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Eastern Blue-tongued Skink (Tiliqua scincoides) Fact Sheet: Taxonomy & History

Taxonomy and Nomenclature


  • Family Scincidae (Wilson and Swan 2017)
    • Abundant and diverse group
      • More than 435 species recognized
    • Widely distributed
      • Common on all continents, except Antarctica
      • Also found on remote oceanic islands
    • Includes egg-laying and live-bearing species
    • Most skink species eat invertebrates
      • Larger skinks omnivorous
    • Most (but not all) skink species have:
      • Four limbs, each with five toes
      • Shiny, overlapping body scales
      • A tail that can be shed and regrown
  • Genus Tiliqua (Wilson and Swan 2017, and as noted)
    • Large, robust-bodied lizards
      • Largest members of Scincidae (Abbate et al. 2009)
    • About 6-7 species (Abbate et al. 2009)
    • Found throughout Australia; one species in New Guinea
    • Adapt well to urban areas
    • Most diurnal (Cogger 2014)
    • Slow-moving
    • In defense, inflate body, hiss, and protrude flat blue tongue
    • Omnivorous
    • Live-bearing
    • Shared physical characteristics
      • Toes of equal length
      • Ear opening present
      • Parietal scales separated
      • Row of scales between eye and upper lip
      • Lower eyelid moveable
        • No transparent disc
  • Tiliqua scincoides
    • Subspecies (Cogger 2014; Samantha Price-Rees, personal communication, 2018)
      • T. s. chimaerea (Tanibar Islands, Indonesia)
      • T. s. intermedia (northern Australia)
      • T. s. scincoides (southern and eastern Australia)
    • Some taxonomy studies consider populations in Indonesia to be a separate subspecies (Shea 1992; Hitz et al. 2004)
      • T. s. chimaerea


  • Genus: Tiliqua
    • No known meaning (Abbate et al. 2009)
  • Species: T. scincoides
    • Refers to skinks, historically spelled “scinc” (White 1790)
  • Common name: skink
    • From the Greek skinkos (Grove 1981)


(Shea 2004a, and as noted)

  • Cyclodus and Scincus (Shaw 1992)
    • Genera synonyms used in the early- to mid-1800s
  • Lacerta scincoides (Hunter, 1790)
  • Scincus crotaphomelas (Lacépède, 1804)
  • Scincus tuberculatus (Merrem, 1820)
  • Tiliqua whitii (J.E. Gray, 1831)
  • Cyclodus Boddaertti (in part) (Duméril & Bibron, 1839)
  • Lacerta variegata (Cunningham, 1925)
  • Tiliqua macroscincoides (Wells & Willington, 1985)

Common names

  • Common, eastern, or northern blue-tongue(d) skink or lizard; “blue-tongues” (English) (Wilson and Swan 2017)
  • Gewöhnliche blauzunge; Blauzungenskink; Gemeiner Blauzungenskink; Nördliche blauzunge (German) (Wrobel 2004; CITES 2018)
  • Scinque d’Australie à langue bleue; scinque à langue bleue (French) (Wrobel 2004)
  • Tiliqua della lingua azzurra; scinco (Italian) (Wrobel 2004)
  • Australisk blåtunga; australiensisk blåtungeskink (Swedish) (CITES 2018)

Evolutionary History

Fossil history and evolutionary relationships of Tiliqua

  • Originated in Australia during the early Miocene or Eocene (Shaw 1992; Shea and Hutchinson 1992)
  • Several Tiliqua fossils reported from Pleistocene deposits (Shea and Hutchinson 1992)
  • Closely related to Cyclodomorphus (Shaw 1992; Pyron et al. 2013)

Closest known extant relatives of Tiliqua scincoides

  • T. gigas, Indonesian blue-tongued skink (Shaw 1992; Pyron et al. 2013)
  • T. nigrolutea, blotched blue-tongued skink (Pyron et al. 2013)

Cultural History


  • 1787: Early preserved specimens reach Europe (Shea 2004b)
  • 1790: First scientific description by John Hunter (thought to have been edited by George Shaw) (White 1790; also see Shea 1993)
    • First Australian reptile to be named (Shea 1993)
      • Referred to as “scincoid, or skinc-formed lizard, Lacerta scincoides
    • First report of herbivory in large skinks (Shea 1993)
      • Predated Charles Darwin’s observations by nearly 50 years
  • Collected during early European voyages to Australia and the Indo-Pacific (Shea 2004b)

Culture and folklore

(Hauschild 2004)

  • Blue-tongued skinks (Tiliqua) are important in the traditional cultures of Australia
  • Aboriginal tales
    • A sick, old man asks a lizard to fetch ink from a squid to cure him from illness (see Fig. 1 in Hauschild 2004)
      • Lizard could only carry it in his mouth, turning his tongue blue
      • Ran so fast that his legs wore down, making them short
  • Food preparation
    • Roasted on stick over an open fire


  • Selected non-fiction
    • Blue-tongued Skinks: contributions to Tiliqua and Cyclodomorphus — Robert Hitz, Glenn Shea, Andree Handschild, Klaus Heale, and Heiko Werning (2004)


  • The Lizards” from The Dosser in Springtime — Douglas Stewart


  • Early illustrations and paintings
    • The Skinc-formed Lizard — Sarah Stone (1790)
    • Scientific illustrations compiled by Albert Gunther (see p. 96-97, Stanbury and Phipps 1980)


Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Reptilia (Laurenti, 1768) — reptiles

Order: Squamata (Oppel, 1811) — lizards, snakes, serpents

Family: Scincidae — skinks

Genus: Tiliqua (Gray, 1825) — blue-tongued skinks

Species: Tiliqua scincoides (Hunter*, 1790) — eastern blue-tongued skink

Subspecies: T. s. chimaerea (Tanibar Islands, Indonesia)

Subspecies: T. s. intermedia (northern Australia) (Mitchell, 1955)

Subspecies: T. s. scincoides (southern and eastern Australia) (Hunter*, 1790)

Sources: Cogger (2014); Integrated Taxonomic Information System (2017), Wilson and Swan (2017); Samantha Price-Rees, personal communication, 2018

*Species description is commonly attributed to White or Shaw, but White was the publisher and Shaw was an editor of Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales (1790). Hunter was the author (see Shea [1993]). Today, the citation of White (1790) for the species description is still used in some authoritative references (e.g., Cogger 2014; IUCN Red List) but not others (e.g., Hitz et al. 2004).

Early Illustration

Illustration of blue-tongued skink from White (1790)

A 1790 illustration of an eastern blue-tongued skink.

"The Scincoid, or Skinc-formed Lizard, Lacerta scincoides." Plate 30 in John White's 1790 book, Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales.

Image credit: Made available by the Biodiversity Heritage Library. Public domain.

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