Jos Little World

My Life With Monkey Tailed Skinks

Care Sheet and Resources

 

Here you will find my care-sheet, constructed from personal experience and observation, and research from other sources.  This care-sheet is not all-encompassing, so please dont use it as your only source of research - think of it as a rough guide!  Ive also included some of my favourite links dealing with monkey tails, which I think new owners of the species may find useful.

I could never have written this care-sheet (or have got to the point Im at today) without many different information sources. I have tried to include all of those that had aided me under "Useful Resources" - but please forgive me if you think I have failed to mention a site! Please do check these out; they have proved invaluable, and Im eternally grateful for the time that other keepers have taken to give their advice.

Please do not steal my care-sheet.
Please feel free to link back to this site if you enjoyed my care-sheet.

Please choose from the following options, or scroll down to read the entire sheet.

Monkey Tailed Skinks - Overview
Info on Corucia as a pet, and things
to consider. 

 Selection, Housing and Handling
How to choose a healthy
monkey tail, cage recommendations
and handling tips

 Foods and Feeding
"Good" foods for your skinks diet.

Sexing and Breeding
Introducing Corucia, sexing, breeding
and neonate care information.
 

Common Issues and Questions
Brief snippets of useful info 

Other Resources
Various portals of information on
Corucia. 

Monkey Tailed Skink Care Sheet

The Monkey Tailed Skink as a Pet - A Brief Overview

Monkey Tailed Skinks (also known as Prehensile Tailed Skinks, Solomon Islands Skinks and, the case of the subspecies, Northern Solomon Islands Skinks), or Corucia zebrata, are the largest of the family Scincidae. They are native only to the Solomon Islands, and can reach 28" in total length. As the name suggests, they possess long prehensile tails and grasping digits that allow them to climb through the tree canopy where they make their home. These skinks are almost exclusively herbivorous, and feed primarily on the leaves of the Epipremnum pinnatum, a poisonous creeper related to the common household Pothos, or Devils Ivy (Epipremnum aureum). Monkey tailed skinks live in small family groups, and all of the members will take care of any of the groups offspring. These skinks reproduce by vivaporous matrophy, and give birth to one (occasionally two and very rarely three) babies late in the year. Gestation for this species is approximately 7-10 months. As a result of slow breeding and deforestation in the areas that they are found, monkey tailed skinks are now protected under CITES as being "Under Threat". Consequently, they can no longer be exported from their native home. They are primarily nocturnal, and spend most of the daytime hiding in crevices; however, they may emerge to bask on cooler days. There are two recognised subspecies of monkey tailed skink - the nominate race Corucia zebrata zebrata, or Common Monkey Tailed Skink, and the recently (1997) defined Corucia zebrata alfredschmidti, a smaller subspecies hailing from Buka and Bougainville in the North of the islands. As well as their petite size, Cza can be recognised by 50-degree pale banding on the body, a cream coloured rostral (nose) scale and a black scelera with bright yellow irises.

Monkey tails are becoming increasingly rare in captivity due to closure on exportation; as a result, only the few long term captives and breeding groups established in the hobby can keep this endearing reptile in cative herpetology. For this reason, its important that monkey tails be bought by individuals keen to set up breeding groups to ensure the future of this species. Please dont buy one monkey tail (especially a female) as a pet - as well as this being stressful on an animal that naturally lives in groups, it will remove a potential candidate for a new breeding group.

Monkey tails generally dont make great hands-on pets; their claws are razor sharp for climbing (and shouldnt be trimmed unless they are overgrown - these animals are only happy when high up in the branches!) and have a shockingly powerful grip; they have a remarkable bite that goes far beyond what one would expect of these placid-looking creatures; they can be delicate and stress easily. They can also be somewhat unpredictable; its not unusual for a "tame" specimen to bite hard, seemingly without motivation. This is probably because, mentally, these lizards seem far more evolved than many other species; perhaps it is their complex social hierachy that has resulted in a more diverse range of response to stimuli. At any rate, these are not good pets for young children or people unwilling to learn from their animals.

 

Things to Think About Before Buying Your Monkey Tailed Skink

  • Is there a reptile vet close by? Most reptiles will need to see a vet at some time or other, and regular vets dont usually have a lot of expertise in exotics. Dont just assume your monkey tails wont get sick; when they doe, you may find yourself facing a 3-hour drive to the nearest reptile vet clinic. Vets with monkey tail experience can be especially hard to locate, but are well worth finding as they can offer the specialist advice this species needs.
  • Can I obtain all of the foods these skinks need? Monkey tails, like all herbivores, need varied diets to get a full spectrum of vitamins and nutrients. Can you afford to buy all of the things these lizards need to eat? Unlike insectivorous lizards monkey tails are generally not too expensive to feed. Our grocery bill for our skink collection comes out to around £10 a week.
  • Do I have the time to prepare food for these skinks? Skink meals need to be washed, chopped, grated, supplemented, peeled, and even in some cases cooked...its not as easy as shaking a tub of crickets into the cage! Luckily, since these animals are crepuscular, feeding in the evening is preferable - most people will have time for food preperation in the evening after work, rather than before.
  • Do I have the room to house a group of these lizards? Monkey tails are social creatures and need to be kept with others of the same species. They are also very active, and may even suffer stress-related illness if they are kept too close to the ground - they therefore need tall, large enclosures that allow each skink enough space to move around. 
  • Am I prepared to breed my skinks? Monkey tails are becoming so rare in the hobby that the budding keeper really needs to consider putting them into breeding situations. If you just want one animal, a monkey tail isnt a good choice.
  • What do I expect from my monkey tail? Monkey tailed skinks dont make good hands-on pets in most cases; as well as the obvious rarity, their sharp claws, brutal bites and unpredictable natures (monkey tails can become aggressive overnight during breeding seasons) can make them difficult "pets" for most people. If you want a truly fascinating lizard that you dont mind leaving to do its own thing, a monkey tail may be a good choice.
  • What will happen to my skinks when I go on holiday? Finding a reputable person to care for these skinks (preferably one that has worked with them in the past) is paramount, if no-one is available to feed them in their own cages while you are away. Luckily, you will probably find it easier to locate someone willing to put a bowl of salad in the cage than someone willing to feed the insects that many other species thrive on! 

Selection, Housing and Handling

 Choosing Your Monkey Tailed Skink

Monkey tail babies are usually born late in the year, and are usually offered for sale the following Summer or Autumn. Captive bred babies are extremely hard to find, but are usually a good choice as you can determine their background; the age and past husbandry of long term captives can be much harder to work out. Monkey tails can be very expensive to purchase.

Generally, common sense should be used in evaluating these skinks. A healthy monkey tail will act healthy; it should struggle vigorously if restrained (tame individuals may not struggle so enthusiastically, but will still probably dislike actively being held), using all four limbs and tail. When relaxed, they generally move quite slowly; however, when agitated, they can move extremely fast. A skink that mopes listlessly around the cage, or lies in one place with closed eyes even when disturbed, should be avoided. The body of a monkey tail should be smooth and rounded, with no bumps or obvious injuries. If the hip-bones are visible, the skink is underweight; individuals that arent eating can be very hard to turn around, and should not be bought. The eyes should be clear and bright, and the skink should be interested in what is going on; sunken or watery eyes can be signs of illness. No mucus should be present around the mouth, nose or vent. Some skinks may be missing toes; so long as the injuries are well-healed, these shouldnt prove problematic. Check the body thoroughly for any signs of mites; these tiny brown insects may gather where the limbs meet the body, around the ear and around the vent. Small white specks (mite droppings) can be a clue that a skink is infested. Skinks infested with mites can be treated, so long as they are otherwise in good condition.

Monkey tails come in a plethora of colours and markings; some of the most highly prized specimens are very pale in colour with striking yellow eyes. Colour may denote the region the skink has come from, and may make pairing up compatible skinks a bit easier; choose similarly coloured specimens where possible if forming a breeding group. Be warned though that some skinks just wont get along regardless! Males in particular are very territorial and may fight to the death - especially if there are females around. Then again, there are females who will fight with everyone! The best bet for ensuring compatibility is to buy an already-established group, or several youngsters to raise together. If forming a new breeding group, make sure that all are introduced to a new territory together so that no-one feels the need to defend the cage. Rubbing some old substrate onto each of the skinks to mask their own scents may also help (see Sexing Your Monkey Tailed Skink for more information). Monkey tails are social and ideally should not live alone; if you purchase one skink, look to get it a companion to interact with.

Monkey tailed skinks are practitioners of both keratophagy and cophrophagy - consuming both shed skin and feces - and no attempt should be made to prevent your skinks from doing either.  Some skinks may even eat the shed off their cage-mates; this process helps to remove skin more easily.  It is believed that a skinks gut flora may be boosted by consuming both its feces and those of other skinks in the group; they can also squeeze any remaining nutrients from it that may not have been digested initially.  Even so, old feces should not be left in the cage for an extended period of time; only fresh feces are consumed.  Feces that have been deposited in water are not eaten.

All new reptile acquisitions should be quarantined as standard for a bare minimum of 3 months before any interaction is allowed. This period should also include a fecal examination for parasites, and a thorough vetinary check as standard. Make sure that you wash your hands thoroughly, particularly if handling a new animal and then servicing your existing collection, or you may end up being the carrier of illness throughout your collection! As a general rule, the newest quarantined animals should be serviced last of all, and ideally should have easily disposable substrate/feed dishes etc. They should also (if space allows) be housed in a totally separate room from the rest of your collection until they have passed quarantine. These steps sound extreme, but it only takes one infected specimen to destroy an entire collection; for the sake of a few months, do right by your animals and make sure that all newbies are in perfect health before integrating. 

Monkey tailed skinks require tall cages to allow them to climb; however, you will also find that horizontal space is also important. Therefore, a cage size of 4'x4'x2' will suffice for one pair of these skinks (some of the larger locales may require larger enclosures of around 5'x4'x2'). Unlike many other lizards that can become infinitely lazy in captivity, monkey tails will use ALL of the space that you offer them (one of the things that makes them so interesting to watch). Monkey tailed skinks are surprisingly strong and very curious, and any cage should have secure latches to stop them from escaping and wandering off. Some keepers like to construct a separate "play" area outside of the cage so that their skinks can have somewhere new to explore in the evenings. As well as securing your cages doors, make sure to enclose your heating apparatus; these skinks can stand straight upright on their back legs, and can reach things far above their heads.

Housing your Monkey Tailed Skink

A monkey tailed skink cage should contain;

  • Substrate. Sphagnum moss is an excellent substrate that retains moisture, is digestible if accidentally consumed, cheap to purchase and aesthetically pleasing. This is by far and away our substrate of choice. Some keepers use mulch, such as cypress/orchid bark. Monkey tails generally dont spend a great deal of time at the bottom of the cage (if they are spending an unusual amount of time down there, you may have issues with illness or dominance), so the substrate is usually for practical rather than aesthetic reasons. Bear in mind that monkey tails (like all herbivores) eat a lot and therefore produce large poos, so substrate may need regular servicing! Luckily monkey tails usually choose a specific area of the cage to use as a latrine, which makes cleaning up easier. Many will choose to use their water bowls instead.
  • Water. A vessel large enough for the skinks to like in is ideal. Monkey tails are not swimmers and deep water should be avoided; however, they will often enjoy lying in the water, particularly if it is warmed by siting it under the heat source (this will also aid in increasing humidity in the cage). Females may soak more frequently before parturition. Include a dripper in the cage so that your skinks can find the water easily. As well as providing drinking water, the cage should be thoroughly sprayed with a fine mist at least once daily, as these skinks require high humidity levels of around 60%+. They will also drink the water off the cage furniture.
  • Basking Spot. The basking spot is usually obtained using a lightbulb, although ceramic heaters and MVB bulbs are now very popular. Personally I like using floodlights in my cages; they brighten up the cage, encouraging activity. The basking spot should be between 90F-100F. NOTE - this should be the temperature of the surface of the basking spot, not the air above it. Use a digital thermometer or - better still - a temperature gun to check the temperature exactly. Monkey tails wont usually bask unless the ambient temperatures in the cage arent being met, but its always a good idea to have a warmer spot available in case it is needed to aid digestion. The ambient temperature of the cage should be in the mid 80Fs, with a drop towards the lower end of the cage. Night time temperatures can be allowed to drop into the mid 70Fs. You can use a red light at night to warm the cage and allow you to see your skinks. Monkey tails do not do well in cages that are too hot, and can quickly deteriorate. If you are struggling to heat the cage during the cooler months, it may be an idea to invest in a reptile radiator or AHS heater; these should only ever be used with a thermostat to ensure that your skinks arent baked.
  • UV Source. Some keepers do not use UVB sources in their cages, citing that the animals are crepuscular and hence dont come out during the day. However, I have frequently observed my skinks emerging in early evening and morning when the lights are on and sitting in areas of "daylight". I have also spoken to several breeders who inform me that UVB is essential to the digestive process for herbivores. I therefore supply my skinks with a ReptiSun strip to provide UVB. Mercury vapor bulbs are another UVB source, but may provide too hot a basking area for these skinks to handle.  
  • Cage Furniture. Monkey tail skinks require many sloping, crisscrossing branches to climb on. They also need a multitude of hides in different parts of the cage; cork bark rounds do well for providing nooks. Plenty of artificial plants should also be supplied to allow these secretive skinks to hide during the day; real plants may be used (so long as they arent toxic), but these may be shredded and eventually destroyed.  
  • Digital Thermometers and Hygrometers. These are useful to check the ambient environment of the cage. We have one set into the middle of the cage that records temperature and humidity.

As the humidity of the cage should be very high (over 60%), particularly while shedding, its important to make sure that these cages are properly ventilated to prevent fungal growth. Setting vents into the top of one side of the cage and the bottom of the other should create a good air flow; alternatively, some keepers set mesh into a section of each side of the cage. Humidifiers connected via a short length of tubing to the cage can make achieving the correct humidity a bit easier, and save time on cage maintenance.

As a general rule, it is usually cheaper to build your own monkey tail enclosures; large, built-to-order jobs will cost vast sums of money with most vivarium builders. Smaller enclosures such as 4'x4'x2' may be more readily available; however, while melamine-faced wood (or Contiboard) is usually a popular choice for the budding cage builder, it is not usually robust enough for the high humidity requirements of monkey tails. As well as the risk of the laminate being damaged, the high humidity requirement for these lizards means that the chipboard beneath the surface is at great risk of rotting down; if any moisture finds its way under the waterproof coating, the cage will quickly become weakened. Couple this with the fact that laminate can be difficult for sealant to stick to, and you may have a recipe for disaster if you use melamine-faced wood for your monkey tails cage! Try to also avoid using loose coatings, eg linoleum, as a method of sealing the cage - again, if water gets under this, it has nowhere to go but through your wooden structure. 18mm MDF coated with several layers of Blagdon pond Paint or a similar low VOC/water-based sealant is usually an effective method of keeping moisture out of the wood. We would NEVER advocate using products with high VOC ratings like varnish; no matter how well these are aired after painting, your animal is going to end up enclosed in a small space that has been treated with harsh chemicals and is being artificially heated up. Reptiles, like birds, have delicate respiratory systems; don't risk it. Moulded plastic cages are usually good choices, but can be incredibly expensive.

Wood for your monkey tail cage can be bought from reptile shops, but is is usually very expensive - although some pieces of curiowood can make nice decorations in a display vivarium. Well weathered, dried out wood can be obtained easily from most woodland where clearing has occured; so long as the pieces are dry (no rot or sap on them) and the bark has been removed, the pieces should be suitable for the vivarium. Ensure that the pieces are well disinfected and cleaned before placing them in the cage, to ensure that no bugs make it into your enclosure. Cork bark rounds make good hides, and can usually be bought fairly cheaply at reptile stores. Fake plants bought from reptile shops can cost a fortune; try artificial plants from garden centres. Make sure they arent scented or covered in paint or glitter first! Monkey tails will climb on everything, and while they are usually good at clinging onto things if they are dislodged, make sure that your cage furniture is secure before you let you skinks loose in their new home; a fall can seriously injure these animals.

Once you have set up your cage, leave it for a couple of days to make sure that the heating apparatus are achieving the correct temperatures. That way, you can make any necessary adjustments before your skinks are introduced.

Handling Your Monkey Tailed Skink

Monkey tails generally dislike being held by humans - not having their feet on a sturdy surface to grip can be stressful and confusing to them. Therefore, they are best handled by coaxing them onto a stick or something similar and then carrying them around on this. If absolutely necessary, a monkey tail can be carried for a short distance using the tail; this should only be done in exceptional circumstances, as most will not enjoy this procedure at all! A tame monkey tail may be allowed to climb out of the cage onto its owner - some individuals even appear to enjoy contact with humans! Be under no misapprehension however; their claws are incredibly sharp, and can make mincemeat out of your bare skin in moments, simply by having the skink climb it! Some people use "Ig-Grips (TM)" and similar products to protect their arms from skink claws; at the very least you should consider wearing a long-sleeved, sturdy jumper when letting skinks climb you. Monkey tails will also naturally move towards the highest point of their owners, which means you are liable to have a skink intent on climbing your head if you let you skink onto your body - I probably dont need to tell you that letting your skink near your face leaves you in dire risk of getting severe scratches or bites. Monkey tails can get a surprising grip on clothes, and can be a pain to remove once they are holding on; try, instead of "picking" the skink off your clothing, to divert it to hold onto something else. This is usually more effective than attempting to remove all of its snagged claws from your clothes. 

If the situation arises that you need to restrain your skink, there are a few approaches to try. Firstly, you can hold the skink behind its head by encircling the neck with your thumb and forefinger, and then wrapping the rest of the fingers around the chest under the forelegs. The other hand can then mirror the position around the tail and back legs. Monkey tails held in this way will almost certainly struggle, and its important to keep an eye on the back legs; if a trapped skink gets a back foot onto your skin, its liable to drag it down to try and dislodge itself...and that can result in some pretty brutal scratches. Alternatively, you can try wrapping the skink in a towel or cloth to restrain the legs. Obviously, this means that any grooming required, such as claw trimming or shed skin removal, is generally a two-person job; one person to hold the skink, the other to perform the task. Its advisable that the person restraining the skink wear some heavy-duty gloves to protect against bites and scratches.

Monkey tails that are not used to being handled often "void" on their keepers; this involves expelling water and urates (rarely feces in this species) at a great force. This is a technique that would naturally be used against predators, and can be a great deterrent - it can certainly take you by surprise! Try to avoid this by restraining your skink as little as possible; transport it on a branch, or by letting it lie in your hand or on your arm. Voiding is not harmful - just messy and unpleasant! Some specimens seem more willing to void than others - perhaps this is influenced by the "success" the skink has had performing this in the past.  Alternatively, maybe some skinks just want to make sure you get the hint!

Many people report that their skinks seem decidedly unfriendly towards their keepers; many will bite or butt aggressively if approached in the cage, or flee. While regular interact can reduce these defensive responses, many skink keepers regard the species as a "hands-off" specimen. Tame animals that can be handled easily are few and far between. However, with time, even severely moody skinks can become accustomed to seeing their owners, and having them open and service the cage. They may even allow handfeeding. However, dont be surprised if thats as far as your skinks willingness to interact with you goes. Bear in mind though that during the breeding season (which takes place in the first few months of the year during the spring) even "tame" skinks can become highly aggressive, particularly if housed with skinks of the opposite sex. Some skinks (occasionally described as "psycho") can be incredibly aggressive constantly with no obvious stimulation, and can attack both people and other skinks with abandon. I have housed two skinks that I would describe in this manner, who would willingly come after hands that entered the cage and fight with all other skinks they were introduced to. Exactly what promotes this behaviour is uncertain, but as a general rule these skinks should not be housed with others; they should also not be handled as far as possible.

In my experience, adult males seem to be the most outgoing and mellow; I have three adult males, none of whom are afraid of humans and generally are not biters (though I struggle to refer to many specimens of this species as "tame"!). Conversely, I have only had experience of two females (out of seven) that werent scared or openly aggressive towards people! Of course, this varies greatly from animal to animal, and even males may become extraordinarily aggressive when defending cage-mates or during breeding season.  Even if your skink appears to hate being held, you can develop a bond with them. Try offering food by hand; large leaves, such as whole collard or romaine leaves and dandelions are usually readily eaten even by the shyer animals, as the size of the food lets them stay a good distance away from your hands.  Treats like green beans or fruits are usually very tempting to skinks as well.  If one animal appears willing to eat from your hand, the others may eventually follow suit when they see that hands are a source of food!  Monkey tails can often be rather retiring and unfriendly during the day, but appear to mellow significantly at night when the lighting is very low - if you are struggling to get your monkey tail to eat from your hand, try again in the evening or at night when they are more active and the lighting is dim.  Most monkey tails should eventually get to the stage where they are willing (even if they are still very cautious) to eat from your hands.

Foods and Feeding

Feeding your Monkey Tailed Skink

Monkey tailed skinks are considered to be totally herbivorous; that is, they only consume plant matter, which is quite unusual in the lizard world (many other species will, on occasion, eat animal matter). Therefore, they need a varied diet in order to get all of their essential nutrients from these foods.  There are plenty of different foods available from your local grocery store or supermarket that can make good staples for these animals.

Greens
Collard (spring) greens, mustard greens, carrot and turnip leaves, kale, cress, spinach, romaine, escarole, frisee, raddichio and pak choi are just a few of the foods that can be offered to your skinks; dark leafy greens like collard should make up the staple of the diet, with other leaves mixed in with moderation. Greens should make up around 60-70% of the diet. 

Vegetables
As well as their greens, skinks will accept a wide variety of vegetables; green beans, grated or cooked squash and pumpkin, cooked sweet potato, corn (both on the cob or cooked kernels), peas, grated carrots and broccoli are some examples of readily-accepted foods. Frozen and defrosted vegetables will also be eaten. Crushed alfalfa pellets or ground alfalfa hay can be sprinkled on top of the greens to add extra fibre and protein; dont use alfalfa sprouts, which are nutritionally very poor in comparison. Vegetables can make up to 20% of the diet.

Fruits
Fruits can be offered from time to time, and are often the most popular part of a meal; apple, peach, banana, kiwi, mango, cantaloupe and papaya are some good choices, and should be used in moderation. Caution should be used when feeding grapes and strawberries; different countries use different pesticide on these products, some of which can be very harmful and can be harboured in the skin of the fruit even after washing. If used, these fruits should be skinned as well as washed. Do not use canned fruit "cocktails" - these are very syrupy and contain preservatives.

Plants and Flowers
Finally, the leaves and flowers of some plants will be welcomed in the diet. Hibiscus, nasturtium, dandelion and ficus are all popular. Plants obtained from garden centres should be repotted and allowed to settle for 6 weeks to allow any pesticides to pass through. Monkey tails will also enjoy the leaves of the Devils Ivy (Pothos), or Epipremnum aureum; this usually-toxic plant is closely related to the skinks primary diet in the wild. Use caution though, as the sap of this plant can irritate your skin. Some keepers simply put the plant into the cage to allow the skinks to forage for themselves; it may be a good idea in this scenario to have several plants to rotate, or else the skinks will simply destroy the pothos in a short time.

Monkey tailed skinks can eat a LOT of food in a sitting; my adults are fed every other day, and will easily eat 1-2 fist sized portions of food each. Use your judgement; if all of the food is being finished off immediately and the plates are bare, up the amount you are feeding your skinks. When feeding multiple skinks, ensure that there is excess food rather than too little; the last skink to the plate may end up with nothing if you scrimp on portions.  Many keepers feed all of the different foods in individual piles; while skinks do seem to like to be able to pick and choose, doing this runs the risk of one skink getting all of the "treats" and no greens, or some foods being rejected for others.  Separating foods does allow the keeper to more-easily keep a track of whats being eaten and what isnt, but I have personally had more success mixing all of the foods up together than separating them - that way, everyone gets a portion of everything, and the skinks seem less likely to choose one food over another.  Meals should be supplemented with calcium and a vitamin supplement as necessary - I use vitamins twice weekly and calcium on the remaining feeds. Adults can be fed every other day, but babies, juveniles and underweight animals should be fed daily. Feed your skinks in the early evening when they are the most active.  To liven up your skinks routine, try hanging edible leaves around the cage - spring greens in particular can be bought with leaves intact, and are easily robust enough to hang up in the cage with string or plastic-coated wire. This will provide some enrichment for your skinks as they forage around for treats.

Some keepers debate the strength of monkey tailed skinks' jaws, and believe that their jaw-strength may indicate that they eat snails or other hard-shelled invertebrates from time to time.  These keepers may offer these foods from time to time; snails, morioworms and even crickets have said to have been eaten enthusiastically by monkey tailed skinks. However, due to the nature of the skinks digestive system - which is designed to strip every nutrient from a very basic diet - it may not be advisable to feed any animal protein to your skinks.  As far as Im aware, no specific information is available on the effect of animal protein on monkey tailed skinks, but based on information pertaining to other herbivorous reptiles, I have chosen to omit animal protein from my skinks diet.

Monkey tailed skinks require a clean source of water in their cage at all times. Skinks may find it hard to locate still water in their cage, and so its advisable to use a dripper or small pump to keep the water rippling; this can be as basic as a container suspended in the cage over the water dish with a pinhole in the bottom! A waterfall can even be installed in the cage by an enterprising keeper; this will also help to keep the humidity of the cage up, but may require some maintenance as skinks are reknowned for pooing in their water dishes - this can in turn clog up the mechanics of the waterfall, and end up spreading bacteria through the system. Make sure that your chosen water vessel isnt too deep; monkey tails cant swim! Some keepers report that their skinks appear actively excited by the sound of moving water. As well as a water dish, the cage should me misted at least once daily to maintain humidity; the skinks may also be seen drinking the water droplets off the cage decor. You can fit a humidifier to the cage to take care of this task if you wish.

Sexing and Breeding

Sexing Your Monkey Tailed Skink

Sexing monkey tailed skinks can be very problematic; while there are techniques that keepers use to try and determine gender, they are somewhat hit-and-miss.  As a general rule, a male monkey tail skink has a comparatively larger and bulkier head than a female; it often appears rugged and heart-shaped, with slight bulges on the top of the head just before the neck. Due to the size of the head, the neck and shoulders tend to appear much narrower than the head itself.  Males also generally have a very uniform body shape - it should form a fairly even cylindrical shape from shoulders to hips. Females conversely have heads that dont appear significantly wide compared to body width; usually the head is considerably smaller than the width of the body at its widest point. They tend also to have "pear" shaped bodies, with a narrow head and neck swelling out to a wider hip area. Dont just use the size of the head to judge the sex of a skink - some larger skinks may appear to have enormous heads, but still may be female! Always judge size of the head in relation to the size of the neck and body.

More recently, the idea that sex can be determined by the shape of the vent and/or the suggestion of presence of hemipenes has been introduced. The theory is that male skinks should have two "bulges" running down the tail a short distance from the vent, indicating that hemipenes are present. Females should only have one bulge in the centre of the tail. While some skinks do appear to adhere to "typical" vent appearances, in my experience it seems to depend on the position the skink is in; if not totally relaxed, muscles at the base of the tail can contract and protrude, making a females vent area appear to be "male". I have had two definite females appear male by using this technique! Therefore, I use this method along with visual sexing and/or observation to try and determine gender; I wouldnt recommend using it as a sole method of sexing.

Further to this, a french website (see links below) has suggested that the scale arrangement of the vent is slightly different between males and females; namely, on the last row of scales before the vent on the tail, a notched middle scale (which appears to cause a "break" in the middle of this line) is a characteristic of a male skink. Females conversely are said to have an even row of uniform scales along the vent with no irregularities. This method has proven very effective amongst the online Corucia community, and may be the sexing-method that keepers have been clamouring for! The best way to view this row of scales is to raise your skinks tail and gently open or push VERY slightly down on the cloacal flap to expose the skin around the cloaca. The row of scales immediately above the cloacal opening on the tail is the one to examine. Please do not attempt this method if you are not experienced and/or confident in your ability, or injury may occur.

Other methods of sexing include ultrasounding, manual eversion ("popping") of hemipenes, and observation. Ultrasounding appears to be the most fool-proof method of sexing these skinks, but it can be difficult to locate practitioners familiar with reptiles, and the costs are therefore usually quite high. Eversion of the hemipenes can be a useful method, but unfortunately has proven to be inaccurate in some cases due to the musculature of the skinks body - it isnt always possible to evert the hemipenes, which can lead to erroneous results. Finally, observation can give you some clues as to your skinks gender; if your skink everts its own hemipenes while defaecating, or leaves sperm-plugs in its water dish (usually "snotty" looking strings of off-white goo), it may let you know its gender of its own accord! Similarly, carefully allowing skinks to interact with one another, or with one anothers shed skin, can throw some light on the subject; I have in the past allowed one confirmed male to interact with several other skinks of unknown gender, and he has always reacted aggressively towards other males and passively (or at least, not with open aggression) towards females. Similarly, the shed skin of males is attacked, while the females skin is scented or eaten. Be very careful when trying these methods; I keep a layer of strong mesh between the subjects so that they can smell one another but not bite. Dont use females to try and determine gender this way; females can dislike males AND other females! Again, this method is certainly no guarantee, but when used in conjuction with other techniques may help to reach a solid conclusion.

 

Introducing and Breeding Your Monkey-Tailed Skinks

Introducing skinks to one another can be a hairy business; skinks can be extremely particular about who they do and dont like, and it can be difficult to change their minds! The best practise is to purchase already-compatible groups, as the work has already been done for you in these cases. Alternatively, a series of youngsters can usually be brought together into a group that will grow up comfortable with one another to a breeding age. When forming new groups, its important to ensure that every member of the group is healthy and has passed through quarantine sucessfully; one sickly individual can spell chaos for a group.  Introductions should take place on neutral ground; do not place the skinks into one of the groups enclosure, or the original inhabitant may feel that he has to defend his territory!  My method is usually to allow the skinks to interact in an easily accessible place for the initial meetings; a platform with a branch similar climbing apparatus that can be put on the floor on on a table is great, as it allows the keeper to quickly intercept and rescue skinks if fighting occurs. The first few meetings are generally conducted through mesh; a layer of plastic-coated mesh is placed between the unfamiliar skinks, so that they can scent one another but not bite. This is usually handy to let you get an idea of how their interactions will pan out later - if there are obvious attempts to bite or attack through the mesh, the skinks are likely to be incompatible.  Angry skinks will move their heads sharply back and forth in short, stabbing motions, and whip their tails around like a cat; again these are signs to keep an eye out for, as they can preceed an attack. Curious tongue-flicking is a more promising development. It is believed that monkey-tailed skinks choose who to like according to those that "smell" similar to themselves; to use this to your advantage, you can rub some soiled bedding of one skink onto the other, to confuse the smell of the animal and hopefully make the other better disposed towards it.

As a general rule, male skinks should not be housed together; the risk of aggression is extremely high.  However, there have been noted incidences in which males have appeared to co-habit the same territory with no evidence of aggression.  Some keepers have reported that, in extremely large, room-sized enclosures filled with climbing apparatus, skinks manage to define individual territories, and effectively live apart in the same enclosure. Also, Philippe Vosjoli mentions in his book, "The Care and Maintenance of the Prehensile Tailed Skink", that one keeper successfully maintained two pairs in the same cage for many years. When one of the females eventually died, the single male was picked on by the remaining pair. This fragility of relationships within groups seems to be quite a common occurance; it seems that any "changes" to a skinks environment - encapsulating its territory, or the animals within it - can influence the skinks hierachy.  True pairs of skinks dont seem to have these problems; presumably because there is no threat posed by other skinks when changes occur, there is no need to re-evaluate relationships. I personally have housed males before (not intentionally) - one "pair" that turned out to be two juvenile males, and one "trio" that turned out to have two males in it. In the first case, I believe that the lack of females to fight over and the immature status of the skinks meant that there was no reason to squabble; in the second, the younger, smaller male was probably of too little consequence to be a threat to the huge alpha male. These scenarios arent typical, and shouldnt be encouraged or attempted - it may just result in the death, or at least severe injury, of one or more skinks. Females can cause enough trouble - dont add to it by trying to mix males.

Copulation between skinks usually occurs in the early months of the year between February and April when the weather becomes warmer, humidity reaches saturation point and food becomes more abundant.  Since these skinks come from a temperate part of the world where there are no drastic changes in overall temperature, no attempt should be made to hibernate them in order to prepare for breeding; however, a "cooling off" period in the latter months of the year, brought about by a reduced light-cycle of around 8-10 hours and a slight drop in temperatures may help your breeding attempts immensely in the spring.  Be especially vigilant in the colder months; your heating apparatus may need to be revised (higher-wattage bulbs introduced, night time heating added etc) so that the temperature inside the cage doesnt drop too greatly when the room around it gets colder.

In order to simulate the spring breeding season, bring up the light cycle to a full 12 hours again, increase temperature back up to "normal" levels, increase feedings, and increase humidity in the cage to near saturation point - this may require several mistings a day for several weeks!  This activity should stimulate your skinks into a breeding response. Some keepers report great success by separating males and females, and reintroducing in the spring in time for the breeding season.  Courting may be observed almost immediately, with skinks interacting more intensely than before; this may include following one another around, scenting of the vent and body or nipping of the hips or neck.  Copulation will usually occur when the male grips the female by the back of the neck, positions his body on top of hers, and twists his tail around beneath her tail.  The process may last up to 10 minutes, though may be a little shorter.  The pair may be observed copulating several times during this time, and both skinks may become temporarily very aggressive.  An indication from the female that she is no longer willing to mate - nipping at the male or running away from him - may be a sign that she is gravid; however, it is no guarantee.  After copulation, it is usually recommended to remove the female and place her in her own enclosure away from the male; if you have a very large enclosure with multiple hides and basking areas, the female may be able to remain in the cage. If there is any evidence that the male is continuing to harass her however, she should be removed until the young are born.

Monkey-tailed skinks usually give birth to one or, less often, two babies towards the end of the year, after a 7-10 month gestation period. Prior to partuition, the female may go off her food and spend a lot of time soaking in the water bowl. Offspring are born at night, often during a period of heavy rainfall, and will proceed to eat the afterbirth shortly after birth. Babies are almost immediately capable of caring for themselves; they will usually stay by their mothers side however, and other members of the group may guard the offspring. They will experience their first shed within the first 24 hours of birth. Any cagemates should be closely monitored during this time; while the group are likely to defend the baby, there have been cases of aggression or even cannabalism towards babies. Babies should be allowed to stay with their mothers, unless aggression is evident; in this case, its a good idea to remove the youngster so that it can be observed to be feeding correctly. Babies require daily feedings of finely-shredded foods. Since it is believed that babies obtain their initial batch of gut flora from their mothers, many keepers would suggest placing fresh feces from other members of the group into the babies cage so that it can eat them and build up its digestive culture; some babies that have been removed at birth and not given the opportunity to do this have quickly deteriorated and died. It is believed that babies only require one "dose" of this gut flora, which is usually obtained shortly after birth, so its not necessary to keep swamping the newborn with feces! Babies intially will hide in the lower parts of the cage, so make sure that hides, food and water are all available - water pots should be shallow and/or have rocks and other objects in to allow the baby to climb out if it accidentally falls in. Supplemental heating may be required in the lower parts of the cage; check your temps on the bottom. After approximately a week the baby will be capable of climbing as well as its parents, and should begin to explore its surroundings more fully. Babies can be handled infrequently and for short periods of time to allow them to grow accustomed to humans; keep these sessions short to minimise stress for both the baby and the mother (being handed a baby that smells like humans can be very distressing for the group! If they appear agitated while smelling the baby try rubbing a little substrate on the youngster so that it smells like the rest of its family).

Youngsters may be kept in a similar manner to adults, and will eventually be capable of reproducing themselves between 3-5 years of age.

Common Issues and Questions

  • Should I have a hide for my monkey tailed skink? Yes, skinks like to hide while they sleep during the day; ideally have several hides so the skinks can choose where to sleep.  Some skinks may like to sleep together, so hides that can accomodate several individuals is preferable.
  • What kind of branches can I use in my cage? Check out the following link for information on safe branches. For some reason, pine isnt on there; fresh pine branches with bark and sap intact should not be used, as they can contain harmful phenols.
  • Where should I put my skinks food/water bowl? Theyre best positioned on a ledge in the cage, unless your cage is fairly short (4ft or so); monkey tails dont generally eat from the ground in the wild. You may want to put a small lip around the edge of the platform to stop the dishes being pushed off.
  • My skinks are fighting! Issues that arent resolved quickly (within a couple of days of intermittent clashes) need to be separated permanently. It may even be possible that you have two males housed together! It may be a good idea to re-attempt introductions from the very beginning; remove all skinks from the cage and house separately for a few days, and then reintroduce. You can also try letting them interact in totally new "neutral" ground, such as on the floor or on a table; this will allow you to quickly remove aggressors. Skinks that persistently fight must be kept apart.
  • My skink has been injured! Monkey tails can be sensitive, and you should seek vetinary assistance if your skink is badly hurt. Minor wounds can be treated with a dilute Betadine solution.
  • My skinks have injured me! Treat minor wounds with an appropriate disinfectant and antiseptic. Monkey tails can harbour bacteria in their mouths that may cause infection. Serious wounds (which are generally unusual) and injuries of concern should be taken to your doctor.
  • My skink is spending a lot of time soaking. Gravid skinks may soak more frequently before parturition. Skinks may also lie in the water if the relative humidity is too low. Some skinks just like soaking in their water, particularly if shedding!
  • My skinks dont seem to be basking. Monkey tailed skinks are crepuscular, and dont generally bask unless the relative temperature of the cage is too low.
  • Do I need to us an MVB bulb in my cage? Monkey tailed skinks dont generally spend a lot of time out during daylight hours, and extremities of heat are avoided. You can use an MVB to provide some UV to your skinks, but make sure it doesnt bring the temperature of the cage up too high. We use ZooMed fluorescent tubes in our cages, though the skinks are rarely seen during the day.
  • How do I keep my humidity high? Some keepers use humidifiers connected to the cage using tubing to keep humidity up. Generally, a once or twice daily spraying should be sufficient to keep the humidity up; invest in a primable pump-type mister to get the job done more quickly.

Useful Resources

Books:
The General Care and Maintenance of the Prehensile Tailed Skink by Philippe De Vosjoli (General Care and Maintenance Series), paperback 1993. Check prices at Amazon.co.uk. - this is an excellent start to researching husbandry for prehensile-tailed skinks.
Prehensile-Tailed Skinks by John Coborn (Herpetology Series), paperback 1996. Check prices at Amazon.co.uk. - some excellent photographs, but less detailed text than Vosjolis book.

Websites:
Yahoo Corucia Group - moderated by Celeste, one of the most helpful keepers I have ever met! :) A great place to chat about Corucia, and I think the place I have learnt the most.
Beautiful Dragons - a comprehensive list of greens/vegetables/fruits/flowers and their nutritional content.
Anapsid.org - great resource for herbivorous reptile information
Faunaclassifieds.com - Skinks Forum - several monkey tailed skink owners discuss their animals here. You can also search for articles by the Leeway Corucia Research Centre, which are frequently posted and discussed.
AgamaInternational - the Langerwerfs are long-term keepers of monkey-tailed skinks, and offer plenty of first-hand information on their breeding successes.
The Prehensile Page - site with lots of good information, though doesnt seem to have been updated in some time.
Prehensile Tailed Skink Care Sheet at http://www.reptilerooms.com/ - great care sheet.
Corucia Zebrata - french site with stacks of great pictures and info.
D.Crofts Lizards: Solomon Islands Prehensile Tailed Skink - one mans account of life with monkey tailed skinks
Plants Dangerous To Your Reptile or Amphibian - does what it says on the tin

Please report any broken links - I will greatly appreciate it!