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The Natural History and Captive Care of the Fire Skink

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.  In my opinion, the aptly-named Fire Skink, Mochlus (formerly Riopa) fernandi, is one of the most strikingly-colored and interesting of all lizards.  It is not overly popular, due to a rather shy nature, and hence prices are very reasonable, especially for such a gorgeous animal.  The challenge of creating a habitat where these forest-dwellers will feel comfortable enough to show themselves is well-worth taking, trust me.

Description

This glossy, 12-14 inch-long lizard is colored bright red with black and white stripes along the sides, and marked with a golden-brown back stripe; the legs are black and the tail is blue-black, speckled with blue. 

Range

African RainforestThe range spans Central Africa, from Guinea to Kenya and south to Angola.

Habitat

Fire Skinks favor rainforests, open woodlands and scrub along the edges of grasslands.  They spend most of their time below leaf litter, but bask regularly.

Status

Largely unstudied – populations appear stable, but are likely impacted by de-forestation; the species is unprotected.

Reproduction

Little is known of the Fire Skink’s reproductive biology in the wild.  Captives produce 4-9 eggs, which are buried in moist substrate and hatch in approximately 50 days.  Males are territorial and fight if housed together.

Diet

Snails, spiders, centipedes, beetles, locusts and other invertebrates; fallen fruit, carrion, frogs, lizards; may take nestling rodents and other small mammals on occasion.

Captive Care

This lizard is extremely alert and high strung.  It does well in captivity, but rarely allows close contact or even extended observation, and remains cautious even after years in confinement. 

I’ve had my best results with terrariums of at least 55 gallons capacity (for 1-2 animals) and large zoo exhibits.  If you spend time creating a complex, well-planted exhibit, you will eventually be rewarded by being able to view the skinks as they forage and bask.  The sight of such brilliantly-colored reptiles moving about among thick stands of live plants makes the effort well worthwhile. 

Captive longevity exceeds 20 years.  I’ve bred Fire Skinks on several occasions; males and females usually coexist only during the breeding season.

I’ll cover Fire Skink care in greater detail in a future article. Please write in with your questions and comments. 

 

Thanks, until next time,

Frank Indiviglio

 

Further Reading

The Fire Skink’s 1,200+ relatives make up the largest lizard family; please see my Skink Overview for more info.

Video of a Fire Skink feeding

54 comments

  1. avatar
    five lined skink

    i caught a five lined skink in south carolina and it wont eat anything.im worried,and need help now. do you no what to feed it?

  2. avatar

    Hello,

    Thanks for your interest. Five lined skinks feed upon small insects such as crickets, moths, beetles, smooth caterpillars. However, wild caught animals may not settle down well in captivity. They need plenty of hiding spots and as large a terrarium as possible. The information concerning UVB light in this article applies to them as well. Please feel free to send some details as to how you keep the animal (tank size, set-up, UVb light etc and I’ll provide more specific info,

    Best, Frank

  3. avatar

    Loved reading up on this i feel very lucky my two captive bred fire skinks come to the front of their viv to see me and they are so stunning. Good to know some more insects they like x thx frank x can post pics if wanted

  4. avatar

    Hi Charlotte,

    Thanks for your note and glad you enjoyed the article. Yes, very lucky that they come out, and a good sign. Captive bred individuals seem to be a bit less shy but many still remain hidden when people are near. It’s important to add as much variety to the diet as possible; in that regard, you might enjoy the section on feeding in this Chameleon article; ; most of the info is applicable to fire skinks. Please let me know if you need further info, and please keep me posted.

    Unfortunately, there’s no way to post photos with comments; however, if you have a chance please email to me at findiviglio@thatpetplace.com. I’ll keep them on hand to show others who are interested in this species.

    Thanks, best, Frank

  5. avatar

    Thats brill thx frank i will e-mail you some x do you know much about their mating behaviour as in the last few days the two are inseperable and have been what almost looks like cuddling alot x

  6. avatar

    Hi Charlotte,

    Mating is not often observed, mature males and females may fight outside of the breeding season, so it might be a good sign that they are getting along. However, they may be immature, or 2 females…

    Males may chase and bite the females during courtship and mating. Injuries rarely occur in the wild, but can happen within the close confines of a terrarium, so watch them closely.

    Enjoy, please keep me posted, Best, Frank

  7. avatar

    Thx frank. I can’t say for definate which is male or female but there are very distinctive differences between them. Did the pic’s come through on your e-mail? I shall get you two pics of them seperatly nxt time i clean them out its great to found someone who knows about these specific skinks as i have found very little info on them. I was told these have mated successfully in the past but this may of been lies. If its true tho i’l keep you informed and even e-mail you pics of the little ones lol. Thx again frank my e-mail is hughesc61@gmail.com you ever need good close ups i have plenty xx

  8. avatar

    You’l be sick of me lol but how did you manage to sex your fire skinks did you have them probed or was it obvious? An were they hard to breed any specil requirements? As i said above my two are very different from each other but any help you can give me would be fantastic as their are no known breeders here in the U.K so info is very hard to come by. Thanks a million xxx

  9. avatar

    Hi Charlotte,

    I have the photos; very nice, thanks. Please don;t hesitate to write as much as you wish…I enjoy the exchange and it’s important to share info, especially about species such as these, that are not often bred.

    Unfortunately, they do not show obvious differences in the glands near the cloaca, or along the rear legs, as do many lizards. Males tend to be larger and bulkier, and have broader heads, but this is relative. If they are a pair, the fact that they are getting along is a good sign. Probing is not recommended for small, high-strung lizard such as these, and is not often accurate when done.

    Breeding is more likely in a large enclosure such as yours. They will use a shelter. but it the wild spend much time below leaf litter, etc. Providing a deep substrate of sphagnum, dead leaves, mulch, etc, mixed in with the orchid bark, may encourage them. Eggs are usually laid below the substrate, and may be hard to find. In barer tanks, a nesting box stocked with the above may be utilized.

    Some report that increasing misting amount and frequency encourages breeding, but I did not notice this in those I had.

    Enjoy, please keep me posted, Frank

  10. avatar

    Frank you truely are a legend thankyou your help has and is very useful i’l definatly keep you informed. I’m truely greatful lets keep everything crossed for them and i’l make sure i add a few more leafs x

  11. avatar

    My pleasure, thx for the kind words. I look forward to some good news from you. You may see male circling female, “vibrating a bit”, but this from just 1-2 quick notes, not sure if all-that-reliable. Swelling may be apparent on gravid females, but again this relative. I couldn’t tell if there was a UVB light source from your photos.

    Best, Frank

  12. avatar

    I was advised against the uvb light from the pet shop they came from they hadn’t had one whilst in his care and he’d had them for over six months in the shop itself and a few months in quarentine as to eliminate threats to his other reptiles, they are given repitive on their insects and also recive large amounts of natural lights where they are housed ( i have floor to celing windows and they face the window) i’l send you a pic of them in daylight. I also make sure to offer them vegitation which they tend to snub.in edtion they eat pinkies. They look and act very happy their colours are always vivid and they have a wonderful shine to their scales. As i said all advice is helpful do you think the uvb is needed x

  13. avatar

    They are forest animals that spend much time under cover, so their UVB needs are likely not high, but I would provide a source as they do bask on occasion , and we do not know if they can utilize dietary D3 (no harm in providing D3 supplements, they just m ay not benefit from it).

    Windows are very good for overall effect and for establishing a day-nite cycle, but window glass and plastic filters out UVB,so they will not be getting it in that manner.

    Pinkies are fine on occasion, but not as a major part of the diet; they are largely insectivorous and do not do well on a steady diet of rodents (liver/kidney problems). Use perhaps each 10-14 days, or less. Earthworms are a great CA source, most will take them.

    Best, Frank

  14. avatar

    Awesome cheers frank the pinkies are a treat got to spoil them sometimes lol. Knowing earthworms thats brill. I really can’t thankyou enough x

  15. avatar

    Many lizards reject earthworms, but fire skinks usually will eat them; can form a large portion of the diet if accepted. here’s an article on rearing earthworms.. Sowbugs/pillbugs are another excellent food, high in Calcium. If you establish a colony in the terrarium, they will breed and also consume some waste, shed skin bits, etc. And the lizards will remain active and occupied in hunting them down. Please see here for details. Enjoy, Frank

  16. avatar

    This is why your such a legend Frank. The articles are brill i will defo be introducing earthworms to their diet. I can’t thankyou enough x

  17. avatar

    Hope I live up to your expectations! Pl let me know how all goes, best, Frank

  18. avatar

    Hi frank quick one today would they enjoy waxworms?

  19. avatar

    Hi Charlotte,

    They are fine on occasion, and will be taken. Butterworms, if available, provide superior nutrition and seem more completely digested.

    Best, Frank

  20. avatar

    Awesome thx frank xx

  21. avatar

    Hi Frank. I hope your ok im going to pick your brain again. Do fire skinks protect their eggs. One of my skinks has been holding up in its miss box the other was in there for a day witj it. It only seems to be popping out for five mins top but has lost a significant bulk from its mid/hind section. What do you think eggs or home? Xx thx xx

  22. avatar

    Ho Charlotte,

    Thanks for the interesting comment. Many skink species do protect their eggs (i.e. Great plains skinks, five-lined skinks) but I don’t believe this has been confirmed in fire skinks. But due to their secretive nature, it may just be that we have not been able to document the behavior. It would be very interesting to hear more about yours; please take notes and keep me posted. Best not to disturb the area, except perhaps to spray if needed to keep the nest area a bit moist. Hard to tell if shelter or protection is involved, but there are ways to look into this in the future, via cage design changes, if you wish.

    You might be interested in this article on what be the world’s most social skink.

    Enjoy and pl keep me posted, Frank

  23. avatar

    Thx Frank. Il keep a close eye on them and let you know what i find. In very excited wilk be awesome if they’ve bred as i’ve only had them for two months ;-)

  24. avatar

    Good luck & Enjoy, Charlotte. It will be interesting no matter what, I’m sure, Frank

  25. avatar

    Hello Mr Indiviglio,

    Been a while. My fire skink went off feed about two weeks ago and hasn’t really showed interest in feeding since then. I see him drinking water from time to time and basking; he seems fine in every other aspect. Do you know what’s going on or have seen this in your captives? thanks!

    Cheers, Alex

  26. avatar

    Hi Alex,

    Are temperatures falling too low at night? This can affect appetite, even if daytime temps rise. Gravid females often cease feeding. An intestinal blockage may also cause loss of appetite, but the animal tends to slow down after a time, become lethargic, etc. The only way to rule this out is via x ray. Parasites and illnesses usually cause other symptoms in addition to appetite loss. Sometimes a new prey item will spark interest, although I’ve not seen this in fire skinks. Please let me know if any of these ideas seem to fit. Best, Frank

  27. avatar

    New prey items don’t seem to be working, but for now I’ll try leaving the heat lamp on overnight. Would I need three bulbs then now? UVB, basking and the infrared heat bulb? Thanks,!

    Cheers, Alex

  28. avatar

    Hi Alex,

    You don’t necessarily need an infra red (high heat output) for nighttime use, just a red or black night bulb (reptiles do not sense the light from these). You can use same wattage as day basking bulb, or perhaps a bit stronger if room is much colder at night than in day.

    Best, Frank

  29. avatar

    I know this topic hasnt seen to much activity lately, but just wanted to say im a fan of the blog.

    Also I picked up a young fire skink yesterday, she (assuming its a she) has actually started eating already and hand feeding at that! Shes probably around 5 or 6 inches was wondering if you could give me an estimated age, I know growth can be highly variable, but you do have expieriance

    Thanks for any info

  30. avatar

    Thanks very much for the kind words, Dave,

    Very interesting….the animal should do very well, given that it is so calm. Unfortunately, no real way to estimate age..diet, health, temperature and perhaps even origin of the animal, within ti’s range, affect growth rate; likely under 1 year of age, however. Enjoy , pl keep me posted, best Frank.

  31. avatar

    Gave her an earthworm and some isopods yesterday, the worm was deffinitly her favorite.

    She can thank you for that your article about wild insects, it has been appreciated by lizards, minus the uromastyx of course.

    Again thanks for your time and the fascinating blog

  32. avatar

    Thanks for the kind words, Dave; please keep me posted, best, Frank

  33. avatar

    Do you have any recommendations for live plants I could put in with her, iv read a few people saying that fire skinks have a tendency to up root plants, but I think something sturdy might work, perhapse a snake plant? I would like to give her as much cover as posible as it seems to be the rule of thumb that when working with shy animals tge more hiding spots avalible the more you see them

  34. avatar

    Yes…the more secure, the more you see…works with everything from inverts to mammals, good observation! Snake plants, cast iron plants, chinese evergreens have very tough leaves…the roots systems are often shallow, but you can protect with rocks; pothos is ideal…even if uprooted, it continues to grow, can be moved about, etc. Live plants are a great idea, frank

  35. avatar

    I’m planning on keeping these, but I’m not sure if they get along with one another. Can 2 or 3 coexist in a 36x18x18 terrarium?

  36. avatar

    Hi Robert,

    They are tough to keep together…males always fight, but even pairs often do not get along. 2 females should be ok, but provide lots of room, i.e. a 55 gallon or larger tank with plenty of cover so they can avoid one another if need be. Pairs will co-exist for a time if both are ready to breed but they must be watched closely. Best, Frank

  37. avatar

    Hi Frank, just got a fire skink. they told me they think it is a male. I checked his vent area it looked like it curves. I know in leopard geckos the male curves and has bumps and the female is a strait line. can this be true in Fire skins too? I know it is hard to tell the difference in sexes but most animals have some difference in them. I read size can be a factor. males tend to be larger. he is very calm I am feeding him by hand. I would like to breed Fire skinks but i want to be sure I have a pair and would like to know more about them. is there any books out ther on them? Thanks Rick

  38. avatar

    Hello Rick,

    They are difficult to distinguish as males do not show the pre-anal and femoral pores that we see in many other lizards. Size, broader heads and brighter coloration are the main differences, but these vary among different populations and also by age…some guesswork always involved. Be careful if you do introduce another, as males and females may fight if not ready to breed, and 2 males always fight. best chance in keeping a pair is to provide a large tank with deep substrate (so they can dig in) and lots of cover (plants, logs, caves, etc.) Good luck and please keep me posted, best, Frank

  39. avatar

    I will not get another one until I learn more about them. any good books on Fire Skinks around. I bred Anoles successfully and leopard geckos. I always was interested in nature. I read everything and watched everything I could on all types of wild life. I like studing them and breeding only when I learned about that animal. I like reading a lot of your articles most impressive. thanks for the reply. If I find out more i will let you know. Thanks Rick

  40. avatar

    Thanks for the kind words, Rick. There’s nothing that I know of on them specifically, or on close relatives, unfortunately; not all that popular in the trade. Most of what I’ve seen in the past has been in herpetology journals such as Copeia, etc. A newer, free journal has appeared on line (old ones are via subscription, expensive)..woth checking for any studies on natural history, and in general. You can read it here http://www.herpconbio.org/index.html. Best, Frank

  41. avatar

    Thanks Frank I will look into it. Rick

  42. avatar

    Good luck and please keep me posted, best, Frank

  43. avatar

    Hi Frank looked up the journals on line. so far nothing that helps me but I will keep trying. I have a question. my Fire skinks had a lot of brite colors when I got him. the color seemed to fade. I think maybe it might be in the begining stages of shedding. I think it is female because she is very gentle. she been eating very well.she is getting fat. I am going to call the pet shop to see if she was the only one in her cage. Do females have to mate first to lay eggs or will they lay eggs when they become adults.even if they don’t breed. I put a plastic 12 inch log with fake plants in with her and she was all over it. that is where she sleeps now. she seems content and happy. Thanks Rick

  44. avatar

    Hi Rick,

    I’ll keep an eye out for info in my subscription journals as well.

    Lizards tend to shed in patches, so you may not see the over-all dulling of color, as happens with snakes. There can be some normal fading with age, esp. in females. A varied diet is useful in maintaining the color of many, although not all, herps (also fish, inverts, birds,). Try to include as many of the foods mentioned in this article as possible (be sure to try earthworms, some skinks will accept them). Access to UVB may help as well, and is also important for health in general.

    Unmated females may lay infertile eggs or re-absorb them w/o laying. More and more “self cloning”/ parthenogenic lizards and snakes are being discovered – recently an unmated female komodo dragon produced fertile eggs. We do not know if this is possible for fire skinks. Some reptiles can also store sperm, so that a single mating will allow for fetile eggs months or years later.

    Enjoy, please keep me posted. be sure to take notes, as we have much to learn about this species, Frank

  45. avatar

    HEY, Frank I live in Lithuania and I have 3 fire skinks. I sucsesfully bred leopard geckos and crested geckos. But thats easyer then breeding skinks I know that. I need help how to sucsesfully sex the fire skinks. Thanks.

    PS. I keep 2 skinks in one terrarium, and one in the separate. I tried to put one of those skinks in the ”males,, tank. and he started to skake his head and body. The trying to bite her. She raned away and thats hapining all the time.

    SOrry for grammar mistakes

  46. avatar

    Hello Luke,

    Glad you are working with these interesting skinks. They are very difficult to sex…males are stouter, with wider heads, but it’s a judgement call as there’;s much variation. There’s no real difference in the pores, cloaca, as you see in geckos and some others.Biting is part of the mating process…best to try to introduce them in a large terrarium, with deep substrate and lots of cover so that the female can get away from male…hard to keep them together other than for mating, although some people have luck keeping pairs year-round. Two males will fight, or the dominent one will attack in a more aggressive fashion than happens in mating. We have much to learn about these guys, so please keep me posted on your progress, best, Frank

  47. avatar

    Hey frank been awhile i hope your well. What would make a female fire skink appear milky in colour? My two are doing very well we’ve noticed the female has become almost oval like behind her hind legs shes never gone like this when shedding tho thx xxx

  48. avatar

    Hello,

    All’s fine, thanks..I hope you are well. I’ve not seen what you describe, unfortunately; could she be gravid – swelling can affect color by stretching scales. Various fungi that attack the skin can also change appearance, but there’s usually a film associated with this…an actual growth on the skin. Sorry I cannot offer a better answer..please send in mor details if anything arises, best, Frank

  49. avatar

    I shall keep you updated fingers crossed she’s preggers there is no growth or film on her i’m due to check her tomorrow. She loves the moss box so is easy to find. I can e-mail you some pics if you’d like. Thx again Frank x

  50. avatar

    Hi…really not possible to tell much via photos, unfortunately; please keep me posted and let me know if anything changes, best, Frank

  51. avatar

    Hi Frank it has been awhile since I last talk to you. I am almost sure my fire skink is a female. she is full grown and is 10 1/2 inches long. very gentle and she likes to be petted. she shakes her leg like some dogs do when scratched. very funny. I am going to look for a male. I have another cage so that will not be a problem. I will keep you informed on my progress. they say you can feed them some fruits and veges. can you give me an Idea on what kinds. Thanks Rick

  52. avatar

    Nice to hear, Rick, thanks. Many will not take fruits, even less vegetables. Try very ripe banana, papaya, mango, orange, berries. Might be worth offering something similar to the nectar mix described here as well; enjoy and please let me know how all goes, best, Frank

  53. avatar

    Hi Frank,
    Sad news my female passed we have no idea why. No bites fungus mites or anything that could cause it. Since my male has seemed rather stressed constantly going to where we found her constantly searching. Has lost some colour. Should we get him another female or should we leave him alone?
    Thx for your time
    Charlotte

  54. avatar

    Hi Charlotte,

    Thanks for posting here…now I recall.

    There’s a great deal we do not understand re their needs, lifespans..autopsies at the Bx Zoo were not always useful.

    Interesting behavior..keep notes, as little is known of their breeding biology, sociability if any.

    Introducing a new female can be risky…no real good way to predict. best to have another tank set up for her, in case. If the intro does not go well, you can also try re-locating him to a new tank (if this doesn’t seem overly stressful) letting new one live in his tank for 2 weeks or so, and then re-introduce him. Please keep me posted, good luck, frank

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About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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