Do you see Red-Eyed Crocodile Skinks popping up on social media and want to find out more about these fairytale dragons? Let me be your guide!
The Red-Eyed Crocodile Skink is a timid, burrowing reptile that is best suited for an advanced reptile handler. Their quirky physical traits make them trendy pets, but their captive care requirements can be challenging. They are seldom seen and do not tolerate being handled.
In this article, I will be covering all the captive care requirements associated with the Red-Eyed Crocodile Skink. We will learn more about the physical characteristics, their personality, and their tropical, natural habitat. Then, we will go over what it takes to make this reptile flourish in captivity. After discussing tank dimensions, humidity levels, and water features, we will discuss UVB and thermoregulation. Then, we will dive into diet, handleability, and defense displays. Finally, I will summarize everything we covered in a few concise paragraphs.
Physical Characteristics and Native Habitat
Red-Eyed Crocodile Skinks are prehistoric-looking reptiles known for their prominent back scales and the bright orange coloring that surrounds their brown eyes. These crocodile-looking lizards are having a boom in demand because of their dragon-like features. They look like something that should be guarding a pile of treasure high in a castle tower! Before you dash out to buy these remarkable reptiles, there are some details you should be familiar with. These lizards are recommended for advanced keepers due to their complex husbandry requirements. Don’t worry, I’m here to break it down so you can decide if this is the right reptile for you!
These petite reptiles will grow to be about eight inches long, perfect for those looking for a smaller companion. With lifespans of around eight years, these tropical skinks are less of a long-term commitment than most turtles and snakes. These stout-bodied reptiles have strong arms and legs with dark brown scales along their backs and sides. They get their name from four rows of backward-curving keeled ridges that look similar to those found on a crocodile. These scales act as protective armor. Besides their dark brown coloring, they have cream-colored underbellies and strikingly bright orange scales that circle their irises. This gives them the facade of having large, doe-like eyes. These skinks have broad, triangular shaped heads with pointed scales and prominent eye ridges. The striking combination of crocodilian keels and bright encircling eye scales makes this skink a sought-after, prehistoric-looking pet. It’s no surprise that their adoration is growing!
While these reptiles are known for their striking, fairytale appearance, their personalities can be a challenge for keepers who are accustomed to docile pets. These skinks are exceptionally timid and spend most of their time hiding in burrows. Handling can severely stress this type of skink. Reptiles can become critically ill from this stress and for some, this can prove fatal. It’s important to always respect the boundaries of these reptiles. If having a highly visible, active reptile is important to you, then the Red-Eyed Crocodile Skink will not make a suitable companion. I suggest a more social reptile, such as a Jeweled Lacerta or Bearded Dragon as a more visible, energetic pet. If you want a low-key reptile that prefers to not be handled and will remain hidden from view most of the time, then this skink could be the perfect pet.
Red-Eyed Crocodile Skinks are indigenous to the islands of New Guinea. They can be found in humid, damp rainforests, hidden safely under the forest floor. They spend most of their time in burrows, or under the leaf litter, hidden from potential predators. They can also be found in shallow, slow-moving streams. These tropical skinks enjoy swimming and wading into the water, and are often found along the shorelines. Although they are adept climbers, they are rarely found more than a few inches off the forest floor. They are seen frequently basking out in the open. These skinks are the most comfortable in the water or below the forest floor. It is important to keep their natural habitat in mind, as an optimal captive environment is one that mirrors the reptile’s natural habitat.
Captive Habitat Requirements
These burrowing lizards will thrive in tanks that are at least 30 inches long by 12 inches wide. Because these skinks are not arboreal, the height of the cage is not important. At least 5 inches of the substrate is necessary to keep these lizards happy in their captive environments. Calci-sand, paper towels, pet litter, reptile carpet, and sand should never be used as substrate for reptiles. These choices can cause impaction and they will not hold their shape for proper burrow formation. It is recommended that you experiment with different combinations of coco bark, peat moss, coconut fiber, and organic topsoil. You want a consistency that will hold its shape when moist but not become dusty when dry. You can mist the substrate as needed to keep the humidity within range and to allow the substrate to hold its form for burrows.
These tropical skinks need a high humidity gradient between 70-90%. Tanks with high humidity levels are prone to the buildup of harmful bacteria. It is important to closely monitor and clean your tank to prevent infections from developing. This high humidity gradient should be achieved by using an automatic misting system. These levels can’t be maintained by hand misting. There are commercially built misting machines, but you can build a longer-lasting device for cheaper. The machines commonly found in pet stores are expensive, poorly built, and have a habit of breaking within a few years of purchase. To have stable humidity levels, it is recommended that these lizards have a prominent water feature. It should be big enough that they can completely submerge themselves and swim around. These tropical skinks enjoy wading and swimming in their native habitat, so the water feature should be a main component of their captive enclosure. When startled, these lizards will retreat to the water and hold their breath until danger abates. The water should be filtered and changed regularly to prevent the buildup of algae or mold. Proper husbandry for this breed includes an adequate water feature to assist in maintaining high humidity levels and provide an enriching captive environment.
Heating and UVB Expectations
Red-Eyed Crocodile Skinks should have access to 12 hours of UVB light daily. This prevents the development of Metabolic Bone Disease, which causes deformities produced by the malformation of bones. Lightly dusting your reptile’s food with D-3 supplements is another important aspect of preventing MBD. Remember that if you are mounting the UVB tube on top of a screen, a significant amount of UVB light will be blocked by the mesh. It is always best to mount the UVB tube to the inside of the tank, high enough that the reptile doesn’t have access to it.
Keep in mind that the farther away the UVB is from your reptile, the more subdued the waves are. The UVB tube should cover ¾ the length of the tank. The smaller, spiral bulbs are no longer considered adequate sources of UVB for most reptiles. It is also paramount to remember that the UVB tube will decline in strength over time, but it will still produce light. You should mark on your calendar the date you replace your UVB, and change it 6 months to a year later, depending on which model you bought. You could also buy a UVB meter, which reads the levels of UVB that your lamp produces.
These tropical skinks should have a basking spot of 82-86 degrees Fahrenheit. Ambient tank temperatures should range from 75-78 degrees Fahrenheit. There should be thermometers and hygrometers placed in multiple spots to check the levels throughout the tank.
A quick way to accurately measure the surface temperatures is to use an infrared heat gun. This allows you to monitor the temperature of basking platforms to ensure that your skink will not be burned. While the thermometers will measure the ambient temperatures, the infrared thermometers will check the surface temperatures. Between these two readings, you should have a detailed picture of the temperature of your skink’s captive environment.
These skinks require mild temperatures compared to other sought-after reptiles. The suggested captive temperature can be achieved with the use of basking bulbs. Under-the-tank heating mats are not recommended as an adequate heating source. They can heat unevenly and they do not correctly mimic the reptile’s natural basking environment. For the same reason, heat rocks should never be used. They have been known to cause thermal injuries, as the animals do not realize they are being slowly burned by the uneven heat.
For this breed, the tank can drop down to 65 degrees Fahrenheit at night and can still be considered safe. This means that you should not need any overnight heating equipment in most cases. If your house will dip below 65 degrees, a Ceramic Heat Emitter should be used. Ceramic Heat Emitters will heat the enclosure without disrupting your skink’s sleep cycle with light, but they will also dry out the enclosure more than a regular basking bulb. This should not cause an issue if you have an automatic misting system set up. It should be noted that the infrared bulbs that emit a red light can be damaging to your reptile’s eyes. While they are still sold in pet stores, they are considered outdated and should never be used.
These terrestrial skinks do not enjoy basking high off the forest floor, but low branches should be scattered around for them to climb. Remember, they are not found more than 6 inches off the ground in their native habitat. So, the branches do not need to be high, but there should be plenty of options for them to choose where to bask.
Providing a few different basking platforms allows the reptile a way to thermoregulate themselves. If they feel like they are not warm enough, they can simply climb to a higher basking spot. Similarly, this prevents overheating, because they can climb to a lower platform to cool down. This is easier than adding basking bulbs and dimmers to increase and decrease the heat with the fluctuation of the weather.
Basking platforms are best added underneath heating sources, but never close enough that your reptile could be burned. Adding rocks, branches and other vegetation helps to clutter the tank and gives this wary reptile more spots to hide.
If the tank is set up with too much open space, your skink may feel uncomfortable and remain in his burrow. Giving his tank clutter may help coax him out of his hiding spots. This may seem counterintuitive, but your reptile will feel safer if he has a safe place to dart to instead of having to face the wide-open tank.
You can tape paper towels to the outside of your glass tank, so your pal isn’t spooked every time he sees someone walk by. His tank should also be placed in a quieter area of the house. Taking these preventative measures can help coax your introverted friend out of hiding!
These insectivores thrive on a varied diet of live bugs. Providing live bugs gives your pet a chance to hunt and provides an opportunity for enrichment while in a captive environment. Bugs should never be wild-caught.
Wild-caught bugs can have parasites that can be transferred to your reptile, resulting in severe illness and, if untreated, death. Any bugs should be captive-bred to mitigate this risk. It’s crucial to remember to lightly dust your bugs with vitamin powder according to the directions on the label. A multivitamin and a D3 vitamin powder should be used to promote optimal health, although they should not both be used daily. In addition, all insects should be gut loaded before being fed to your skink. This means that the insects should be fed vegetable scraps, such as carrots or dark leafy greens, 24 hours before they are fed to your reptile. This will ensure that the insects are a nutrient-dense meal for your pet.
These skinks will eat every few days, and you will become accustomed to your pet’s eating schedule. You may provide two or three staple insects consistently and then rotate through a specialty bug.
Dubia Roaches are one of the most nutritious insects that can be offered, along with crickets. Mealworms, Hornworms, Black Fly Larva, Earthworms, and Superworms can be given in conjunction with staple feeders. If you are looking to cut back on costs, running a dubia farm is an easy endeavor that can be achieved using a spare Sterilite container and a heating mat. They thrive on spare vegetable scraps and are known to be extremely hardy. Once your colony is established, you have staple feeders on hand and would never have to worry about heading to the pet store again!
Handleability, Personality and Stress Displays
These shy reptiles are most active during dawn and dusk and will spend almost all of their time burrowing. They will not be seen basking out in the open, and you will rarely see them openly exploring their enclosure. They are not considered active and do not like being held. The best way to monitor this reptile is to place a camera in one of their burrows and monitor them remotely. This allows you to feel connected to your pet while not disturbing their habitat and making them uncomfortable. Some cameras can hook up a live feed to your phone so you can monitor your skink from wherever you are!
If you do choose to go against the advice of the herpetological community and regularly handle your Red-Eyed Crocodile Skink, you will see a range of defense mechanisms due to the stress that handling causes. These are some of the few reptiles with the ability to vocalize when stressed. You will hear your skink let out a raspy barking sound as it tries to scare you away. It also has the ability to drop its tail. This means that a portion of the reptile’s tail will fall off, leaving an open wound. This wound will heal over time and the tail can regenerate. It is important that you keep the area clean and closely monitor it for infection.
After the tail grows back, it may look off in color and you will need to monitor it to make sure that it is shedding correctly. They are also known for playing dead until the threat retreats. They can even vomit from the stress of being handled. When reptiles are repeatedly stressed to the point of displaying these behaviors, it can lower their immune systems and cause health complications. This can lead to the development of opportunistic infections that can lead to death if untreated. Some reptiles tolerate handling better than others. If your skink repeatedly shows any of these mentioned behaviors, it is best for their health that you refrain from holding them frequently. You can handle your skink when cleaning their tanks or when checking periodically for signs of disease. Overall, these reptiles are best left alone to explore their captive habitats. Regular handling should be avoided, but occasional wellness checks are encouraged.
Red-Eyed Crocodile Skinks are stunning reptiles that are unlike any other small lizard currently being kept in captivity. Their backward-keeled ridges and bright orange eyes make them look like fairytale dragons. These tropical skinks are seeing a big boom in popularity due to their unique appearance, but they do come with some challenging personality traits and care requirements. If you are an advanced herpetological keeper looking for an absolutely stunning reptile with some advanced husbandry requirements, this terrestrial skink is a perfect choice for your home.
The most important detail to remember about the Red-Eyed Crocodile Skink is that they are seldom seen and they do not like to be held. This means that although they are beautiful pets, you will rarely get to interact with them. They will spend almost all of their time in their burrows and are only active during dusk and dawn. Even at their most active, they are terrestrial creatures, and they will not be particularly energetic, like Jeweled Lacertas or Bearded Dragons. Furthermore, they can become stressed during handling sessions, which can be detrimental to their health. It is only recommended that they be held during wellness checks. If you would like to see your skink in a safe way, you could set up a camera in their burrow. For people who are looking for a reptile to watch explore its captive environment, the Red-Eyed Crocodile Skink is a great choice.
Finally, the Red-Eyed Crocodile Skink comes with some particular environmental requirements to keep it happy and healthy while in captivity. You want to mimic the tropical rainforest habitat that this burrowing skink is native to. That means that you will need a high humidity level of around 80% and an automatic misting system. Because they are avid burrowers, you will also need about 5 to 6 inches of dense substrate that will hold its shape. Finally, it is important to have a large, prominent water feature, such as a large pond or a waterfall. These skinks love to swim and will also submerge themselves for long periods of time. To have your tropical reptile truly thrive in captivity, a water feature should be a prominent element in your enclosure. The Red-Eyed Crocodile Skink is a stunning reptile that would be a perfect pet for an advanced keeper who is looking for a reptile to watch as they interact in their captive environment with limited handling sessions.
Hi! My name is Janelle and I am a reptile keeper from the United States. I’ve been raising reptiles for ten years. I love creating custom vivariums. I currently keep a Jeweled Lacerta, Sprout.