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ACTUAL requirements for BTS

Posted: Fri Oct 09, 2015 6:13 am
by jdhutton2000
I wanted to discuss this in the advanced forum due to the polarization of the question being asked. I am not looking for people getting mad at each other, I am looking for years of experience put out there in a 100% truth fashion.
I am new to blue tongues and have mostly dealt with snakes, mainly due to lizards many different requirements. With BHB putting out videos through animal bytes then through critter cam in Australia, there is a lot of different information out there on how to house and care for skinks.

For example Brian says that UVB is not needed, you can supplement but everyone he has talked with in Australia who breeds them says you don't have to, you can exclusively feed them cat/dog food and they are fine, they don't need heat lamp just belly heat, etc.

LLL Reptile has all their skinks in vision cages with elaborate hiding places, Saying supplements are a must, UVB is a must, basking hot spot is a must, fresh fruit and veggies are a must, etc.

Now while I do understand that Brian is approaching it from a breeders point of view, and LLL Reptile is mainly talking to pet owners, what are the no BS requirements that you use? If I only had one pet and no kids, sure I would go 100% with LLL Reptile's recommendation, but the everyday owner needs a balance between care to the line of pampering, and "storing" reptiles.

Re: ACTUAL requirements for BTS

Posted: Fri Oct 09, 2015 11:34 am
by Susann
If people with decades of experience have kept their animals one way for 10, 20, 30 years, and the animals are healthy and producing big, healthy litters, then obviously their way works, and you don't HAVE TO give them anything more. Does that mean you are wrong to supply your animals with something more than the basics? Of course not.
If a different keeper says you have to supply them with something more than the basics, I'm going to assume his animals are healthy and happy and he's not willing to chance it by removing something that in his opinion is contributing to his animals' well-being.

Unfortunately that leaves you to make your own informed decisions. Listen, learn, but understand that, because blue tongue skinks are such hardy, resilient animals, there are many ways that work.

So the absolute minimum requirements?
A secure, large enough, habitat with:
-- a proper heat gradient
-- water to drink
-- a day/night light cycle
-- feedings
-- a way or place to feel secure, whether that's the container he lives in, substrate, or an actual hide

What else could you supply?
The list is probably endless, but here are a few suggestions:
-- UVB
-- large water container for soaking
-- more hides
-- decorations/greenery
-- things for them to climb, rub against, lay under, look at, explore, play with

Are the things on the second list necessary? Evidently not. Do they contribute to the animal's over-all health and well-being? Maybe so, and there's nothing wrong with supplying anything over the absolute minimum. But saying they MUST have anything else is, in my opinion, just THEIR opinion, because plenty of evidence exists that they can be perfectly healthy without.

Re: ACTUAL requirements for BTS

Posted: Wed Oct 14, 2015 7:28 am
by Susann
jdhutton2000, was that what you were looking for? I didn't want to make you feel like this was something you couldn't discuss... Or my answer covered what you wanted to know?

Re: ACTUAL requirements for BTS

Posted: Thu Oct 15, 2015 7:18 am
by Edward
I have had some experience keeping almost all Tiliqua species/subspecies for over two decades now. jdhutton2000's concerns are quite understandable and I'm glad s/he wants to engage in a constructive discussion of the varied husbandry practices that are possible. I think Susann's post is very insightful and I agree with her lists of requirements and optional extras.
To emphasize the point that even successful keepers can disagree on how best to keep BTS, I have kept my skinks in what many would consider an unconventional substrate: a mixture of soil and bark. After trying different things in my early days as a BTS fan, I ended up coming up with a mix that works well for me and I continue to use it. It allows my skinks to bury themselves, it is natural, it suits itself to maintaining good humidity, it allows decomposition of waste, it helps wear down the skinks' nails, etc. A great substrate ... for me. But more than a few people on this site have told me they think it's a terrible substrate (whether they have tried it themselves or not :? ).
So, to echo Susann's advice, listen carefully, read a lot, learn all you can from the more experienced keepers, and always, always do what works best for your animals.



Re: ACTUAL requirements for BTS

Posted: Thu Oct 15, 2015 3:40 pm
by Richard.C
Wise words edward

Im glad u posted that

One point edward just made and an important one alot of people dont understand is doing whats best for the animals,eg substrates,its not always about whats easiest to clean and change,thats more about whats best for the keeper rather than the kept

Hence you often get some debate over how others may do things,never write things off as theres some great ideas that often get scoffed at and often passed around as a stupid thing to do,eg substrates,usually by people who have never even tried it before

Look at all ways people do things,if u look hard enough you will find ways people have done things that show you alot of the urban myths being passed around are just that,urban myths

Thanks for posting edward

Re: ACTUAL requirements for BTS

Posted: Fri Oct 16, 2015 6:40 am
by jdhutton2000
I appreciate the responses.
My main focus like Edward and Richard talked about, is finding the balance between what is ideal for the skink and not outlandish for the keeper (got kids and other pets to care for). Most of these lists you get for BTS vary (more than Ball python lists!!) and its sort of the best practices of each keeper without a standardized list.
For example... I have a BTS in a 41 qt tub (sterrilite), he is kept in my reptile room at a constant temp of 85 degrees. His humidity in the tub sits at 75%, his substrate is the same I use for my Ball pythons 75% cypress mulch 25% coconut fiber (this substrate is awesome for higher humidity and burrowing) a thermostat heating pad under one side of the tub to keep it 100 degrees on that side. He has a water tub and bowl of food.
Now all these things I did for my skink were more related to what I found of other snake species in that locality. (snake requirements being very well documented)
I have kinda hybrid all things because I know that 90% of people who put out these care sheets are 100% for maximum comfort of the reptile and 0% consideration for the owner (which if people were that worried they would have left the skink in their locality and not support the market).
So my major question is, what is that balance? People who have kept them for 20+ years would be more likely to find that balance. (not a prerequisite just a mindset I have on reptile keepers ; ) )

Re: ACTUAL requirements for BTS

Posted: Sat Oct 17, 2015 2:52 am
by Lea
Hi there.

I thought I'd just chip in a little from my experience. It's a lot of learning as you go, preparing yourself for every eventually and preventing any known, or potential, problems.

I'm also a little different to a lot of keepers, as I use red dirt in my indoor enclosures, sourced from the actual habitats of South Australian shinglebacks. Not everyone has that luxury of being able to mimic a wild habitat, but I can, so I do. However, not everything in the wild is optimum for our captive skinks. Predators of course, plus lack of nutritious food, unpredictable weather and disease, are all out of control for the wild lizard. I take what good knowledge I have about their wild habitats and adapt it for optimum captive living.

Most of my skinks live outside and pretty much do what they do in the wild, without the threat of predation or harsh extremes of weather. Their enclosure is protected from the elements and of course, they get gourmet style feedings with supplements to further optimise their health.

Indoors, I am of the belief that UV light is beneficial, not just for the production of vitamin d, but for synthesising a day/night environment which could be helpful in regulating mood/mental health. You could keep your skink in a dark box with just a heat pad for warmth and feed it regularly with supplements and it would probably "look" fine, but imagine yourself in the same situation and how depressed you would feel. I am certain our animals "feel" similarly and although very abstract, it's definitely a consideration.

In summary. Whether on a budget or not, providing the bare minimum for your animal is not something you would do for yourself or your family, if you could help it. If you think something may be of benefit and has no known adverse effects, then why not use it? Lizards don't really care for decorations or ornaments like people do, but a little ray of natural sunshine now and again may bring new life and interest to the otherwise quite boring life of a caged animal. Think outside the box. Take all the informations and suggestions you can find, look for evidence based literature on topics like diet, UV and supplementation and work out what is the best you can do for your animal.

Re: ACTUAL requirements for BTS

Posted: Sat Oct 17, 2015 11:56 am
by Scincoides
Its important to understand right off the bat that these things arent ball pythons. A ball python in the wild spends a good portion of its life in a burrow somewhere thats dark and secluded. In captivity, keeping them in a tub is ideal because they get the same feeling of security that they would have in a burrow in the wild. Its dark, warm, secure, humid, etc. Blue Tongues arent burrow dwelling snakes. These are very active, alert, animals that do a good deal of roaming around in the wild. Foraging for food, looking for mates, and covering a reasonable amount of ground in the process. This means that housing a bts in a rack is not ideal as far as tiliqua are concerned. With that being said, housing blue tongues in tubs is very doable, if the right steps are taken to ensure that the animals have their needs met. I have a large collection (100+) of blue tongues, so as im sure you can guess, i do not house them all in giant 6 foot enclosures with UV lighting and a naturalistic setup. I use racks as do most with large collections in the US. A few things that i do to make this more enriching for the animal are:

Add hides, one on each side of the tub

Use fairly "open" style racks, and opaque tubs when possible. Angle lights at the rack that are set to a timer so that the animals still have a set day/night cycle.

Maybe add a pile of shredded newspaper to burrow around in

I personally like to vary the diet as much as possible, this could be as simple as changing the flavor of dog food a couple times per month, or more you could put the extra effort into adding new things into the diet. After all, variety is the spice of life.

I also feed smaller than average meals at least twice per week, often more, so that the animal has at least something to keep things interesting each week.

Theres a fine line between setting things up in a manner that allows a keeper the ability house a large collection with the uniformity and ease that a rack allows, and the minimalistic "If i put it in a box with water and heat it will survive" method. These animals really should have some sort of semblance of "natural activity" in their lives.
This is what works here for me, and its largely based on the method used by Ray Gurgui in Florida who has been keeping and breeding these things for 25+ years. I was in diapers when that guy was putting the work into finding the exact balance of care that your asking about. It works and isnt much work at all.

Re: ACTUAL requirements for BTS

Posted: Sun Oct 18, 2015 2:16 am
by NickBrahz
I have only been keeping skinks since the start of the year and only 3 of them so far so not as knowledgeable as everybody else in here but i would just like to mirror something Scincoides mentioned and that is about Diet variety.
Now changing the diet is not a actual requirement for a BTS to live, just like as a human we could survive on just potatoes for food for our entire lives, doesn't sound to pleasant does it so imagine a skink eating the same meal for its entire life, doesn't even have to be crazy diet changes every other day, just as Scincoides said it could be as simple as changing the dog food flavour, i personally when i make up bulk food use 2 cans of dog food so i like to mix and match them for a different combination each batch, same goes with veggies mixed in there and fruit each batch i change around a few of the things so its not the same identical food for its entire life.

Re: ACTUAL requirements for BTS

Posted: Sun Nov 15, 2015 10:56 am
by mark_w
This is an interesting thread with some quality replies. Susann I think you hit the nail on the head. This is a topic that we seem unable to debate sensibly in the UK - I get jumped on if I suggest that blue tongues don't NEED UV or that they can be raised satisfactorily on dog food alone. Even including dog food as part of a varied diet is highly controversial.

I am in agreement with contributions made. I choose to maintain a smaller collection and to keep animals in vivaria with sliding glass front doors and overhead lights as opposed to tubs. There are still plenty of compromises. Individual animals are in 36" x 24" floorspace vivs which is not actually that much larger than commonly used tubs. But I like to see them/interact with them and have accepted that to do things this way I have to keep fewer animals. Its a quality vs quantity argument.

But, I can see the success that tub users like Austin and Ron and Ray have and so it clearly works for them. I may even give it a go myself at some point if I decide to increase my collection. For me availability of time is the limiting factor more than anything!


Re: ACTUAL requirements for BTS

Posted: Fri Jan 29, 2016 11:15 pm
by becca0833
I just want to chip in about the "balance" that I have found between all of these different opinions. This is just my personal way of doing things and I feel like it is somewhere between LLL and BHB. I do use a rack.

Size of tub: It is a 41qt sterilite. The 41qt sterilite is barely smaller than the popular CB70 tubs. Because I do not need to take up space with a tile or rock for basking, and because I reduced my amount of hides to one tunnel type hide running along the back wall of the tub and therefore part on the hot side part on the cool side, the actual space in which the skink can crawl and burrow is around the same as the 36x18 viv I was using. The only skink I have ever kept in a vivarium almost exclusively used the tunnel type hide before the switch. The only other cage furniture is a water dish.

Substrate: I still use 3/4 inches of substrate in the tubs. I have been using that much substrate in the whole tub, but I might experiment with half of the tub or something similar, but covering the tub seems to be alright, I find them burrowed down all the way to the tub floor almost every time, so I know they can get down to their heat.

Heat and light: I have a square of heat tape that completely covers the left 1/4 of the tub. At first I had just one small strip, I feel it isn't adequate, it is too small in my opinion to warm up an adult skink and also the ambients were not correct because of the layout of my rack. The heat tape is controlled with a Herpstat 2 set at 100. I have combination hygrometers/combometers that have a probe and read the ambient temp and humidity inside the tub but display it outside the tub. The layout of my rack is somewhat different to most cb70 racks. I have the longest side of the tub completely exposed, it is the side of the tub I use to pull the tub out like a drawer. I had it custom made that way to fit my space, but I feel like it lets a lot of light in the tubs. I can see through the plastic and it is near a window. I implement a night drop of 80 degrees. I do not use uvb because I have seen that they can be properly raised and taken care of without it, however, I live in sunny Southern California and in the summer I take advantage of it, either taking them out supervised or in a secured pen that allows uvb through for an hour or so.

Diet: I already have Bearded Dragons, so I am already buying greens, bugs and fruits. So typically I mix greens into grain free dog or cat food and then they get bugs or fruits on the side here and there. I always supplement with Calcium and D3. I use Repti-Calcium. I like that you can feed skinks so many things, so I give them a lot of different things but without fail they get their dog food every feeding. I am currently looking in on different types of Calcium supplement and D3 dosages. I use one with a lower d3 count for my dragons who have artificial uvb, and one with a higher count for the skinks and leopard gecko. However, I know ones with a higher d3 count exist, but I am still reading about it before changing my supplement.

As I expand, I intend to stick to this. I feel that it is balanced not as much based on my personal experience but from listening to a lot of different people I picked which care options to prioritize. This is just my idea of balance. I really enjoyed reading everything in this thread and the concept of Balance is one of the things I thought about when making the switch to a rack.