/article-p371_11.xml?ebody=full%20html-copy1
Guide 1: Using T5-HO lamps above a Mesh Screen. (n.d.). Reptile Lighting; Facebook. Retrieved June 19, 2023, from https://www.facebook.com/groups/ReptileLighting/learning_content/?filter=312549173777796
Medium UV Species. (n.d.). Arcadia Reptile. Retrieved June 19, 2023, from https://www.arcadiareptile.com/lighting/medium-uv-species/
Photos of Fire Skink (Mochlus fernandi). (n.d.). INaturalist. Retrieved June 19, 2023, from https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/1148913-Mochlus-fernandi/browse_photos
Uetz, P., & Hallerman, J. (n.d.). Mochlus fernandi. The Reptile Database. https://reptile-database.reptarium.cz/species?genus=Mochlus&species=fernandi
(N.d.). Fire Skink Enthusiasts; Facebook. Retrieved April 19, 2023, from https://www.facebook.com/groups/559286637548190/
The ReptiFiles Fire Skink Care Sheet is a simplified care summary, not a full ReptiFiles care guide. While I have done my best to ensure that the information contained is accurate, due to time constraints, the research behind ReptiFiles care sheets is not as thorough as the research involved with my full-length care guides. I strongly encourage readers to do their own research from high-quality, reputable sources outside of just this care sheet as part of preparing for your new pet reptile.