Exotic animals veterinarian Dr David Vella loves Blue tongue lizards and has a lot of experience caring for them. He has kept them as pets and rehabilitates many injured in the wild.
“Blue tongue lizards are one of the best reptiles you can have, no matter how old you are,” he says.
There are many species of Blue-tongued lizards native to Australia with some of the main ones kept in captivity including the Eastern Blue-tongue, Blotched Blue-tongue and the Shingleback lizard, which is the type of Blue tongue that Leonard is.
“They are placid, gentle, slow moving and have a wisdom about them, especially Shinglebacks,” says Dr Vella, who has one of his own. “Leonard came to me 12 years ago. He was injured and I rehabilitated him but he requires permanent care due to a severe skin disease.”
Sadly, Dr Vella sees many injured Blue-tongues come in to the North Shore Veterinary Specialist Centre where he practices. Weirdly, most are head injuries.
“Their head looks like a snake and they are not shy; they don’t mind walking out in front of people. I suspect people whack them on the head thinking they are snakes,” he says.
Blue-tongue lizards live for about 15 years and because they are a protected species, a licence is required to own one. For information on how and where to get a licence, you need to check with your state/territory authority as the requirements are different in each area.
How Can I Buy A Blue Tongue Lizard?
You can buy a Blue tongue lizard from pet stores, breeders and reptile events/shows. You can get a list of pet stores from the PIAA (www.piaa.net.au) and a list of breeders from your local herpetological society.
Blue tongue lizards cost between $50- $100 depending on the size, age and species. They require a terrarium or vivarium, which can cost up to $500 including all the necessary accessories, such as thermostat, thermometer, water bowls, cage furniture and ultraviolet light.
Dr Vella advises a vivarium that is not all glass – it should have either timber or plastic walls with a clear plastic or glass front.
“Glass enclosures are notorious for failing due to heat loss,” he says. “The microclimate of where you place the vivarium is important. It’s like a difference between Summer and Winter temperatures on the beach and inland. This has a big bearing on how you heat your reptile’s enclosure.”
Dr Vella advises to continue measuring the temperature of the enclosure throughout the year as you might need to make adjustments by, for example, getting a warmer globe or providing less or more ventilation, which all have a factor on heating.
Caring For A Blue Tongue Lizard
Blue tongue lizards also need to be taken out once a week to get direct sunlight. “I like putting Leonard out in the sunlight and watching him bask. You can see he really enjoys it,” he says.
When it comes to diet, Blue-tongue lizards are omnivorous, so you need to feed them equal quantities of fruits, vegetables and animal foods, such as snails, insects (ie crickets, moths, beetles, cockroaches) and boiled egg.
“Young lizards eat once or twice a day and adults eat two or three times a week, pieces that are no larger than one-third the width of their heads,” says Dr Vella.
The most common health problem in Blue tongue lizards is to do with shedding. They shed their skin every month or so and if their enclosure is not clean or the temperature or humidity in their enclosure isn’t right, it can lead to the skin being retained, which would then cause skin infections or toe or foot constrictions.
“The overall health of the animal has an impact on their shedding properly,” he says. “You should check your lizard from head to toe to make sure all the skin has come away. And when they shed varies on how quickly they grow and how old they are.”
Dr Vella advises to have any new lizard examined by a reptile vet and continue visits annually. Quarantining newly acquired reptiles is important to prevent introducing disease or parasites, so speak your reptile vet about proper quarantine procedures.