I purchased a Northern Blue-tongue skink that was captive born sometime in the summer of 2018. The skink was around 6-months when I acquired it, and clearly displayed serious health issues. The lizard had been raised by an inexperienced keeper who knew little about blue-tongue skinks, and had only cared for insectivores such as leopard geckos and Western fence lizards (Sceloporus sp). Unfortunately, he fed the growing skink almost nothing but Superworms (Zophobas morio), a poor and monotonous diet.
While Superworms are a large tasty insect that many reptiles enjoy eating, they should only be a small part of a blue-tongue’s diet as they are deficient in nutrients such as calcium. When I first saw the skink it displayed a deeply sunken and misformed spine, some irregularity in the head and jaws, an inability to move its limbs normally or to raise itself to climb over even a small barrier. Its growth was also notably stunted for a young Northern blue-tongue of its age.
These are symptoms of metabolic bone disease (MBD). The main driver is an inappropriate calcium/phosphorus ratio in the diet and/or deficiency in vitamin D.
The skink appeared in such poor health that it seemed that it might not survive much longer. My main focus was to change the diet quickly to foods such as a high quality canned dog food supplemented with a calcium and vitamin D blend. The skink ate poorly at first and seemed quite listless in response to new food items.
However, after working with the young skink for several weeks, feeding it a mixture of foods that were high in calcium, including mouse pinks, its health improved markedly. It began eating enthusiastically and growing normally again. It has great coloration for a Northern BT with strong orange and black banding.
It’s grown rapidly in the last couple of months on an improved diet and is about 15-inches in length. The photos were taken when it was approximately 16-months of age.
Unfortunately, the sunken back is not reversible and it continues to show some problems with locomotion compared to a normal healthy skink of a comparable age.
Because of its history of MBD — this individual should not be used as a breeder. Reproduction is very demanding and stressful, especially for females, and requires the animal to be in excellent health. The female has to provide calcium, protein, and nutrients to her babies for several months while they develop internally. A reptile with a history of serious MBD should not be stressed and and endangered by the burden of reproduction.
Diet and Supplements to Prevent or Reverse MBD
Suggested food could include high quality canned dog food, scrambled eggs, snails, bits of chicken and salmon, small thawed mice and/or rat pups, and occasionally fruits such as blueberries, apples, etc, (Superworms should only be a small part of the diet.)
Calcium and vitamin D supplementation should be included with the diet. UV spectrum lighting (easy to provide with the proper bulb) would be helpful, too, to maintain excellent calcium metabolism. Some exposure to outdoor natural daylight would be highly beneficial as long as the blue-tongue can escape the light and potentially lethal heat on a warm day. Heat can KILL and very quickly.
Northern blue-tongues are normally hardy and become very tame. One of the best reptile pets; they can live over 20 years.