What is a red-eyed crocodile skink, you ask? Well, it’s an adorable little critter that hails from Southeast Asia known for their miniature dragon like appearance similar to the fairy tale dragon from movies about knights and wizards.
If you’re a dedicated herpetologist, or just have an interest in exotic animals, then the red-eyed crocodile skink might be the perfect pet for you.
They are popular pets due to their docile nature and relatively easy care requirements, but there are some steps you need to take before acquiring one of your own!
In this article we will go through the process of how to care for a red-eyed crocodile skink, from finding out if they’re legal where you live to setting up an enclosure.
What is a Red-Eyed Crocodile Skink?
A red-eyed crocodile skink is the common name for the Tribolonotus gracilis. It is one of eight known species of crocodile skinks. They are native to primarily Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands but can be found in other nearby Asian countries as well.
The crocodile skink is a small amphibian with small keeled scales similar to a crocodile (thus their common name) that range in color from dark brown to black. It has red or orange rings around its eyes, but its eyes are black and not actually red.
While red-eyed crocodile skinks are not difficult to take care of due to how timid they are, they are a little more difficult than other lizards such as bearded dragons.
Housing for your Red-Eyed Crocodile Skink
You’ll need to prepare proper housing before bringing your new pet reptile home. This should be an artificial habitat that mimics its natural habitat as closely as possible.
The recommended size for their enclosure is at least 20 gallons, with secure locks on the top to keep your skink inside. Escape is most likely not a big threat due to how much crocodile skinks like to remain hidden, but that’s a double-edged sword. If yours does get out of its enclosure, good luck trying to find it.
Floor space is also more important than height as red-eyed crocodile skinks are terrestrial, meaning they do not climb much.
A proper tank setup requires more than just getting the right size tank though. You need to dial in the right temperature, humidity, lighting and ambiance.
Temperature & Humidity
The recommended temperature for your skink’s enclosure is between 75°F and 78°F. This may be difficult to maintain during the winter, so if you live in a colder climate you’ll need to provide supplemental heat. The two most popular ways to do so are with either a heat lamp, an under-tank heater or a combination of the two.
You will also need a basking light as their basking spot will need to be warmer, usually around 80℉-82℉.
Red-eyed crocodile skinks also need UVB light. It needs to be provided for 12-14 hours per day, but luckily the basking lamp can help provide UVB lighting if you purchase the correct bulb.
Getting the temperature correct is the easy part though. Red-eyed crocodile skinks thrive in high humidity environments. It resembles their natural habitat and it helps them shed effortlessly.
Humidity levels should be at 70% or higher. This is difficult to maintain without consistent misting. Installing an automated mister and using the correct substrate can help make this level more attainable.
Popular substrates for red-eyed crocodile skinks are aspen or coconut husk. They need something that they can dig through and feel comfortable in. It should resemble the forest floor oof tropical forests, soft and moist.
You can use paper towels too, but you’ll need to provide extra hiding spots since they won’t be able to create their own as paper towels don’t give your pet the option to dig and hide.
Reptile carpet is not really a great choice as it has more limitations than the others mentioned above.
Diet for your Red-Eyed Crocodile Skink
Aside from providing a suitable habitat for your new red-eyed crocodile skink, you will need to ensure it gets a healthy diet.
As a crepuscular lizard, red-eyed crocodile skinks prefer eating at dawn and at dusk. They mainly eat worms, small crickets and other small insects that can be found in their natural habitat. Dubia roaches are another very nutritious insect you can rotate into their diet.
Juvenile red-eyed crocodile skinks need to eat more than adults as they’re still growing.
You do need to do a little extra though as appropriately sized insects alone are not going to give your red-eyed crocodile skink all the nutrition it needs. You will need to supplement calcium and Vitamin D3 by dusting their food before presenting it. There are special reptile supplements, so it’s a fairly easy extra step to take.
Most pet shops will have both the feeder insects and the supplements you need.
Handling and Playtime with your Red-eyed Crocodile Skink
Though they are not the best reptile for handling due to how timid they are, you can handle a red-eyed crocodile skink. Training a baby skink is a very different experience than training an adult.
It can take weeks or months for your red-eyed crocodile skink to adjust to you, so patience is required.
You can start by just placing your skink in your hand and letting it get comfortable to your body temperature for a few minutes a day. Unlike many other reptile pets, you don’t have to worry much about it quickly scurrying away. Red-eyed crocodile skinks are more likely to play dead than to make a bolt for it.
Even when they get used to handling, you should keep it to a minimum as you don’t want to stress them too much.
It’s also important to avoid handling them after they’ve eaten, as you don’t want them regurgitating their meal.
Last but not least, always wash your hands before and after handling for the safety oof both yourself and your skink.
Health Issues to Watch Out for in Red-eyed Crocodile Skinks
Even if you take your red-eyed crocodile skink care seriously, they don’t have the longest lifespans especially when compared too other reptiles like many popular pet snakes. You can expect your crocodile skink to live between five and ten years with regular care.
One of the most common health issues are bacterial infections caused by the high humidity levels of their tank. Wiping their tank down frequently and cleaning their water dish daily can limit this.
Another common health problem is metabolic bone disease which is caused by not providing enough calcium in their diet. It’s easily avoidable by supplementing calcium as mentioned above.
They can also drop their tail if scared, but unless you are actively grabbing their tail it’s a rare occurrence. There’s a much more likely chance your startled crocodile skinks will play dead instead.
Breeding Red-eyed Crocodile Skinks
Breeding reptiles is best left to professionals, and red-eyed crocodile skinks are no exception. They also do not create many offspring at one time. Female red-eyed crocodile skinks only lays on egg per clutch.
While male and female skinks can be housed together for brief periods of time for the sake of breeding, they should have their own enclosure when not being bred.
On that note, males should never be housed together as they will fight, and females, while you may see them together as babies in shops, they too should be housed separately.
If you are new to breeding reptiles, you might want to consider starting with a more easy species to work with.
The above guide should cover all the basics you need, but here are some other frequently asked questions about red-eyed crocodile skinks.
Where can I buy a red-eyed crocodile skink?
As they are newer to the pet trade, many generalist pet shops might not carry them. You should look around your local area for pet stores that specialize in reptiles. You can also find them online, but you’ll want to do some extra research on who you’re buying from is shopping online. Some unethical sellers will import and sell wild caught animals. You’ll want to ensure you are buying a captive-bred red-eyed crocodile skink.
How much do red-eyed crocodile skinks cost?
Price varies greatly depending on factors such as where you live, where you’re buying from (shop or online) and if you’re purchasing a baby or adult. In general you’re probably looking at a minimum of about $200 USD. Don’t forget, that’s just for your skink. You need to buy their enclosure and accessories too.
How big do red-eyed crocodile skink get?
Their size varies by sex as males are smaller than females, but you can typically expect them to be in the neighborhood of eight to ten inches longs as full-grown adults. If you have ever seen a leopard gecko, they are roughly the same length. That should give a good idea of what to expect.
Do red-eyed crocodile skinks make any noise?
Yes, red-eyed crocodile skinks can actually vocalize. It’s sometimes referred to as a chirp or a bark.
While it might seem cute, it’s usually a sign of stress. So, it’s not something you really should be trying to get your skink to do.
Red-eyed crocodile skinks are certainly an interesting reptile pet. They are friendly mostly due to being very timid, and they look really cool because of their backward curving keeled scales and orange eye circles. If you’re looking for something different than the more common reptile pets like ball pythons and leopard geckos, a crocodile skink might fit the bill.
However, they are not considered display animals because they spend a lot of their time hiding and out of sight. In fact, you can go days without seeing them and only know they’re doing OK by the food you leave for them disappearing.