Cunningham Skinks - an underrated skink.
Updated: Aug 7, 2021
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Keeping the Cunningham Skink, Egernia cunninghami
NATURE 4 YOU – Tie and Scott Eipper
We at Nature 4 You do not endorse the keeping of reptiles without the appropriate permits and facilities to care for the animal properly.
COMMON NAMES: Cunningham Skink
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Egernia cunninghami
PRONUNCIATION: ee-gurr-nee-ah cunn-ing-ham-ee
ETYMOLOGY: Egernia – obscure, cunninghami -named after the the British botanist who collected the first specimen.
ADULT SIZE: 18cms
ADULT WEIGHT: approximately 100gms
LIFE EXPENTANCY: Cunningham Skinks have been known to live over 26yrs in captivity.
The Cunningham Skink is native to Australia. Their natural range encompasses Carnarvon George National Park in Queensland, south along the Great Dividing Range through New South Wales and into Victoria. Cunningham Skinks live in woodland and grassland with rocky outcrops. They can be found inside rock crevices, under rocks and occasionally in a tree. Cunningham Skinks are a large sized skink with a robust body. Colour varies greatly on the Cunningham Skink. They range in colour from pale brown to black with or without irregular pale or darker markings often with white, yellow or orange flecking. The underneath is pinkish orange with dark and light flecking. They have a flattened body with spine-like, keeled scales that vary among the populations that are suited to the shelter type they utilise.
Adult pairs of Cunningham’s need a cage about 400mm wide X 1200mm Long X 400mm High. If you want to keep more than one Cunningham together make sure it is a pair (male and female.) Males have a tendency to want to dominate over other males in their enclosure and can be brutal towards their cage mates when doing this, and two will quickly turn into one, or one will sustain quite serious injuries. Juveniles should be kept by themselves. The reason juveniles are best kept by themselves is, all small animals/reptiles require more food than an adult for their size and if not enough food is provided they will “nibble” on each other and apart from discomfort, this may lead to all sorts of problems including stress. Having said that, if you are able to keep a close eye on them and put in adequate food and hides you can house them together. We prefer to have a bit of waste in the food bowls and know that everyone is adequately fed. Juveniles can be put into an adult sized enclosure. They will utilize the room.
The adult cage can have a variety of substrates ranging from bark to paper. If housing inside, we use either a kitty litter made of recycled paper – it helps absorb some of the smell and clumping “deposits” or newspaper or butcher’s paper as its easily cleaned. Other effective substrates include synthetic grass mats, bark chips and paper towel. If using the bark chips for a more natural look, make sure no fertilizers or chemicals have been added by reading the bags and try to avoid as much dust in the enclosure as possible. If using synthetic grass, you should have 2 pieces cut to size so when one gets soiled the other can be put in while other gets washed. Pet shops sell a variety of suitable substrates as well as the synthetic grass and bark chips that are available from hardware shops.
Our Cunningham Skinks are kept in outdoor pits. They utilise the logs and rock piles. The polystyrene container has a lid, and this is a underground hide. Straw is added to keep in warmth.
Cunningham Skinks need cover in which they can hide. This can be provided by a
hollow log or a rock near the back wall, etc. Pet shops have an ample range of naturalist looking hides readily available also. At least one hide should be in the warm end and one in the cool end of the cage. Cunningham’s love a rock stack so that they can get into a crevice (like they would in the wild); however care must be taken to ensure that this cannot be knocked over crushing the occupant(s). Doing this will also ensure the toenails are kept in check just like they would be in the wild.
The enclosure also needs to be well ventilated. A series of cupboard vents cut into
both the front and back of an adult enclosure work well allowing the air to flow though, if you are using a fish tank a screen made to measure to cover the top is adequate also. The water bowl should large enough for the lizard to soak in while being shallow
enough for him to be able to reach the bottom. This is invaluable in the hottest parts of summer and for sloughing. This should be situated in the cool end of the cage. The water bowl should be washed when clean water is added, not just topped up. Not washing the bowl and continually topping up the water can lead to illness in the animal and a green water bowl.
The cage should be cleaned out at least once a week to prevent the build-up of germs etc. Cleaning out weekly will also allow you to check the animal over whilst removing them from the cage. This is when you will pick up things you may miss from just looking at the animal in the enclosure. However, traces of faeces and urine should be cleaned as soon as it’s noticed. Cunningham's tend to go in the same spot most times, so it makes it easier to find. This is referred to as a latrine site, and the whole colony will use this site.
The sun warms up the rocks beautifully, making for a natural heat source for the Cunningham Skinks.
All heating should be placed at one end of the cage and controlled by a thermostat. This creates a thermal gradient. This is vital for the survival of the occupants. If the cage is either too hot or to cool the lizard has a place to retreat to. Excessive heat will kill your lizard very quickly - ideal temperatures for the Cunningham Skink are approximately 33 degrees Celsius at the warm end of the cage and 24 degrees at the cool end of the cage. We place a large rock that cannot be knocked over on top of a heat mat, this way the rock heats up and they bask on it, just like they do outside on their rock stacks in their pits.
Ways of heating include light bulb(s) placed at one end of the cage connected to a thermostat. A light makes viewing easier as well as heating. A heat mat or heat cord at one end, or both the light bulb and the heat mat/cord. Any light globes inside the enclosure should be placed in such a way that the snake is unable to come in contact with them. A mesh type globe cover is ideal as it prevents the lizard coming in direct contact with the globe but the allows the heat generated from the light to escape. Uncovered light bulbs usually result in nasty burns to reptiles. Heat cord under the enclosure is another way to heat the cage effectively. Heat rocks are commercially available; however, we do not recommend using heat rocks with any animal as they are not reliable and may cause fire.
If heating the cage with a globe set up, the cage should have dark coloured globes
such as green or blue. This will then not interrupt its photoperiod. Cunningham Skinks are diurnal. Thus, the photoperiod of 14 hours light to 8 dark in summer and 12 hours light and 12 dark in winter is acceptable. We believe that it's essential for Cunningham’s to have
access to "Natural" Light. "Natural" light can be provided in several ways, such as limited exposure to natural sunlight (we believe that this is the best way), the use of a Florescent tube that mimics natural sunlight’s spectrum including UVA and UVB. These are both vital for healthy bone growth as it aids in the proper digestion of Calcium in reptiles and some amphibians. Regardless of what it says on the package these lights really only work
effectively if the light is WITHIN 200 mm of the lizard. They also should be changed regularly, every 6 months. If not changed every 6 months you run the risk of just lighting your cage and providing no UV to your animals.
Cooling allows for the male’s sperm to be produced and the in the females ova to be made. The temperature of cooling should drop to about room temperature. However, this drop should not be sudden, by turning on the heat for 4 hours in the morning for 4 weeks either side of the cooling period (1-month) this will allow the snake to gently go into torpor. (In Australia most reptiles don't truly go into hibernation.) While being cooled the animal should not be handled or fed. If fed the food may kill the lizard as it may not be digested properly and may just sit and rot within its stomach as heat also plays a role in digestion. You SHOULD NOT cool juveniles, gravid (pregnant), sick or under weight individuals as this can lead to the death of the lizard. When your Cunningham is an adult (over 150mm Snout to Vent (S.V.L.) its should be cooled in the winter months.
Cunningham Skink are omnivores, readily accepting live and dead prey. Examples
of what can be fed to Cunningham’s are: Dog/Cat food (this can however make the stools runny and smelly). However stay clear of fish varieties. We use dog food sparingly, but when we do use dog food to feed our reptiles we use a casserole type of food (we use the Coles brand, but supplement with pellets) as it easily absorbs the pellets and powder and the reptiles are non the wiser. They love a wide variety of fruits and vegies such as apples, bananas, lettuce, endive, watermelon (not the seeds), tomatoes, carrot, mangoes, cucumber, zucchini and many more. We however do not recommend citrus, and strongly advise to wash anything washable to remove any traces of insecticides. They will also eat some plants such as clover and the flowers of roses, hibiscus and dandelions are relished. However remember some are poisonous so should not be fed and certainly not if you or your neighbours use spray fertilizers or weed killers or bug killers. Invertebrates such as crickets, wood roaches and beetles have been eaten on a regular basis in our collection, the amount of insects eaten tend to be higher as juveniles, moving towards other foods as the lizard matures. Raw meat such as beef and chicken also are taken as well as raw and boiled chicken eggs. Ground up chicken carcass is relished - but take care that the bones are removed.1 in 3 meals should be dusted with a reptile calcium/vitamin supplement. This will ensure that the lizard is getting the right amount of balanced foods essential for survival. Also vary the diet it’s more enjoyable for the lizard to be offered a variety.
The mating period is from late August to early March. All Cunningham’s are viviparous (live bearing), however litter size varies. Cunningham’s average a litter of 4 but ranging from 1 to 19, the neonates are about 60mm S. V. L. The young Cunningham we find to be quite friendly, they don't tend to run from us and tolerate being picked up quite readily. We can usually tell when our females are gravid (apart from the size of the belly!), they stay out longer basking, absorbing as much of the heat and light as they can and begrudgingly get off the warm rock to scatter instead of doing it at our presence like they normally do in the outside pits. Whilst they are a communal lizard, older males will dominate a young male, so if leaving them altogether after breeding, be prepared to loose any young males after a couple of months. Cunningham Skinks are readily available in the hobby.
Young New England Cunningham Skink, Egernia cunninghami eyeing me off distrustfully.
You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCTE_s5ootO2xwGwoGnIY7oA
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Resources and recommended reading:
Brown D. 2012 A Guide to Australian Skinks in Captivity, Reptile Keeper Publications, Burleigh Heads
Ehmann H. 1992 Encyclopedia of Australian Animals - Reptiles, Angus & Robertson, Pymble
Eipper S.C. & Eipper T. 2021 A Naturalist's Guide to the Lizards of Australia, John Beaufoy Publications, Oxford