Blue Tongue Skinks are some of the biggest pet lizard species and they are a lot of fun to keep and care for. But with those big mouths comes a big question: do they bite and how much does it hurt? Let’s explore how likely you are to be bitten by a pet Blue Tongue Skink and just how dangerous it really is.
Most Blue Tongue Skink species that are commonly kept as pets tend to be docile and are unlikely to bite. Captive born and bred skinks (CBB) are far less likely to bite than wild-caught (WC) animals. Their bites hurt and cause bruises, but rarely break the skin and they are not venomous.
That’s the basic information, but there is a lot more to discover about Blue Tongue Skink bites. Read on to learn more about which skinks have the worst bite and which are the least likely to bite. You’ll even find out whether you could lose a finger!
Table of Contents
Blue Tongue Skinks Do Not Bite Often
Blue Tongue Skinks have mouths, and therefore it is absolutely possible that they could bite. Luckily, however, Blue Tongue Skink pets tend to be pretty relaxed and placid.
Blue Tongue Skinks are not “bitey” reptiles that are always snapping suddenly at their owners. If handled regularly, with good reinforcement practices to ensure positive experiences, they can become quite docile.
Unless you give them a reason to be afraid or ignore their warnings, you are unlikely to be bitten.
That being said, they are large and powerful, with big jaws. If they feel that they need to defend themselves, they are 100% capable of using their teeth to do so.
How Likely Is It That My Blue Tongue Skink Will Bite Me?
How likely it is that your pet Blue Tongue Skink will bite you depends on many factors. For example, there are many different skink species, with differing personalities.
Wild-caught animals struggle to adjust to captivity and are likely to be more aggressive than captive-bred animals. Males and females may act differently, as do individuals. Some are more likely to bite than others.
Other things that can cause your pet skink to bite include their health, as well as the level of threat or stress that they perceive. This can be influenced by their past experiences and the circumstances of the situation itself.
Bear in mind, though, that biting a huge creature like a human is a risk for any animal, even a Blue Tongue Skink. Animals have all kinds of communication methods designed to help them avoid physical fights.
This is because fights are incredibly risky. Even if the skink were to win, it may be injured and might suffer an infection or be less capable of hunting.
Thankfully, Blue Tongue Skinks are great communicators. Before biting you, they will give some pretty clear warning signs in the hope that you will back off! We will check these out in detail later.
Which Blue Tongue Skinks Are Most Likely To Bite?
There are so many types of Blue Tongue Skinks, which can be grouped into “Australian” and “Indonesian” skinks. They are all a little different. Let’s explore which ones are most likely to bite, and which are the most laid back.
Only some Blue Tongue Skink species are commonly kept as pets. These include the Common and Blotched species from Australia and the Giant Blue Tongue Skinks from Indonesia.
The Irian Jaya (Tiliqua sp.) is a hybrid of Indonesian gigas and Eastern scincoides Blue Tongue Skinks and is also a popular pet.
Which Australian Blue Tongue Skink Species Is Most Likely To Bite?
|Skink Species||Skink Subspecies||Likelihood To Bite|
|Common Blue Tongue Skink (Tiliqua scincoides)||Eastern Blue Tongue Skink (Tiliqua scincoides scincoides)||A popular species to keep as a pet that is considered to be friendly and unlikely to bite. These skinks are often bred in captivity, giving you a greater chance of getting an ethically-sourced, friendly, and well-adjusted pet.|
|Common Blue Tongue Skink (Tiliqua scincoides)||Northern Blue Tongue Skink (Tiliqua scincoides intermedia)||A very popular species to keep as a pet that is considered to be friendly and unlikely to bite. These skinks are very often bred in captivity, giving you a greater chance of getting an ethically-sourced, friendly, and well-adjusted pet.|
|Centralian Blue Tongue Skink (Tiliqua multifasciata)||n/a||This species of skink is not bred in captivity as a pet and cannot be exported as a wild-caught pet. Therefore, they are wild animals and likely to bite.|
|Western Blue Tongue Skink (Tiliqua occipitalis)||n/a||This species of skink is not bred in captivity as a pet and cannot be exported as a wild-caught pet. Therefore, they are wild animals and likely to bite.|
|Blotched Blue Tongue Skink (Tiliqua nigrolutea)||n/a||A popular species to keep as a pet that is considered to be friendly and unlikely to bite. These skinks are often bred in captivity, giving you a greater chance of getting an ethically-sourced, friendly, and well-adjusted pet.|
|Pygmy Blue Tongue Skink (Tiliqua adelaidensis)||n/a||This species of skink is endangered in the wild and should not be disturbed. It is therefore likely to bite but should never be handled.|
|Shingleback Blue Tongue Skink (Tiliqua rugosa)||Western Shingleback (Tiliqua rugosa rugosa)||This species of skink is almost impossible to breed in captivity as a pet and cannot be exported as a wild-caught pet. Therefore, they are usually wild animals and likely to bite. Their bite is powerful and prolonged.|
|Shingleback Blue Tongue Skink (Tiliqua rugosa)||Rottnest Island Shingleback (Tiliqua rugosa konowi)||This species of skink is almost impossible to breed in captivity as a pet and cannot be exported as a wild-caught pet. Therefore, they are usually wild animals and likely to bite. Their bite is powerful and prolonged.|
|Shingleback Blue Tongue Skink (Tiliqua rugosa)||Eastern Shingleback (Tiliqua rugosa aspera)||This species of skink is almost impossible to breed in captivity as a pet and cannot be exported as a wild-caught pet. Therefore, they are usually wild animals and likely to bite. Their bite is powerful and prolonged.|
|Shingleback Blue Tongue Skink (Tiliqua rugosa)||Shark Bay Shingleback (Tiliqua rugosa palarra)|
Which Indonesian Blue Tongue Skink Species Is Most Likely To Bite?
|Skink Species||Skink Subspecies||Likelihood To Bite|
|Indonesian Giant Blue Tongue Skink (Tiliqua gigas)||Classic Indonesian / Halmahera Blue Tongue Skink (Tiliqua gigas gigas)||A popular species to keep as a pet that is considered to be friendly and unlikely to bite when bred in captivity. However, this species is rarely bred in captivity and is often wild-caught and exported. Ensure you buy a captive-bred skink to spend ethically and to increase your chances of getting a friendly pet. Wild-caught animals are more likely to bite.|
|Indonesian Giant Blue Tongue Skink (Tiliqua gigas)||Kei Island Blue Tongue Skink (Tiliqua gigas keyensis)||This species is rarely bred in captivity, and therefore almost all Kei Island skinks are wild-caught and made into pets. This means they are less likely to be docile. Wildlife researchers also report it to be “less than friendly”. They are more likely to be aggressive and bite.|
|Indonesian Giant Blue Tongue Skink (Tiliqua gigas)||Merauke Blue Tongue Skink (Tiliqua gigas evanescens)||This species is thought to be docile and friendly when bred in captivity. However, they are not often bred in captivity. This means most pets are wild-caught. This is both unethical and means that they are more likely to bite. Furthermore, as they are incredibly large, when they do bite it is painful!|
|Common Blue Tongue Skink (Tiliqua scincoides)||Tanimbar Blue Tongue Skink (Tiliqua scincoides chimaera)||These skinks are more aggressive and do not make good pets. They are sometimes bred in captivity, but are still likely to bite.|
|Hybrid of other Tiliqua species||Irian Jaya Blue Tongue Skink (Tiliqua sp.)||This hybrid species is bred in captivity more often than other Indonesian species and is well-adjusted. It is a hybrid of two docile species and is likely to be friendly if born and bred in captivity. It is not very likely to bite.|
Top 3 Blue Tongue Skinks That Are Least Likely To Bite
- Australian Eastern Blue Tongue Skink (Tiliqua scincoides scincoides)
Captive Born and Bred (CBB)
As they are less commonly bred and kept than the Northern subspecies, there isn’t much information about the Eastern skinks out there. But check out what this experienced AZA reptile keeper and breeder has to say about their gentle and friendly personalities!
- Australian Northern Blue Tongue Skink (Tiliqua scincoides intermedia)
Captive Born and Bred (CBB)
This subspecies is super popular as a friendly and handleable animal. They are much more widely available as captive-bred animals and are likely to have nice and predictable temperaments.
- Indonesian Irian Jaya Blue Tongue Skink (Tiliqua sp.)
Captive Born and Bred (CBB)
This hybrid species combines the friendly nature of two very popular and friendly species, the Australian Northern and the Indonesian Giant. They are also more available as captive-bred animals and are likely to have docile personalities and not bite.
If you have the very rare opportunity to get a Captive Born and Bred (CBB) Merauke, they are said to be absolutely excellent, gigantic pets with friendly and docile personalities.
Indonesian Giant Merauke Blue Tongue Skink (Tiliqua gigas evanescens)
Captive Born and Bred (CBB)
Top 3 Blue Tongue Skinks That Are Most Likely To Bite
The animals that are most likely to bite are those that are wild-caught and imported, so for this list, assume the animals are wild-caught:
- Indonesian Tanimbar Blue Tongue Skink (Tiliqua scincoides chimaera)
Even when bred in captivity, the Tanimbar skink is not particularly friendly. They can be nervous and unpredictable, and do bite.
- Kei Island Blue Tongue Skink (Tiliqua gigas keyensis)
This subspecies is known for having a personality that is pretty similar to the Tanimbar. Researchers describe it as being “less than friendly!”
- Shingleback Blue Tongue Skinks (Tiliqua rugosa)
Shinglebacks are known to defend themselves when harassed using a powerful bite. They also tend to grip on for longer than researchers would like!
Are Male Or Female Blue Tongue Skinks More Likely To Bite?
Blue Tongue Skinks have very little sexual dimorphism. This means that boys and girls look similar, are similar sizes, and in this case, they behave pretty similarly too. In fact, telling male and female Blue Tongue Skinks apart can be a real challenge.
As a result, being male or female doesn’t have a huge influence on whether your Blue Tongue Skink is likely to bite. Many skink owners won’t even be 100% sure whether their pet is a girl or a boy!
Some Blue Tongue Skink owners report that females keep to themselves more, and may be more relaxed. Males may explore more and have more outgoing personalities.
As with many other reptiles, males are often said to be more aggressive and therefore more likely to bite. However, thanks to their similar appearance this is very difficult to be sure of.
What Does It Look Like When A Blue Tongue Skink Is About To Bite You?
Blue Tongue Skinks are very good at telling you when they are unhappy. They will communicate very clearly and give you a chance to back off.
If you learn to pay attention to the signals that it gives you, you will begin to understand how your pet is feeling. This is a really important part of building a trust relationship with your Blue Tongue Skink.
Warnings signs that come before a bite are:
Blue Tongue Skinks have an incredible behavior which is commonly called “puffing up”. It looks amazing! The skink uses this behavior to make its body very wide and appear extremely large. It does this to make predators think that it is too big to try and attack.
Check out this video to see puffing up in action!
Blue Tongue Skinks are also very vocal! They will hiss loudly to let you know that they need their space. This pregnant skink is feeling a little moody and gives a good clear hissing sound.
Opening The Mouth And Flicking The Tongue
This is where the blue tongue part comes in! Research is still being done to try and fully understand the blue tongues of our favorite skinks.
What we know so far is that the base of the blue tongue is highly UV light reflective, but not the tip. We also know that skinks tend to flash the base of the tongue at mammal and bird predators, but less often at other reptiles like snakes.
Current thinking suggests that Blue Tongue Skinks flash the reflective part of their tongues at the very last moment of an attack, to startle the predator. This might make them change course or hesitate, allowing the skink to get away.
It is possible that they do this more to birds and mammals, as they see UV light much better than reptiles. As a result, the tactic works better on them (Badiane et al., 2018).
Take a look at this defensive Blue Tongue Skink flashing his tongue!
Does It Hurt When Blue Tongue Skinks Bite?
Due to their size and the crushing power of their jaws, yes, it does hurt when Blue Tongue Skinks bite. Their jaws aren’t designed to slice and tear, so they rarely break the skin much with a bite. However, they are designed to crush up food items such as snail shells, so they’re very strong!
As a result, a bad Blue Tongue Skink bite is likely to cause bruising, and possibly damage to the nails if they are involved.
You should wash your hands after handling your skink and treat a bite as any other injury. It needs to be disinfected, especially if the skin is visibly broken. You could apply some arnica cream if there is bruising.
One of the most painful elements of a Blue Tongue Skink’s bite is the grip! Unlike a snake, which will usually strike and release in a flash, a skink will bite and hold. It may even roll over and over. It won’t last long, but long enough to cause a bit of pain and panic.
See how this young man handles being bitten for a prolonged moment. While the bite did hurt a bit at the time, there was no lasting damage!
Can A Blue Tongue Skink Bite Your Finger Off?
No, a Blue Tongue Skink can’t bite your finger off. Blue Tongue Skinks don’t have the right type of teeth to shear straight through skin and bone. But, they can grip hard.
Because they are so heavy, don’t try to snatch your hand back out of their mouths. You will probably make a simple bite much worse!
By pulling your hand back, you could risk breaking your skin. If you pull up and back and the skink comes with you, you now have a lot of weight hanging from your finger.
In this instance, you could injure your finger joints, cause more bruising and pain, and you might hurt your skink too.
What To Do If A Blue Tongue Skink Bites You
If a skink bites, try to stay still. Don’t attempt to snatch your hand back if the skink has not let go. If necessary, hold the skink still to stop it from rolling or shaking its head. As soon as it opens its mouth, withdraw your hands and back off. Then wash your hands and disinfect the spot where the skink bit you.
Are Blue Tongue Skinks Venomous?
No, Blue Tongue Skinks are not venomous. Though their brightly-colored tongue may suggest that they could be, they are in fact perfectly harmless. If a Blue Tongue Skink bites you, you will not receive any kind of toxin (venom).
However, as with all animal bites, you should always wash your hands and disinfect any wounds to prevent infection.
Are Blue Tongue Skinks Poisonous?
No, Blue Tongue Skinks are not poisonous. If you eat or bite a Blue Tongue Skink, you will not swallow any kind of toxin (poison).
Unfortunately, Blue Tongue Skinks are often the victims of poisoning. Skinks eat snails and slugs, so they often get poisoned by eating garden bugs that have slug pellets in them.
Never feed your pet skink bugs from the garden for this reason. Perhaps consider a way of getting rid of slugs that is less damaging to other creatures like hedgehogs and birds, too.
Because Blue Tongue Skinks are not poisonous, they are actually very good pets for households with other pets or children. It is good to know that they will not cause illness or death if another creature puts them in their mouth.
However, skinks really are relatively defenseless. They are the ones who are at risk from the children and pets such as cats and dogs. Please, always supervise your skink around other pets and children who might injure them.
Do Blue Tongue Skinks Have Teeth?
Yes, Blue Tongue Skinks have quite large teeth. However, their teeth do not protrude far from the gums and are barely visible in their jaws. Their teeth are not very pointed, and are designed for crushing.
On this skeleton, you can see the size and structure of the teeth much more clearly. The teeth of Blue Tongue Skinks are not the same size all the way along the jaw. They are smaller in the front and larger in the back.
Like most other skinks, Blue Tongue Skinks have teeth that are peg-shaped. This means they are cylindrical near the base and pointed into a blunt cone shape near the top. The teeth of Blue Tongue Skinks tend to be much wider and less uniform than other types of skinks.
Why Blue Tongue Skinks Bite And How To Stop It
Blue Tongue Skinks bite because they feel the need to defend themselves. It is the last resort to bite. If they show you all the warning signs that they are going to bite, and you do not give them space, they will feel they have to bite you in order to keep themselves safe.
The motivation for this doesn’t always make sense to us humans. Sometimes, it might seem that a skink is moody, aggressive, or unfriendly for no reason.
However, it is more likely that they are experiencing something that we have not noticed or simply do not understand. Let’s look into reasons that a Blue Tongue Skink might bite and how to prevent it.
Your Blue Tongue Skink Is Scared
If your Blue Tongue Skink is showing your warning signs like hissing, puffing up, and mouth gaping, it is telling you that something is wrong and a bite could be coming.
Assess the scenario. Are there loud sounds, crowds of people, or other strange stimuli?
Give your skink some space and shelter, and remove it from the scary situation if possible. Recognizing your pet’s behavior and understanding their communication is part of great pet ownership. Over time, responding to these signs will build a relationship of trust between you.
Your Blue Tongue Skink Is Stressed
Chronic stress is very bad for pets. Chronic stress can be caused by poor housing, bad social situations, overhandling, and many other factors. Chronic stress causes ill health, and will certainly make your skink short-tempered and more likely to bite.
If you have an ongoing problem with a bitey skink, check everything about their environment and care from A-Z. Ensure that their diet, enclosure, heat, humidity, light, routine, everything is correct for them.
Your Blue Tongue Skink Is Sick
If your Blue Tongue Skink is sick, it is very unlikely to show you signs until the illness is quite bad. This helps them survive in the wild, by not looking like easy targets for predators.
However, a sudden change in your skink’s personality, such as beginning to bite, could give you a clue that your pet is ill. Common sicknesses that affect Blue Tongue Lizards include Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD), mouth rot, and parasites.
MBD is caused by a lack of calcium and will result in damage to your pet’s bones and joints. Handling it will cause pain and is likely to lead to a bite. If you ever suspect that your pet is ill or cannot find an external cause for biting, take them to the vet!
Your Blue Tongue Skink Is Gravid
Blue Tongue Skinks are ovoviviparous, so females give a form of live birth. When the female is pregnant, she will be uncomfortable and defensive. She is much more likely to bite during this time.
Your Blue Tongue Skink Is Shedding
If your Blue Tongue Skink has suddenly become moody and unpredictable, it may be time to shed. Imagine if your skin was dry, itchy, and far too tight, you would feel like biting people too.
When your skink is shedding it is best to give them space and wait for their personality to return to normal.
Your Blue Tongue Skink Is Wild-Caught
Blue Tongue Skinks are very popular pets and in high demand. However, they are very difficult to breed. This means that there is a big market for wild-caught animals that are then exported and sold as pets.
This has been illegal in Australia for decades. As a result, the Australian Common Blue Tongue and Blotched species have been bred in captivity outside of Australia since that time. Therefore, these are the easiest skinks to buy as captive-born and bred (CBB) animals.
Indonesia, however, has not banned the capture and export of Blue Tongue Skinks. Because of this, almost all Indonesian giant skink species (gigas) that are available for sale as pets are wild-caught (WC/FC) not captive born and bred (CBB).
Beware any animals labeled as only captive-born (CB). They were most likely born to a wild-caught pregnant mother and do not count as ethically-sourced animals.
As mentioned earlier, Blue Tongue Skinks that are wild-caught are much more likely to bite than captive-born and bred animals. This is because they are not used to their surroundings, and have spent time living as prey animals in the wild.
They are likely to be nervous, unpredictable, and more aggressive.
The key to solving this is patience. You need to teach your pet that they are safe. Give them space, shelter, and respect their signals to back off. Give them food while you are around, and don’t crowd them with people or pets.
Finally, you may have to accept that a wild-caught Blue Tongue Skink may never fully adapt to captivity. While still a fantastic pet, it may always be a little nervous and more likely to bite than a captive-born and bred skink.