Home | Lizards | The Natural History and Captive Care of the Fire Skink

The Natural History and Captive Care of the Fire Skink

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.


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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.



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


  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?

    • avatar


      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

  2. 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

    • 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

  3. 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

    • 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

  4. 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

  5. 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

    • 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

  6. 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

    • 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

  7. 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

    • 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

  8. 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

  9. 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

  10. avatar

    Hi frank quick one today would they enjoy waxworms?

  11. avatar

    Awesome thx frank xx

  12. 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

    • 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

  13. 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 😉

  14. 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

    • 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

  15. 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

    • 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

  16. 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

    • 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.

  17. 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

  18. 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

    • 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

  19. 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?

    • 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

  20. 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

    • 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

  21. 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

    • 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

  22. avatar

    Thanks Frank I will look into it. Rick

  23. 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

    • 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

  24. 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

    • 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

  25. 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

    • avatar


      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

  26. 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

  27. 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

  28. 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

    • 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

  29. avatar

    Hey Frank,

    I recently picked up a group of fire skinks and they seem to be thriving. I am however a bit confused as to the claims that they are aggressive towards each other. I am housing 8 individuals in a fairly small space and I have never once seen any sign of hostility between them other than maybe fighting over a Dubia. They may just be too young to be having sexual angst yet though, most are in the 10″ range. I was wondering if there has been any info on if temperament can be effected by raising young animals together communally.

    Thx Jim

    • avatar

      Hello Jim,

      Thx for the interesting bit of info. It may have to do with sexual maturity…size is not a determining factor necessarily.

      Also, enclosure size is a tricky issue…in some cases, cramped animals fight,. Other species, however, may get along if the enclosure is too small for the establishment of territories..breeding will be inhibited, and the associated hormones will not be produced, limiting aggression. I’ve had animals as diverse as laughing jay thrushes and Cuban crocs co-exist for years in small enclosures, only to fight to the death the day (literally) they were provided with more space. When large amounts of food are available, we see this as well with some species…males tolerate others in much closer proximity than would be normal…common in urban raccoon populations, and among feral cats, rats, possibly green iguanas in Fla. Not much done on effects of raising young together, as far as I know. Pl keep me posted, best, frank

  30. avatar

    Hi Frank I got a male fire Skink to go with my female finally. I do keep them seperated but I put them together twice now to see what they do. they seem to be afraid of each other. the third time I left them in over nite and they seemed to be checking each other out but still afraid.I heard breeding season in the wild is April and May. In captivity would they mate any time or do they sense a certain time to breed. I don’t want to leave them a lone because I want to study them and there breeding habits. Maybe I will write a book on them some day. Rick

    • avatar

      Hello Rick,

      You may be able to expect mating at any time…they have a very wide range, and so the season may be tied to where they or their parents originated (if breeding is controlled by an “internal clock). Also, captive conditions change natural behavior, including, in many cases, the timing of breeding. Anything you learn will be of value, as they are not well-studied. Enjoy and please keep me posted, Frank

  31. avatar

    Hi Frank I found some interesting info on the fire skinks. I be introducing my Fire skinks slowly and each time I would leave them in longer. they been together about 2 weeks now and thay are not fighting but the small one or female changes her back color to a very bright gold color when near the male. she acts like (in my opinion) a male then a female. The bigger one( male) just sit there and looks at her back. there backs are both gold but not that bright. she could be showing stress or some other kind of mood. I always thought the male did displaies when introduced to the females. is it possible that they have it backwards about the size of the sexes. Thanks Rick

    • avatar

      Hello Rick,

      Very interesting, thanks..be sure to keep notes. Size at sexual maturity varies, and animals from different populations within the range may exhibit size differences when adult. This can cloud ID…as long as they are not fighting, keep observing closely and pl let me know how all goes, enjoy, Frank

  32. avatar

    Hi Frank I found another weird thing my smaller Fire Skink does. when I go into the cage to check them the little on acts like a snake. it slithers through the substrate really fast. I think it is trying to scare me and it is working. it seems to be protecting the bigger one. the little one is not eating either it lose some weight. I am going to have to keep an eye on that I been trying to feed her but she refuses. thanks Rick

  33. avatar

    Hi Rick
    My male is the smaller unfortunatly i lost my female to egg bind. But my smaller male.does excatly the same thing when we go to remove him for.cleaning while.the female never ran. Is it legs to the side at extream speed? Sorry just curious

  34. avatar

    Hi Charlotte sorry to hear about your female. I think I am going to get a security camera and set it up at the cage because I do work and am not around them a lot and I would like to study them more. I thought the bigger one was supose to be the male. that is why I am confused about this lizard and I want to study it even more now. it is a beautiful lizard and if more was known about it I think more people woukd appreciate it more. Yes it’s legs are to the side when it is moving very fast. thanks for the info. Rick

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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