Cunningham Skinks - an underrated skink.
Updated: Jul 10
We keep quite a few different species here at Nature For You, one of Tie's favorite skink species is the Cunningham Lizard, Egernia cunninghami . They are easy to keep, easy to handle and have tonnes of personality. We keep ours outside in covered pits and they do well all year round and breed annually. Because we keep our guys outside they tend to not like being handled as we keep our pits as close as possible to their natural environment to keep them happy. But having said that we keep all our young indoors so they have a more controlled environment and temperature and well its easy to see when there may be a problem, as opposed to pulling apart a 50kg rock stack and we find these guys don't mind being handled and don't tend to be so quick to want to try to take a chunk out of your finger as they are used to seeing us as we are in our reptile room daily.
Today our Sydney Cunninghams came out of our isolation room and went into their new pit outdoors. So we thought we would share a care sheet for those interested in keeping Cunningham Lizards and haven't before.
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 can be kept in smaller conditions but should be kept by themselves. The reason juveniles are best kept by themselves is, all small animals/reptiles (humans as well) 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. The cage can have a variety of substrates ranging from tan-bark to newspaper. Fine sand should not be used as it can get in the eyes of specimens causing infection and blockages of the tear ducts. If ingested sand can also lead to impaction in the gut if enough is ingested. We personally use either a Kitty Litter made of recycled paper inside – it helps in clumping “deposits”. Other effective substrates include fake turf and gravel. The gravel shouldn't be small enough to be eaten. If using fake grass you should have 2 pieces cut to size. So when one gets soiled the other can be put in while other gets washed.
They love cover in which they can hide...this can be provided by a hollow log or a
rock near the back wall, leaf litter, commercially bought hides and other things like a flower pot cut in half etc. 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 cage also needs to be well ventilated; this can be done by a Fly wire/pegboard lid or a series of cupboard vents. The water bowl should large enough for the lizard to swim while being shallow
enough for him to be able to reach the bottom. This should be situated in the cool
end of the cage. The cage should be cleaned out at least once a week to prevent the build-up of germs etc. But traces of faeces and urine should be cleaned as soon as its
noticed. Cunninghams tend to go in the same spot most times, so it makes it easier to find!
All heating should be placed at one end of the cage.... This creates at thermal gradient. This is vital for the survival of the occupants as if the cage is either too hot or to cool the lizard has a place to retreat to. Ways of heating include a 40-watt coloured light bulb(s) placed at one end of the cage connected to a thermostat. A heat mat at one end or both the light bulb and the heat mat. Ideal temperatures for Cunningham’s
are about 31 to 35 degrees C at the warm 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.
While it’s a bit controversial 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 (I believe that this is the best way), the use of a Florescent tube such as "REPTI-GLOW 5.0" or "REPTI-SUN 5.0" both of these commercially available tubes mimic natural sunlight’s spectrum including UVA and UVB. Which 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. Both "REPTI-GLOW" 5.0
and REPTI SUN are available in 2 ft and 4 ft models. 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. If heating the cage with a globe set up, the cage must have dark coloured globes such as green or blue. This will then not interrupt its photoperiod. Cunningham’s are Diurnal (active during the day), thus the photoperiod of 14 hours light to 8 dark in summer and 12 hours light and 12 dark in winter is acceptable.
Cooling allows for the males 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 lizard 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.
The Cunningham’s are omnivores both 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. (Having said that, Tie spends hours with a coffee grinder grinding the damn pellets as none of our skinks will actually eat the pellets whole, but blended and mixed in they relish the food). They love a wide variety of fruits and veges 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 neighbors 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 such as
REPCAL and HERPITVITE 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. Now remember most lizards won't
feed if they are too cold.
All Cunningham’s are viviparous (live bearing), however litter size varies.
Cunningham’s average a litter of 4 but ranging from 1 to 7, the neonates are
about 60mm S. V. L. The mating period is from late August to early March. The young Cunningham we find to be quite friendly, they don't tend to run from us and tolerate being picked up quite readily (although it could be because they see us as the slaves that feed them and pick up after them!) 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.