I’ve been considering adding skinks to my small reptile collection, but I had one big concern – are skinks poisonous?
I decided to do a bit of research to figure out if they are poisonous and if it was safe for me to keep one as a pet.
Skinks are not poisonous when eaten, and defend against predators by breaking off their tails as a distraction. No skinks are venomous, so they can’t poison you by biting you. Due to salmonella and other parasites, a pet or child may still get extremely sick if they eat a skink, however.
Common concerns about any unfamiliar animal are how difficult it is to care for, what kind of diet it needs, whether it will get along with family members and other pets, and if it is safe to keep as a pet. The answers all follow below.
Why Do People Think Skinks Are Poisonous?
If you’ve looked into getting a pet skink, you’ve probably come across some sites that claim that skinks are poisonous.
In fact, there are many people who believe that the five-lined skink’s blue tail is an indicator that it carries a toxic venom. After all, in nature, most brightly colored animals are venomous, and their bright color is meant to act as a warning to predators.
The common consensus among vets and biologists is that skinks are absolutely not poisonous. Although the five-lined skink is commonly rumored to be poisonous, this is just a myth and is not true.
Most skinks do not even have blue tails, and like the vast majority of lizard species, the tail just acts as a decoy to predators.
When a skink is grabbed by the tail, the tail simply detaches from the rest of the body and the skink escapes, eventually growing a new tail.
Are Skinks Poisonous to Cats?
So now the safety of keeping a pet skink has been established, you may wonder if it is safe to keep a skink around your other pets.
My cats are born hunters, and a skink would be tempting prey. I looked into it, and the short answer is that skinks are not inherently poisonous to cats. (But they can get pretty sick from eating one.)
If your cat manages to catch and eat your pet skink, it might show the following symptoms:
- Nausea and vomiting – a nauseated cat will often salivate and lick its lips continuously
- Depressed appetite
- Bloated stomach
- Diarrhea with mucus present in the stool
- High fever
- Lower energy levels and increased lethargy
- General discomfort which might be indicated by persistent vocalization
Your cat might display signs of further disease progression if left untreated. These may be indicators of systemic organ failure and include:
- Significant weight loss over a relatively short period of time
- Inability to stand up unaided, even to eat or use the litter box
- Impaired liver function leading to jaundice, indicated by a yellow tint in the eyes
If your cat shows any of these signs and your skink is nowhere to be found, your best bet is to get your cat to the vet as soon as possible. The chances are your cat has eaten your skink and is suffering the effects of liver fluke contamination. Liver flukes are a type of intestinal parasite that skinks can pick up from eating creatures like land snails.
Some skinks can carry the salmonella bacteria, which can also cause illness in cats. The common symptoms of salmonella poisoning in cats include many of the same symptoms seen with liver fluke infestation, including vomiting and diarrhea. If you suspect your cat has become ill after eating a skink, you should get him to your vet immediately.
Are Skinks Poisonous to Dogs?
In general, skinks are not poisonous to dogs, and eating a small skink shouldn’t do your dog any real or lasting harm. Unlike cats, dogs cannot get sick from the liver flukes that some skinks carry. However, they can get sick from salmonella poisoning if your skink is carrying the salmonella bacteria.
A dog that has developed salmonella poisoning from eating a skink will show symptoms of gastric distress, including
- Soft, runny stools or diarrhea
- Bloody stools
- Vomiting and nausea
- Loss of appetite
- High fever
- Lethargy and a depressed mood
If you suspect your dog has salmonella poisoning, it’s important to get him treated straight away as salmonella poisoning can lead to pronounced weight loss and in extreme cases, death.
A skink is simply a small lizard from the family Scincidae, and there are over a thousand different species of skinks from all over the world. They vary in size, but most skinks, especially the types that are commonly sold in pet stores, tend to be smaller, typically between eight to twelve inches long.
Skinks generally have short, stubby arms and legs, a long tail, and prefer to spend their time burrowed in the sand or under a pile of leaves. Some of the more popular varieties of skinks sold at pet stores include
- Blue-tailed skink, (also called a five-lined skink because of the stripes that run along its body)
- Blue-tongued skink
- Snake-eyed skink
- Emerald tree skink
- Red-eyed crocodile skink
- Fire skink
- Great Desert skink
- Sand skink
What Is the Best Type of Skink to Get?
As I was researching skinks, I realized that there is a great deal of variety among skink lizards. So how do you decide which is the best option for your family?
The bottom line is that all skinks are pretty easy to take care of as long as you provide them with an appropriate habitat and clean food and water. The difference between various skink species lies mainly in their appearance and, to some degree, their diet.
Below is a table that lists some of the more popular skink species and their various dietary habits.
Type of Skink
Blue-tailed skink (Five-lined skink)
Very small, between five to eight inches long. Distinctive long blue tail.The blue-tailed skink is beautiful and distinctive, but it does not like to be handled very much and prefers to spend its time hiding and burrowing, so it might not make a great pet.
Prefers sandy environment with a lot of room to hide and a light, porous substrate material they can burrow into. The minimum tank size should be 10 gallons.
This type of skink is mainly an insectivore and prefers small cockroaches, crickets, spiders, mealworms, and wax worms. Requires a twice-weekly calcium and mineral supplement
One of the largest of the skink species, with beige or tan skin and a blue tongue. Adults can grow up to 24 inches.Blue-tongued skinks generally acclimate well to humans and make great companions, especially if they are raised from hatchlings. They are easy to handle, and they enjoy the company of their human owners outside their tanks.
Needs a large tank, at least 20 gallons, that is a minimum of 4 feet long and 2 feet high, with a porous substrate like wood shavings or newspaper and den-like areas where it can hide. Each male skink needs its own tank as they can be aggressively territorial.
The blue tongue skink is an omnivore and needs a diet comprised primarily of fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, leafy greens, and flowers. They also need meat in smaller amounts, like crickets, mealworms, rodents and cooked or raw meat.
Bright orange in color with black peripheral markings and a long tail. Grows to be about 15 inches long.Fire skinks are burrowers and prefer to spend their time hiding. However, if they are raised from hatchlings, they can become accustomed to human company and take well to being handled. Mating pairs will require a larger tank.
Needs at least a 20-gallon tank with a relatively thick layer of porous substrate, including a top layer of leaf litter that it can burrow into. Ornamental tree branches and dens are also recommended. It requires a moist, humid environment to thrive.
The fire skink is omnivorous and requires a steady diet of insects like crickets, worms, snails, and locusts. They will accept fruit and vegetables, but their preferred diet is insects, so they need to be fed a calcium and mineral supplement regularly.
Emerald tree skink
A beautiful bright green tree skink with a long tail, smooth scales, and a pale green underbelly. Adults grow to be about 2 feet long.Emerald tree skinks are a relative newcomer to the world of pet skinks and are considered an exotic pet, so the price for one of these skinks can be pretty steep. They are also quite social compared to other skink species and do better in captivity when they live in pairs.
Unlike most other skinks, the emerald skink is a tree climber. It needs a large terrarium habitat with live plants and vegetation it can climb like orchids, ferns, and grapevine. You can also put in ornamental trees with bare branches. Needs to live in a high humidity environment.
Emerald tree skinks are primarily insectivores and require a diet made up mainly of spiders, crickets, land snails, small frogs, and mealworms. You can provide them with some fresh fruit and calcium-rich greens like kale, but they will need calcium and mineral supplements.
Snake-eyed skinks are generally bronze or brown in color and have very small legs, so they look and move more like a small snake. There are about 10 known subspecies of this skink.Snake-eyed skinks are very active at night but spend their days out on rocks taking in the sun. You should provide your snake-eyed skink with a warming lamp either in their tank or very close to it. Snake-eyed skinks only live about 3 or 4 years and do well in pairs.
Adults grow to be about 6 inches long, so a 10-gallon tank will do at a minimum. Snake-eyed skinks tend to live in hilly areas so the best habitat for them will include a thick layer of leaf litter, rocks and ornamental dens to hide in.
Like most skinks, the snake-eyed skink is an opportunistic insectivore and requires a diet of spiders, crickets, land snails and mollusks as well as a mineral supplement. You can also provide your snake-eyed skink with small quantities of fresh plant matter, although their diet is primarily insect-based.
Red-eyed crocodile skink
This skink has an almost dragon-like appearance with tough spiny scales running down the length of its dark reddish-brown body and red rings around its eyes.Red-eyed crocodile skinks prefer a moist, humid environment so you should set up a misting system with a warming lamp in their habitat. These skinks are very territorial and aggressive, so they do better in individual habitats, but they acclimate well to human contact if raised from hatchlings.
Red-eyed crocodile skinks grow to be about 10 inches long, so a 10-gallon tank will suffice, but a 20-gallon tank would be better. These skinks actually enjoy being around water, so you will need to provide them with shallow bathing ponds as well as a thick substrate of leaf litter, den areas, and climbing branches.
Red-eyed crocodile skinks are primarily insectivores, so you should feed them a mixed diet of crickets, beetles, mealworms, spiders, and even earthworms. A mineral and calcium supplement is a must for these skinks. You can also feed them a multivitamin supplement once or twice a week.
The Great Desert skink and the Sand skink also appear frequently on lists of the most popular pet skinks to own, and some pet shops do sell them. However, it is important to note that both these skinks are on the endangered and protected species lists, so it’s probably best to leave the ownership and care of these breeds to conservation specialists.
So, skinks are not poisonous and are pretty easy to care for. There’s a great variety of skinks available, and any of them can make a wonderful addition to your home. Just keep them away from curious pets, to keep both your skink and other pets happy and healthy.