Feeding the Little Rascals
Fortunately, healthy baby blue-tongues are almost always voracious feeders. Even when nervous about you lurking menacingly nearby, their appetites usually overcome their fears.
In my experience, there are a couple of common questionable assumptions about blue-tongue skink diets in captivity: one is that they eat a lot of vegetable material such as assorted greens, grated squashes, etc. Some care sheets indicate that vegetables should be X-percentage of their diet, sometimes as high as 50%! This is definitely not true of babies and even my adults are reluctant to eat greens unless they are thoroughly mixed with ground-up turkey or canned dog food — in other words, so they can’t taste the stuff. (Think of the kids who might eat lettuce on a hamburger smothered in ketchup, but consider being forced to eat a salad a form of torture.)
Notably, there is one green item that most of the blue-tongues enjoy very much — green peas, which is a legume. I buy these frozen, thaw them out, and mix them in with skink salads composed of canned dog food (grain-free), eggs (raw or scrambled), ground turkey, shredded carrots, canned pumpkin, and fruits such as diced apples, berries, and sometimes a little banana. (Shredded greens can also be added to the mix.) This “salad” mix contains around 10% fruit and 10% vegetables, including grated carrots, squashes, and pumpkin puree. However, this salad mix is for larger skinks — ranging from from 3 or 4-months to adults. Soft green peas are large for babies and I don’t offer them until they are around 6-weeks old.
There is a second widely held assumption regarding the captive blue-tongue diet that can lead to problems: this is the notion that feeding them canned cat food for the first few months and then switching to canned dog food for the rest of their lives is a sufficient and healthy diet. With careful supplementation of calcium and D3, and perhaps the addition of UV lighting, this can probably suffice. However, there are also cases where blue-tongues develop mild or even severe metabolic bone disease on these restricted diets. Even with supplementation, which involves guesswork, developmental problems are a risk.
As well as health benefits, blue-tongues appear to relish diversity in their diets. Most are thrilled to be offered morsels such as mice or rat pups (not alive although the skinks typically bash the hell out of them anyway), snails — fresh or canned — and unusual fruits such as ripe strawberries. Even dogs get bored with an exclusive diet of dog food! Just consider their ecstatic reaction when offered something tasty like chicken or steak!
In the wild, blue-tongue skinks are omnivores but highly focused on protein rich foods such as beetles, snails, roaches, larvae, carrion, and even small rodents and reptiles. They also add berries, seeds, and some flowers to the diet, but little in the way of leafy vegetation is consumed in the wild.
As growth slows in adulthood, as mentioned above, a diet with higher amounts of vegetables and fruits is beneficial. However, babies in the wild consume diets composed almost exclusively of beetles, roaches, grasshoppers, grubs, snails, larvae, and caterpillars.
Recommended Diet for Babies at 4-Weeks of Age
I start newborn babies on a high-quality cat food (grain-free paté, often chicken) with small amounts of fruit baby food mixed in. I also add powdered calcium with D3 to the mix. After a week or two, I add moderate amounts of raw egg, finely grated carrots, and chia seeds to the mix. The last two provide nutrition but also add some bulk and roughage to the diet. (Cat food alone promotes runny stools and diarrhea.) This type of diet usually works quite well for the first few weeks as the baby skinks grow larger. However, after a few weeks when the baby has bulked up rapidly, I then switch the diet to at least 50% pink mice (thawed), dusted crickets, dubia roaches, waxworms, and other insects. Baby blue-tongues will quickly learn to take food offered them from a hemostat ( or tongs); that’s the best way to feed them pinkie mice and many insects. I don’t offer many mealworms as they are harder to digest and are not especially nutritional.
Fresh water should always be provided and young blue-tongues will often wade into a water bowl if it is large enough. They can swim in desperation (think flash flood), but the water bowl should not be too deep. They are not alligators. Keep it wading deep. Incidentally, they often view their water bowl as a form of sophisticated indoor plumbing and use it as a toilet bowl. Expect to clean it often.
If you acquire a well-started baby blue-tongue from me or another breeder, you will get the best results in terms of growth and health if you provide a diverse diet that features pinkie mice and insects — not a monotonous diet of canned cat food. (I am addressing specifically Northern Blue-tongue skinks — Tiliqua scincoide intermedia — but this would be true for most the more commonly available Indonesian species as well as Eastern blue-tongue skinks.)
I delve into tanks and enclosures in the general care sheet but just want to stress that if you can provide a basking spot that includes UV lighting, your blue-tongue skink will definitely sing your praises. However, you can raise healthy blue-tongues without artificial UV or a basking site — as long as the diet is healthy and diverse — and other needs for water, shelter and appropriate temperatures are met. I cover appropriate temperatures and recommended substrates in the general care sheet.