Australian native animals – blue-tongue lizards

Learn about care and management of blue-tongue lizards.

Introduction to the blue-tongue lizard

Watch introduction to the blue-tongue lizard. (2:32)

A Taronga Zoo keeper explains the characteristics of the blue-tongue lizard.

Narrator: Toronga Zoo keeper

So, this is a blue-tongue lizard. He’s found along the east coast of Australia, so you’ll find him from Western Australia, way down to Victoria. You don’t find him in Tasmania at all.

He’s named blue-tongue lizard for obvious reasons and there we go, for his blue tongue. The reason he’s a lizard and maybe not a snake some differences to point out, a lizard is that this little guy has legs which isn’t always the case because there are some legless lizards in the World. He has eyelids, a snake doesn’t have eyelids.

And when he pokes out his tongue it’s quite broad and fleshy and not forked, so he’s a lizard. The most important part of this guy to make him a lizard is the fact that he has ears. So, you can see the two little holes on the side of his head, that would indicate that this guy’s a lizard. All lizards have ears and there’s no exceptions to the rules there.

So, you’ll find this guy in a variety of environments around Australia. So, from dry to forests to wet.

But a lot of the time a lot of people find these guys in their backyard. They’re enticed into backyards for a lot of reasons. One reason and the main reason that most reptiles are enticed into backyards is water. We all need water and a lot of backyards have a dog bowl or a cat bowl of water, a bird bath, a pool, all sorts of water sources to entice it in.

So, if you’ve got water and then the other thing is food. So, a lot of people are keen gardeners, not only do they come in for maybe the fruit and vegetables but they love snails and slugs. So, if you don’t use pesticides and you have a lot of snails and slugs around they’re coming into eat all your goodies.

They also like to eat funnel webs in some cases or spiders. So, they’re quite handy to have around in the backyard. A lot of the time people just have a lot of shelter and it’s something to keep them safe in backyards.

One thing that they don’t really like about backyards unfortunately especially when it does come to them in coming in for water from dog bowls. And they also love eating dog and cat food is that the dogs and cats unfortunately they do get attacked quite often by dogs and cats which obviously isn’t good for these guys.

The other thing in backyards that’s quite a danger for them is when people are lawn mowing. So, they do get injured quite often in backyards but most of the time backyards are quite a safe haven for a blue tongue lizard.

[End of transcript]

Blue-tongue lizard basic health check

Watch blue-tongue lizard basic health check. (2:12)

A Taronga Zoo keeper explains the basics of maintaining good health in the blue-tongue lizard.

Narrator: Taronga Zoo keeper

How would you pick up on the health of an animal?

Over time when you actually own the animal. It’s just using it and picking it up every day you would understand how healthy it is or if there’s something wrong with it. It’s a bit like ourselves if you hear a sniffle or see a discharge then obviously your animal’s not healthy.

Talking about sloughing as well. If the environment or the condition that you have set up isn’t appropriate he may not be able to slough properly. You’ll start seeing evidence of this around his toes. He may not be able to shed that layer of skin off his toes and then what it can do is act like an elastic band and start constricting the blood flow in his toes and eventually his toes will drop off.

So, you need to make sure that he is sloughing or shedding his skin correctly. If he’s not you need to look at your set up and just ensure that everything is okay especially if it’s maybe an outdoor exhibit you want to make sure that you’re providing them with enough heat.

The easiest way to know if your Blue Tongue has mites or ticks is they are quite visible. Ticks often sit in or around the ears or even around the eyes or the mouth, they’re the easiest places for them to attach and they do get quite large especially if they’ve been sucking the blood so you’ll see them quite readily. If you do get ticks they can be removed the same as a human. If you’re a little unsure and not happy with removing ticks they can be taken to the vet and a vet’s quite able to remove ticks.

Mites are the same, you should be able to see them, they’re quite small, they’re probably more like a flea-like. But if you’re picking up your animal every day you should be able to see mites. The other thing to do is to check things like their faeces.

So, if you have a healthy lizard the faeces should look quite healthy, so just well-formed usually in a brown colour and shouldn’t have any mites or anything moving around in their faeces.

Again, if you have any concerns a quick trip to a local vet. A lot of vets know how to care for Blue Tongue Lizards, they do come into their vet clinics quite often.

[End of transcript]

Selecting a suitable blue-tongue lizard

Watch selecting a suitable blue-tongue lizard. (1:12)

A Taronga Zoo keeper explains what to look for when acquiring a healthy blue-tongue lizard.

Narrator: Taronga Zoo keeper

So, when buying your Blue Tongue Lizard, you always want to make sure that he’s quite healthy, you want to see him first.

If he’s a juvenile well you might not be able to pick up on too many issues because it is young and quite healthy already.

If it’s an adult you just want to check that he’s quite alert for his surroundings, that his eyes aren’t watery or his mouth isn’t watery or have any mucus. You want to make sure that he does have all his feet and toes.

They do have problems with shedding or sloughing the skin which unfortunately can lead to losing the limbs or the toes. You just want to make sure that his tail isn’t too fat, but he needs to have a little bit of a fat stored there or he might be too skinny.

You don’t want to be seeing the bones running down the back of his tail. That indicates a healthy animal. If there is too many bones showing he might be underfed and under nourished.

Just those small tips and also buying from a reputable buyer indicates that you’re going to buy a healthy animal.

[End of transcript]

Handling the blue-tongue lizard

Watch handling the blue-tongue lizard. (1:40)

A Taronga Zoo keeper explains the best practices when handling a blue-tongue lizard.

Narrator: Taronga Zoo keeper

So, when handling your Blue Tongue always let them know that you’re going to enter and pick them up in their enclosure.

So, you want to give them a gentle touch before picking them up. And always be aware that they can get a little bit grumpy sometimes and they have quite a hard bite when they do get grumpy.

So, they often hiss, open up their mouth and pop out their tongue and sometimes they flatten themselves quite wide so they look larger than they are just to look scarier.

So, just be careful that you’re quite happy that he knows that you’re going to pick him up. So, try and use two hands when you’re handling a Blue Tongue Lizard. Support his back legs and his front legs. It makes him feel secure and he’s got something to hold onto as you’re holding him.

Using your hands behind his legs allows you to get a better grip on him. They get quite wiggly at times especially when they’re warm so he feels safe and happy that you have a good hold on him.

You can also utilise your forearm and rest him if you need to hold him for extended periods of time he feels happy again and safe that you have a good hold on him and not going to drop him.

If you were needing to transport him to maybe to the vet or take him in a car there’s a few simple things you could utilise. You can use something as simple as a bin or a plastic enclosure with a secure lid on it so he can’t get out.

The other thing is just using a pillow case or a calico bag and you can pop him inside and he’s happy in his dark surroundings and it’s safe as well. Just pop an elastic band around the top so he can’t get out.

[End of transcript]

Reproduction in the blue-tongue lizard

Watch reproduction in the blue-tongue lizard. (0:24)

A Taronga Zoo keeper describes reproduction in the blue-tongue lizard.

Narrator: Taronga Zoo keeper

Reproduction happens early in the Spring. These guys do give birth to live young. They give birth to maybe twenty to even thirty live young. They’re just tiny, little miniatures of Blue Tongue Lizards. As soon as they’re born, Mum doesn’t have anything to do with them, they’re off on their own to look after themselves.

[End of transcript]

Housing the blue-tongue lizard

Watch housing the blue-tongue lizard. (3:21)

A Taronga Zoo keeper explains the requirements when housing blue-tongue lizards.

Narrator: Taronga Zoo keeper

So, reptiles are cold blooded, so they need a heat source to heat up and get going for the day. So, if they’re out in the wild the heat source is the Sun.

You’ll often see them sitting out in the Sun often on a rock because rocks heat up quite well or even in the middle of the road. So, if you’re driving along you’ll often see Blue Tongues on the road because it’s black and it draws the heat in quite quickly. It heats them up nice and quickly so they can get going for the day as quick as possible.

If it’s in captivity we can recreate heat in some way to get them going for the day. So, set up a space or an enclosure for your Blue Tongue. It can start with something like a three foot fish tank or you could use an indoor pit or an outdoor pit.

There’s a wide variety of what you could utilise around your house or backyard to set up a lizard. It can be quite simple in the set up in the way that you could use newspaper and a variety of maybe barks. They really do like to hide.

So, giving them bark or even planks of wood so that they can climb under is fantastic, right up to using something like leaf litter that you can find around the place from trees. You could use pre-bought barks or mulches that they’re quite good to use as long as they don’t really have any toxins and things in them. You want them to be as natural as possible for the animal so that they can eat and forage properly.

What’s most important for these little guys is some sort of heat source. So, it’s as simple as a light bulb, quite a large light bulb, maybe a 160 watt globe that they could bask under.

You can go a little bit fancier and buy the red ones which don’t emit so much light and they’re not so bright in the environment especially if you’re living with them or studying with them. And you want it close to the ground or fairly close to the ground so as they’re not to touch it and get burnt but they’re able to access it whenever they need to.

You want a heat gradient so you want one end to be quite warm, so maybe about 30 degrees where the heat basking spot is and you want him to get down to maybe a low twenty so he has the choice whether he wants to be warm or cold. You don’t want the heat lamp to be going all day, so you want it to switch off of a night. You want to set a timer, so maybe 8:30 to 4:30 or 5:30 but you’ll need a little bit of adjusting during the seasons and also during the environments. It might change that if it’s hotter or colder in your region.

Maintenance of your Blue Tongue enclosure really depends on what you’re using as the base or the substrate of your enclosure. So, if you’re using the leaf mulch or some sort of a mulch, just a spot pick every couple of days just to pull the faeces out, pull any dead crickets out, any leftover food out.

Just make sure that there’s nothing that’s going to get a little bit smelly in the exhibit. And you want to make sure that the water bowl is cleaned every day. So, it also means giving it a little wipe over. You don’t want anything growing in the water bowl.

If you’re using something like maybe newspaper as a substrate or as the base of your exhibit you’d want to change it maybe two times a week at least because it can get quite dirty from faeces and things like that.

[End of transcript]

Feeding the blue-tongue lizard

Watch Feeding the blue-tongue lizard (3:01)

A Taronga Zoo keeper describes the nutrition requirements for the blue-tongue lizard.

Narrator: Taronga Zoo keeper

So, the key to a happy and healthy Blue Tongue Lizard is its diet. It’s the most important or one of the most important parts of keeping a Blue Tongue Lizard.

He does eat a variety of foods but the basis of his diet is fresh fruit and vegetables. We have some strawberry, rock melon, banana, a lot of lettuce or endive and carrot in there, some corn. So, it can be a large variety of fruit and vegetables or it could just be a couple of choices each day.

Presenting it to him in a low flat bowl is handy because then he then can lay on top of it and it’s accessible for him to eat out of.

What you do need to pop on your Blue Tongue’s diet is just a vitamin supplement so it’s a little bit like us taking some vitamins every day, it just helps with healthy bones and a healthy lizard.

So, feeding your lizard maybe three times a week is suffice, so maybe a Monday, a Wednesday and a Friday a great regime to stick to. And then on a Monday and a Wednesday and a Friday you can give him a sprinkle of calcium with Vitamin D. And then just on a Friday you can add a little bit of this product which is called Herptivite. It’s just an all-round multivitamin that he doesn’t require more than once a week.

Also to supplement his food maybe once a week you can give your Blue Tongue Lizard a good quality meaty cat food. And you can either put it on the side of his dish or give it again give it a mix through which encourages him to eat all of his fruit and vegetables as well.

They absolutely love eating their cat food so that might be the only thing that they touch on that day. As enrichment food, enrichment is something that we like to give our Blue Tongue Lizards so that they have a little bit more of a stimulant or a little bit more of what goes on in the wild.

And so something like a snail is quite beneficial to them. It helps their jaw and it’s got that crunchiness and makes them work a bit more for their food. So, collecting snails is also a great thing to do, not necessarily feeding them live but just popping them in the freezer for a week or two and then just thawing them out and popping them in their exhibit.

Depending on your Blue Tongue Lizard as well they may enjoy eating crickets. You can buy these from pet shops and you just sprinkle a few of them in their exhibit. They can’t always catch them, they’re a little bit slow and encumbersome but it gives them something to do and then again it just gives them that as if they’re out in the wild and keeps them a little bit more active.

But the other thing that is most important for a healthy Blue Tongue Lizard is fresh water every day. So, he needs a bowl of water and change it every day so it doesn’t get anything you know even his food or any faeces or urine in it.

[End of transcript]


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