Like other reptiles, ocellated skinks are cold-blooded, which means that ocellated skink temperature is dictated by the temperature of their environment, instead of being able to maintain their own body temperature like humans and other mammals can. To be more specific, reptiles are actually poikilothermic, which means that they regulate their body temperature by behavioral means, such as basking or burrowing. This process is called thermoregulation.
One of the primary ways that ocellated skinks thermoregulate is by basking in sunlight. Sunlight has many benefits for reptiles. Aside from the UVB and visible light aspect, which we’ve already covered, the warmth in sunlight helps with:
- stimulating circulation
- facilitating digestion
- regulating hormones
- fighting off illness
- healing injuries
- incubating developing young
- managing parasites
A reptile’s health and its husbandry are inseparably intertwined. When it comes to caring for ocellated skinks, one of the most important things you can do for your pet’s health is making sure that it has the right temperatures in its environment.
When a reptile doesn’t have enough access to high-quality heat, it can lead to health problems such as excess weight gain, gout, gastrointestinal disease, and a weakened immune system. It can also lead to appetite loss, lower digestive efficiency, reduced thyroid activity, reduced growth, possible putrefaction of food within the gut, and gastrointestinal impaction (Mendyk et al., 2014, p.623).
However, even when it has appropriately high basking temperatures, a reptile is likely to die from heat stroke if it can’t escape the heat when needed.
Within this range, reptiles tend to select different body temperatures according to their physiological state. They may keep themselves at different temperatures depending on time of day, time of year, digestive status, reproductive status, etc. (Daut & Andrews, 1993). This is why it’s important to provide a range of temperatures within your reptile’s enclosure, so they can regulate their own temperature according to their needs at any given moment.
Your ocellated skink’s temperature gradient should look like this:
- Basking surface temperature: 110-120°F / 43-49°C (approximate)
- Basking air temperature: 90-100°F / 33-37°C
- Cool side temperature: 75-85°F / 24-29°C
*Recommendations based on my own experience, climate data from Chalcides ocellatus natural habitat, and temperatures mentioned in Brandley et al., Grimmond et al., Kapsalas et al., and “Lizards: Volume 2” by Manfred Rogner.
Turn off all lights and heat sources at night to let the enclosure cool down. While they are capable of surviving warm nights in the mid-80sF (~30°C) during the hot summers of the Arabian peninsula, Al-Sadoon & Spellerberg found that ocellated skinks will select for a reduced body temperature during nighttime. Based on nighttime temperature readings from the Mediterranean (what we can consider likely to be something of an “ideal” climate for ocellated skinks), they are likely to prefer nighttime temps between 65-70°F/18-21°C.
How to Heat Your Ocellated Skink Terrarium
As heliotherms, ocellated skinks associate the presence of light with a potential basking location, so the basking area should be the brightest part of the enclosure. This is assisted by placing UVB and LED lighting near the heat lamp on the warm side, but you also need a heat source that produces both heat and visible light.
However, not just any old light-producing heat source will do. As it turns out, there are multiple different types of infrared (heat), and the differences between them matter.
Infrared A is the strongest wavelength of infrared, and penetrates deepest into animal tissue for efficient heating. IR-A is naturally produced by the sun, and artificially produced by metal halide and halogen bulbs. This wavelength also has healing properties.
Infrared B is the second-strongest wavelength of infrared, and also has deep penetration properties, but not quite as deep as IR-A. IR-B is naturally produced by the sun, and artificially produced by metal halide and halogen bulbs, as well as deep heat projectors.
Infrared C is the weakest wavelength of infrared, also known as radiant heat. It is unable to penetrate past the skin surface, making it inefficient as a basking heat source. IR-C is produced when IR-A and/or IR-B come in contact with a surface, so it is not produced in significant quantities by the sun. IR-C is artificially produced by deep heat projectors, ceramic heat emitters, radiant heat panels, heat mats, and heat tape.
For more information, read “Next Level Heating: Why Infrared Wavelengths Matter” by Roman Muryn and “Fire — The Sun: Its Use & Replication Within Reptile Keeping” by John Courteney-Smith.
The best way to provide high quality, short-wave infrared heating to your ocellated skink is with a halogen flood heat bulb. If you have only one skink, then one lamp should create a large enough basking area, but if you have multiple skinks in the enclosure, then it’s best to use a cluster of at least two lamps so multiple skinks can bask at once. This helps reduce conflict.
BEST: Non-reptile branded heat bulbs
Pros: long lifespan, dimmable, relatively inexpensive
Cons: can be hard to find offline, don’t usually fit inside bulb cages
If possible, avoid bulbs with the hexagonal “lens” on the bulb surface, as these may cause uneven heating. Make sure to get one that is clear or white, not red.
Best halogen flood bulbs: Philips 45w PAR38 Dimmable Halogen Flood Lamp
OKAY IN A PINCH: Reptile-branded halogen bulbs
Pros: sold in pet stores, fit inside bulb cages
Cons: expensive, delicate, may have short lifespan, narrow beam, relatively weak heat output
If you need to buy reptile-branded halogen bulbs because you’re in a pinch (ex: you live in California), make sure that the bulb is white, not red or blue. Handle it with gloves on to help preserve the bulb’s lifespan by keeping your skin oils off of it.
What wattage of bulb do you need?
Ultimately that depends on the distance between the basking spot and the heat lamp. In my experience, a 50-75w bulb usually works well. When in doubt, select the bulb with the higher wattage and after two hours, use a plug-in lamp dimmer to reduce the output as needed. However, if you need to dim the bulb by half or more, that means you need a lower-wattage bulb.
What heat lamp fixture should you use?
You will need a dome lamp fixture with a ceramic socket to reduce fire hazard. It must also be rated for your heat bulbs’ wattage. Personally I prefer the Zoo Med Combo Deep Dome Dual Lamp Fixture, even for just one skink.
If you are mounting your bulbs inside of the enclosure, you will need an appropriately rated ceramic socket, such as the Arcadia Pro Ceramic Lamp Holder & Bracket. If there is any chance of the lizard coming into contact with the bulb, then you will also need a heater guard to prevent burns, like the Arcadia Heat Lamp Cage.
For best results, plug your heat lamps into a surge protector to preserve the bulb’s lifespan.
NOTE: Newborn ocellated skinks are very small, enthusiastic climbers, and capable of potentially worming themselves past a bulb guard. For this reason (among others), I prefer to keep the heat lamp outside of the enclosure with this species.
How to Create a Basking Area
Once you have your heat lamps, you can create your basking area. Like your UVB and daylight lamps, the heat lamps should be placed to the extreme right or left of the enclosure.
Your basking area will go directly underneath the heat lamps. It should be large enough to fit your skink’s entire body, and tall enough to be the highest point in the enclosure. This helps create a diverse temperature gradient, which is very important when you are dealing with such high basking surface temperatures.
There are many ways to create a basking platform for your ocellated skink, but I prefer to use a flat piece of stone like aquarium slate or sandstone, placed on top of the substrate. The skink will have to option to bask on top of the stone for direct heat, or to tunnel underneath it for indirect warmth. As long as the stone is significantly larger than the skink’s body, the risk of the stone falling and crushing a tunneling skink is low.
Suitable basking stones can usually be purchased from aquarium supply or landscape supply shops. Landscaping stores usually offer them for a much lower price than you will find in the aquarium shop.
How to Measure Temperatures
Use a digital probe thermometer with the probe on the basking area to measure approximate basking air temperature. Another device can be used to monitor temperatures on the cool end so you get a good picture of what the temperature gradient looks like.
An infrared temperature gun can be reliably used to measure basking surface temperature when pointed at that area from the manufacturer’s recommended distance. This measurement should be taken from the basking spot a couple of hours after the basking rock has warmed up.
Although ocellated skinks do not hibernate/brumate, their natural habitat does experience a regular period of reduced temperatures during the winter months. This natural cycle is likely to play a role in hormonal regulation for this species, like most reptiles, although they seem to be willing to breed even if winter cooling is not provided. So winter cooling is not required for ocellated skinks, but ReptiFiles does recommend it for best long-term health.
A cooling/rest period of 3 months (from the beginning of December to the end of March, if you live in the northern hemisphere) should be plenty. One of the easiest ways to do this is by reducing the length of time that the heat lamp is on to just 3 hours/day (Daut & Andrews, 1993), and then running a small portable cooler at night.
DO NOT suddenly decrease/increase the amount of time that your heat lamp is on every day. Changes should be gradual, no larger than a 30 minute adjustment per week.
You may continue to offer food and water during this time, but don’t be surprised if your skink’s appetite drastically decreases or stops altogether. Monitor the skink’s weight via kitchen scale, and gradually increase the temperatures back to normal if it loses 10% of its body weight.
Keep reading about ocellated skinks:
- Introduction to Ocellated Skinks
- Shopping list: Supplies You Will Need
- How to Select and Buy a Pet Ocellated Skink
- Enclosure Size & Roommates
- Lighting & UVB Requirements
- Heating Requirements
- Humidity Requirements
- Substrate Options
- Environmental Enrichment: Decorating the Enclosure
- Feeding Your Ocellated Skink
- Handling Tips & Behavioral Notes
- General Health Guide
- Additional Resources