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Eastern Blue-tongued Skink (Tiliqua scincoides) Fact Sheet: Physical Characteristics

Physical Characteristics

Body measurements

Attribute Measurement
Snout–vent length 300-320 mm (11.8-12.6 in)
Total Length *Average: 450 mm (17.7 in); maximum: 600 mm (23.6 in)
Hindlimb Length About 20% of snout–vent length
Tail Length About 50-75% of snout–vent length

 

Data sources: Cogger (2014), Wilson and Swan (2017), *Hoser (1989)

General Appearance

Body

  • Large and long (Cogger 2014; Wilson and Swan 2017)
    • Skink body more bulky, compared to similarly sized lizards
    • T. s. intermedia larger than T. s. scincoides
  • Scales smooth and glossy (Horner 2004; Cogger 2014)

Coloration and pattern

  • Upper body pale silvery-gray to brown with longitudinal bands from neck to tip of tail (Cogger 2014)
    • Cryptic coloration in leaf litter and ground debris (Horner 2004)
      • Patterning breaks up body contours
        • Hard for other animals to see
  • Paler scales usually have dark edges on the sides (Cogger 2014)
    • May appear as narrow, dark brown bands
  • Darker bands may have some small white spots (Cogger 2014)
  • Subspecies distinct (Cogger 2014; Cronin 2014; Wilson and Swan 2017, except as noted)
    • T. s. scincoides (southern/eastern Australia)
      • Color and pattern highly variable
      • 6-9 pale bands between nape of neck and hips; 7-10 on tail
      • Often a dark streak from eye to ear
    • T. s. intermedia (northern Australia)
      • Rich brown with irregular, less distinct bands
      • Dark streak behind eye may be faint or absent
      • Head pale brown
      • Head may have dark speckles and heavy marbling (Horner 2004)
  • Underbody white, gray, or pale yellow (Cogger 2014)

Head and mouth

  • Head
    • Wedge-shaped (Horner 2004)
    • Distinct from neck (Horner 2004)
    • Slightly flattened (Cronin 2014)
  • Tongue blue (Abramjan et al. 2015, except as noted)
    • Protruded during defense display (Abbate et al. 2009)
      • Discourages predators and other potential aggressors (Horner 2004)
    • Conspicuous
      • Broad and flat (Wilson 2012)
        • Visually fills the oral cavity
      • Strong contrast between blue- and pink-colored mouth areas
        • Mouth tissues reflect UV light
      • Possible role in intraspecific communication
  • Temporal scales (behind eye) enlarged and long (Wilson and Swan 2017)
    • Much larger than surrounding scales (Cogger 2014)
  • Ear openings conspicuous (Cogger 2014)
  • Nasal head scales separated (Cogger 2014)
  • Teeth short and blunt (Horner 2004)

Limbs

  • Short (Cogger 2014)
  • Four limbs, each with five equal-length toes (Cogger 2014)
    • Present in all Tiliqua

Tail

  • Shorter than body (Cogger 2014)
  • Thick (Wilson and Swan 2017)
    • Round (in cross-section) (Cogger 2014)
  • Tapers to a point (Cogger 2014)

Sexual Dimorphism

Subtle differences in some populations

(Phillips et al. 2016)

  • Body length slightly larger in females than males
  • Head slightly wider in adult males than females

Identification

Similar appearance to other blue-tongued skinks

  • Body pattern similar to Tiliqua multifasciata (centralian blue-tongued skink)
  • For dichotomous key of Tiliqua species, see Cogger (2014), p. 686

Senses

Hearing

  • Sensitive to high frequency, high amplitude noise (e.g., mining machinery) (Mancera et al. 2017)

Smell / chemoreception

Other Physical and Physiological Characteristics

Metabolism

  • Conserve energy during dry season (Christian et al. 2003)
    • Maintain lower body temperature
    • Less active

Regulation of body temperature

  • Metabolic heat (Bartholomew et al. 1965)
    • Important role in body temperature regulation
    • Body heat produced faster than it is dissipated
  • Skin
  • Brain (Cabanac et al. 1967; Hammel et al. 1967)
    • Feedback from brain influences skink thermoregulation behavior (i.e., selection of cooler habitat, if high temperature)
    • Neurons are temperature-sensitive

Robust Reptile

Blue-tongued skink resting on rock at San Diego Zoo

Tiliqua scincoides is a large lizard species with smooth scales and five equal-length toes.

The individual pictured above has cream-orange bands and—as is typical of this subspecies (T. s. intermedia)—lacks a dark streak behind its eye.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved. (Note: This is a cropped image.)

Scales for Heat Exchange

Diagram of skin vascular system of <i>T. scincoides</i>

 

Similar to other lizards, blue-tongued skinks have a network of blood vessels just under the surface of their scales that helps them regulate their body temperature.

(Scale surface shown in solid white.)

 

 

Image source: Drane CR, Webb GJW. Functional morphology of the dermal vascular system of the Australian lizard Tiliqua scincoides. Herpetologica 1980 Mar;36(1):60–66. Figure 2, Diagram of the cutaneous vascular system of T. scincoides. (Based on Maderson PFA. 1964. The skin of lizards and snakes. Brit. J. Herpetol. 3: 151-154.). Note: This is a cropped image.

Image credit: © Herpetologica, The Herptetologists' League/British Journal of Herpetology, British Herpetological Society. All rights reserved. Used with permission from Allen Press Publishing Services.

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