Ocellated Skink Handling Tips & Behavioral Notes

Ocellated skinks are active and inquisitive little lizards, and you may be surprised by their intelligence. They can tell the difference between people, and they remember past interactions they’ve had with you — the good and the bad. That’s why it’s so important to take care when interacting with your pet ocellated skink. If you take the time to develop a positive, trusting relationship with your ocellated skink, they can become bold, outgoing, rewarding pets. However, if you try to force yourself upon them and chase them around, they can become flighty and high-strung, and you may only see them very rarely. Regaining lost trust can take months.

Read this section on ocellated skink handling and behaviors carefully in order to create the best relationship possible with your pet. Note that ocellated skinks are not very handleable, so it’s especially important to help them feel secure in your presence so they don’t take off every time you come near. And of course, each skink is its own individual, so results will vary from lizard to lizard.

Taming Your Ocellated Skink

ocellated skink handling
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Since ocellated skinks are curious and highly food-motivated, you will want to exploit these traits from the beginning in order to teach it that it can trust you. Housing your ocellated skink in a front-opening enclosure rather than top-opening is also extremely helpful, as it allows you to approach the skink from their level rather than above like a bird. Ocellated skinks have a parietal “eye” to sense predators coming from above, so approaching from above is likely to send them into a panic (Lipari et al., 2015).

After bringing your new ocellated skink home, give it 2-3 weeks to adjust to its new surroundings. You can change out the water dish, add feeder insects, and perform spot-cleaning, but otherwise ignore your new pet (or a least only stare at them from a distance). This will test your patience, but it helps teach the skink that you are not a predator. After all, ignoring potential prey is not something predators do.

After your ocellated skink is eating regularly and moving around its enclosure with confidence, it’s okay to sit by the enclosure and watch them. Your huge face and eyes may make them uncomfortable at first, but as you continue to offer food without trying to chase or grab them, they will understand that you are not a threat, and better yet — you bring food!

Once the skink is comfortable with eating in your presence, you can try offering bugs via feeding tongs. I recommend soft-tipped tongs like the Zoo Med Angled Stainless Steel Feeding Tongs rather than metal ones, as it’s less likely for your skink to injure itself if it accidentally bites the tongs rather than the bug.

Finally, once your skink is comfortable with eating from feeding tongs, you can try offering bugs from your palm or fingers! Depending on your skink’s level of comfort with humans, you may be able to convince them to step onto your hand for food, and they may even let you lightly stroke them with a finger as they eat. If you get to this level of trust, it’s quite thrilling!

Note: Different skinks learn to trust humans at different rates. One of my females warmed up to us quite quickly, will track us when we’re in the room and she’s feeling hungry, and will even let me pet her sometimes. For contrast, my other female prefers to stay hidden and her attitude toward us changes on a daily basis. Appreciate your skink for the individual they are, and respect their boundaries.

Enrichment Activities for Ocellated Skinks

Aside from teaching your ocellated skink how to take food from tongs or your hand, you can further engage with your pet by designing enrichment activities for it. This may seem redundant since we already discussed enrichment in the Environmental Enrichment & Décor section, but there’s actually another type of enrichment that your skink needs: enrichment activities. You can learn about the difference between the two here.

Feeding puzzles (making your pet work for its food) are always a good idea, since ocellated skinks are  highly food-motivated. Try placing some mealworms inside a small treat dispenser ball or some crickets inside the Exo Terra Feeding Rock!

You can also place caches of food in several places around the enclosure for your skink to find.

Ocellated skinks are fairly odor-oriented, so try giving your skink something new to smell! This can be a sweaty sock, cotton ball with a little bit of reptile-safe essential oil or perfume. This should be a very small amount, and avoid scents that may smell potentially edible, as you don’t want to trick your skink into swallowing cotton.

You can also rearrange your skink’s enclosure from time to time. You don’t need to make it unrecognizable — just move an item or two once a week. Ocellated skinks are more likely to actively explore their environment when there’s something new to check out (Graves & Halpern, 1990), which means they’ll spend less time hiding.

For more enrichment activity ideas, ReptiFiles recommends joining the Reptile Enrichment and Training (RET) community on Facebook.

Providing regular enrichment for your ocellated skink is not optional. According to David Mellor’s 5 Provisions of Animal Welfare, enrichment is a requirement for achieving optimal welfare in captivity.

Handling Your Ocellated Skink

Ocellated skinks are small, fast, and have scales smooth enough to make them slippery. Even if you build a trusting relationship with your skink, if they get spooked during handling time, it’s very likely that it will bolt away and get lost in your home. In other words, ocellated skinks are not the kind of pet that you handle on a routine basis. If you’re hoping to spend time with this pet with it resting in your hand or crawling up and down your arm, it’s best to lower your expectations.

If you absolutely need to grab your ocellated skink because it has escaped from the enclosure, you’re going to the vet, moving house, or need to evacuate, use a fish net or folded newspaper to chase it into a box. This should preferably be an enclosed hide box that they’re already familiar with. Then place that smaller box into the transport container.

DO NOT dig your skink out of the substrate unless absolutely necessary. This is predatory behavior and highly traumatic to the skink. It will likely take them months to get back to “normal” after an experience like this.

Does it hurt to get bitten by an ocellated skink?

Ocellated skinks don’t usually bite humans, but when they do, it’s most likely because they mistook your finger for food. They’re able to distinguish between human smells and prey smells (Graves & Halpern, 1990), but if your finger smells like prey or they don’t know what you smell like yet…well, then you might get a little chomp. Fortunately, they’re so small that a bite from an ocellated skink is barely noticeable. A hard bite can feel like a soft pinch, while a softer bite may feel like a tickle. A bite from an ocellated skink is extremely unlikely to break human skin.

Common Ocellated Skink Behaviors/Body Language

Understanding your ocellated skink’s body language can help you understand its emotional state and level of stress, which in turns helps you react to them appropriately. This is particularly important if you are keeping multiple ocellated skinks together, as body language will clue you in to conflicts between individuals, as well as biological sex.

Here are some common behaviors you may observe:

Biting — One skink bites another. This may be a short nip or a big chomp. Short nips seem to be part of territorial behavior, but big chomps often indicate larger conflicts. Sexually-mature male ocellated skinks will bite and hold on to sexually-mature females as part of mating. Most bites don’t seem to break the skin (scale damage likely, however), but tail loss is common, particularly when an older skink bites a younger one. Juvenile ocellated skink tails have been recorded multiple times in literature documenting the stomach contents of Chalcides ocellatus.

Bolting — The skink quickly runs for cover. Indicates fear and stress caused by a certain stimulus, usually a bullying roommate or a human.

Closed Eyes — The skink closes its eyes when another skink or human gets too close. This seems to be a “don’t bother me” / “please go away” signal.

Limb Tucking — The skink holds one or more of its feet/limbs off of the substrate. This typically occurs during basking when the basking surface is too warm for the feet, even when the temperature is appropriate for basking.

Neck Arching — The skink stands up on the tiptoes of its front feet and arches its neck. This makes them look bigger than they are and seems to be a warning gesture that tells an intruder to get out of their space.

Tail Wagging — A slow, serpentine movement involving the whole tail. May be a “back off” warning.

Tail Wiggling — A rapid twitching movement of the tip of the tail. Indicates excitement, and often precedes a lunge. This behavior may be observed when a male is courting a female, when one individual is contemplating attacking another, or while stalking prey.

Tongue Flicking — Slow to rapid movement of the tongue in and out of the mouth. Ocellated skinks often do this when moving about their environment, particularly when there’s a new scent they’re investigating. The faster the flicking, the more excited they are.

Wrestling — One skink bites and clamps onto another while both flip around. Territorial display that is more likely to occur between competing, sexually mature males. Wrestling is an indication of severe conflicts between individuals, and they should be separated immediately in order to prevent the possibility of severe injury and death.

Aside from wrestling, signs of conflict between ocellated skinks include roughed-up scales, bite marks, missing toes, and missing tail tips.

SUMMARY —

  • Juvenile ocellated skinks are naturally more nervous and flighty than older individuals.
  • Ocellated skinks should not be handled regularly, but they can be trained to accept food from tongs or hands.
  • Consistently, frequently demonstrate that you are not a threat.
  • Let your skink come to you on its own terms.
  • Force handling should be a last resort only.
  • Being familiar with ocellated skink behaviors will help you understand their emotional state.
  • If there are signs of significant conflict between skinks, separate them into different enclosures IMMEDIATELY.
  • Enrichment activities are a way to bond with your pet and provide mental stimulation.
  • Enrichment is not optional!

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