brumation effects on temperament

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hurricanejen
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brumation effects on temperament

Postby hurricanejen » Tue Feb 07, 2012 11:51 am

So, I realize to start that compared to most, my preferred method of housing my blue tongues together is unorthodox and frowned upon. I get that, I get why, so onwards to my observation and question:

I started off keeping skinks by housing my northern blue tongues together, and for the first year and a half, they were fine. The first year I had them I did not brumate them, as I didn't particular mind if they bred for me or not. I had them as pets and was pleased that they looked like a pair, with entertaining personalities and behaved as compatible cagemates. They slowed down, though never really engaged in a true brumation, but they did breed at about the 'right' time of year and my female produced 10 healthy, viable offspring. While occasionally my adults huffed and puffed at each other, it was much like the interactions between other semi-social lizards I've dealt with - a huff, a puff, maybe a short lunge and the "altercation" was settled. No injuries, no real problems, just typically brief arguments over who was basking at the moment.

This year, however, after breeding activity began I noticed that the aggression that had only occurred briefly the year before during mating hasn't gone away. My male in particular has been hounding the female to breed, and while they have copulated several times, she's clearly through with breeding and at this point is likely gravid. When I noticed that the aggression wasn't lessening I separated them, and for now I have them housed individually to see if hopefully my male calms down. I can't even have them out to roam at the same time, he goes after her so aggressively to breed.

This is such a huge flip of behavior over the previous year, with the only difference brumation, that I wanted to ask if others have noticed this kind of behavioral change. The female, if anything, has mellowed out (although she is obsessed with eating), while my male has been restless and with lowered appetite. I'm hoping once he gets over the breeding frenzy he'll start behaving normally again, but I'll admit I was surprised at how drastically the brumation (and likely the subsequent hormonal changes) affected his behavior.
Also, does anyone keep their skinks up and avoid true brumation?
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Re: brumation effects on temperament

Postby WanderingChai » Tue Feb 07, 2012 1:00 pm

BTS are not semi-social lizards. They are solitary. I recommend removing them at once. Northerns are certainly NOT on the short list of BTS that you can keep together. IMO they should not be together except for any time in the year except breeding season for short periods of time, then removed immediately.

I am not a breeder but I know enough about BTS to know that Northerns should NOT be kept together.
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Re: brumation effects on temperament

Postby critterguy » Tue Feb 07, 2012 2:27 pm

Not having true brumation is similar to what occurs for Northerns in the wild. It sounds like brumation results in a more concerted breeding response. Generally change seems to promote breeding in reptiles so a more drastic change may produce a more drastic hormonal surge/response in the male. Most breeders brumate their animals since it seems to result in more reliable success. However, few people make the effort to keep the environment totally stable over the year so the skinks can still key in on this. I keep my first year babies warm and they continue to eat well over winter.
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Re: brumation effects on temperament

Postby mark_w » Wed Feb 08, 2012 8:21 am

WanderingChai wrote:BTS are not semi-social lizards. They are solitary. I recommend removing them at once. Northerns are certainly NOT on the short list of BTS that you can keep together. IMO they should not be together except for any time in the year except breeding season for short periods of time, then removed immediately.

I am not a breeder but I know enough about BTS to know that Northerns should NOT be kept together.


I am curious to what extent this is based on experience or whether in fact this is information you have read on the internet and repeated? If you've not bred blue tongues I'm guessing your experience is limited? In Europe (and I believe in Australia) it is common to keep animals together, if not the norm. I have some blueys which I keep on their own, some in highly compatible pairs (kept together for years and years) and some in pairs which behave just as the OP describes. These have to be separated for a couple/few weeks once in a while. In my experience it is just as likely to be the female who is the aggressor. But, even with these pairs, they can co-habitat for 11 months or so of the years without problems. Of course you do have to monitor your animals fairly closely. Also, I think in Europe we tend to use larger, and to an extent more naturalistic, enclosures.

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Re: brumation effects on temperament

Postby Katrina » Wed Feb 08, 2012 9:47 am

Thanks Mark. Great info. I think the standard clause about it not being the preferred method was covered in the first sentence of this post, so moving past that this is an excellent discussion topic (especially for the Advanced section). Mark / Jen, what size enclosures do you use for an adult pair?

Mark - you mentioned you have to separate for a couple weeks once in a while. Is it usually around this time of year that you have to separate, or does it vary?
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Re: brumation effects on temperament

Postby hurricanejen » Wed Feb 08, 2012 10:48 am

Thanks Mark!

How large are your enclosures? Mine started in a 4', and then were moved to a 3' by 4' two story style cage that I used for monitors a couple years ago. It is less naturalistic looking, but it does provide enrichment and they can be separate from each other if desired. I think, personally, that the enrichment aspect of providing a varied captive environment that allows enough space for them to interact or be separate is what helps. These aren't nearly the kind of group living animals that other semi social reptiles are, so when you combine two and don't provide anything else for them to do but stare at each other, it's not too surprising that they end up fighting. Mine aren't exactly set up naturalistically, but they have thick layers of substrate to burrow in, multiple hides, and multiple feeding sites. The male is taken in to the store I work at on weekends, so two days out of the week they spend 10 hours apart in addition to any time I let them out to wander around.

I like reading about how other places house animals - I recently read a somewhat older ball python care book that was translated from german, that recommended a large, naturalistic style enclosure and housing multiple ball pythons together. The book seemed to suggest that breeding success was less common than it was here in the states at that time, but didn't mention more than usual trouble with feeding or other indications of stress, though. I know from my own and other's experience that ball pythons often won't cycle to breed when housed with their partner year round, or the male at least won't indicate any willingness to breed, but the female will lock up with new males that are introduced. Thought provoking for sure, but definitely not what we in the states often consider the "right" way to house ball pythons.

So back to the skinks, Mark I'd love to hear about your cages. It makes me feel more hopeful that some of your pairs do this, and can eventually be housed together again. How do you set yours up? What kind of lights, substrate? I've seen pictures of the enclosures at the Melbourne zoo that look like they're made out of clay and sand, and the skinks can actually create their own burrows in it. Do you utilize something like that?
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Re: brumation effects on temperament

Postby mark_w » Wed Feb 08, 2012 1:18 pm

Katrina wrote:Thanks Mark. Great info. I think the standard clause about it not being the preferred method was covered in the first sentence of this post, so moving past that this is an excellent discussion topic (especially for the Advanced section). Mark / Jen, what size enclosures do you use for an adult pair?

Mark - you mentioned you have to separate for a couple weeks once in a while. Is it usually around this time of year that you have to separate, or does it vary?


Katrina that's a harder question to answer than you might think. I'm not sure. I think it mostly happens in the autumn and the spring but trouble can spring up at any time. What I usually do when it does, is remove the aggressor and give it a spell in what I call solitary confinement. Sometimes a few days is enough for a peaceful reintroduction. I don't like to separate for any longer than necessary in case they forget that they love in a (mostly) compatible pair!
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Re: brumation effects on temperament

Postby mark_w » Wed Feb 08, 2012 1:37 pm

hurricanejen wrote:Thanks Mark!

How large are your enclosures? Mine started in a 4', and then were moved to a 3' by 4' two story style cage that I used for monitors a couple years ago. It is less naturalistic looking, but it does provide enrichment and they can be separate from each other if desired. I think, personally, that the enrichment aspect of providing a varied captive environment that allows enough space for them to interact or be separate is what helps. These aren't nearly the kind of group living animals that other semi social reptiles are, so when you combine two and don't provide anything else for them to do but stare at each other, it's not too surprising that they end up fighting. Mine aren't exactly set up naturalistically, but they have thick layers of substrate to burrow in, multiple hides, and multiple feeding sites. The male is taken in to the store I work at on weekends, so two days out of the week they spend 10 hours apart in addition to any time I let them out to wander around.

I like reading about how other places house animals - I recently read a somewhat older ball python care book that was translated from german, that recommended a large, naturalistic style enclosure and housing multiple ball pythons together. The book seemed to suggest that breeding success was less common than it was here in the states at that time, but didn't mention more than usual trouble with feeding or other indications of stress, though. I know from my own and other's experience that ball pythons often won't cycle to breed when housed with their partner year round, or the male at least won't indicate any willingness to breed, but the female will lock up with new males that are introduced. Thought provoking for sure, but definitely not what we in the states often consider the "right" way to house ball pythons.

So back to the skinks, Mark I'd love to hear about your cages. It makes me feel more hopeful that some of your pairs do this, and can eventually be housed together again. How do you set yours up? What kind of lights, substrate? I've seen pictures of the enclosures at the Melbourne zoo that look like they're made out of clay and sand, and the skinks can actually create their own burrows in it. Do you utilize something like that?


Hi Jen,

To be honest I have tried lots of ways of keeping blue tongues over the past 10-12 years. I started with 5' x 2' x 2' vivaria - the wooden ones with sliding glass doors at the front. I still use this construction but now, I have different sized vivaria with a floor areas of 4' x 2', 4' x 18" and 3' x 18". I use the largest for pairs and the smallest for youngsters. I have experimented with various substrates but these days use beechwood chips. A large flat rock for basking, large halfrounds of cork for hides and a few artifical foliage sprays attached to the side/back walls complete the basic pattern. Probably not as exciting as you were expecting! My collection isn't big on the scale of the big US breeders or anything, but I've had to reduce enclosure sizes a little as I've increased the number of animals. Many of the Dutch and German keepers that house multiple animals together, or multiple species together, use much larger enclosures though i.e 6 or 8' x 3'. One model is to keep Tiliqua scincoides with Egernia cunninghami for example. Hope this helps, Mark.
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Re: brumation effects on temperament

Postby KateBeer » Thu Feb 09, 2012 4:24 am

I have a pair of Meraukes and keep them in a 5 x 2 x 1.5 ft vivarium, no troubles, they have lived together ever since being sent over (they were captive farmed). I think its all about space and visual barriers/enough going on that they can be separate and out of each others eyeline if they want to be.
I am going to attempt the same with a pair of Irian Jayas in the future, I have 2 females and one male, so if problems do crop up, I intend to rotate between two in a 5x2x1.5ft and one solitary in a 4x1.5x1ft. I prefer the idea of larger cages/vivaria as more natural habitats than smaller enclosures.
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Re: brumation effects on temperament

Postby hurricanejen » Thu Feb 09, 2012 8:16 am

Hah, actually Mark that doesn't sound a whole lot different than my initial set up with them. I tried reintroducing them a bit last night, while soaking and out roaming they were fine but almost immediately after being back in the cage, he was chewing on her side again. I'll give it another week and try again.

Kate, I agree. That basic principle of space and visual barriers works for a lot of different applications - I have two multispecies vivariums now, and even with smaller species like dwarf geckos, when housed in a large enough cage with enough visual barriers, no problems.

Glad to hear that I am not the only one doing this. :) Gives me hope that eventually my male will calm the heck back down and go back to living happily ever after. He's not feeding as well as he was before, even when housed separately. I suppose if I had a larger group of females, this would be great, but I just want my normally behaved skinker back.
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Re: brumation effects on temperament

Postby Richard.C » Thu Feb 09, 2012 3:01 pm

might be a chance he wont settle down with her again,also a chance she may turn and go at him,thats northerns for you,lol,i keep a trio together year round,a large male with 2 3 year old females,previous owner kept them that way,so i thought i would to,so 2 years later,they still all get along,only issue i saw was when i bred the 2 females to another male i have,on returning them to there cage the male they live with got agitated,possably could smell the other male,but settled when he realised it was the females,my other northerns are all housed alone,well except 1 big male who kept escaping into the stumpy tail cage,so was left in with them,and no issues with any of them

blueys are individuals i guess,some get on quite well,others dont,theres always a risk in housing them together,but it isnt impossable,northerns are one that are tricky though,both sexes can get nasty if they decide to,ive even heard of them doing this in large outdoor enclosures to,turning on cage mates,so it isnt restricted to indoor housing
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Re: brumation effects on temperament

Postby critterguy » Thu Feb 09, 2012 4:44 pm

It'd be interesting if anyone here has observed Northerns in their natural habitat how they usually react to each other. Clearly aggressive behavior is not an artifact of captivity.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hgxTjzE4yOw

(I've posted this video before-these two have the great outdoors to retreat to and they still insist on fighting pretty intensely).
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Re: brumation effects on temperament

Postby hurricanejen » Fri Feb 10, 2012 8:29 am

That video looks like two males fighting to me, and may have been a dispute over territory. It's not the sort of display or aggression that I am seeing between my sexed pair, at least. I am extremely curious about wild behaviors as well, though. I wonder that a male would not have an established territory that also overlaps the territory of females. I've read a study done in ...I believe it was south australia that used a radio show and listeners to help count skinks and describe their behaviors. Many described specific animals that would visit their gardens or yards, often for years, although I can't remember if pairs or more than one were ever mentioned. If the same skinks are returning, to me that indicates that they are holding an established area as a territory. If one or both sexes is not wandering, how then do they find mates?

How wild skinks seek out mates would be an interesting study for sure. Or if there already was one, I'd love to read it....
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