What to Know About Red-Eyed Crocodile Skinks

Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on November 22, 2022

Red-eyed crocodile skinks are unique and adorable members of the Scincidae family. These lizards aren’t overly fond of humans. They're considered intermediate-level skinks in the pet care community. Make sure you understand all of the details of the red-eyed crocodile skink's care before choosing to take one home

The scientific name for the red-eyed crocodile skink is Tribolonotus gracilis. In Latin, gracilis means “small” or “lanky”. They’re a particularly flexible lizard species that has adapted well to the humans in their native environments. They’re not considered endangered. 

These lizards are native to New Guinea and also found on the Admiralty Islands. They thrive in tropical rainforests, where they commonly hide and hunt on the forest floor. They enjoy sheltering under fallen trees and rocks. They’re capable of climbing trees and the walls of their enclosures — but they prefer not to. 

You can also find them throughout the coconut plantations that now exist in their former habitats.

The two most easily identifiable features of the red-eyed crocodile skink are the ones that it’s named for — the red scales around its eyes and the crocodile-like scales on its back. 

These skinks have black eyes that are surrounded by bright scales with an orange or reddish hue. These scales are present in both males and females. They make their eyes appear both much larger and more startling than they would on their own. 

Juveniles have blue eyes and lack the orange scales. The eye scales appear by the time the skink is six months old. 

The "crocodile" part of their name comes from the armor-like scales that line their backs. These form large, spiky, triangular shapes that are very similar to the scales on a crocodile. They make the entire skink appear much larger than it is. 

For both sexes, the tops of their bodies and their limbs are a uniform brown or black color. Their undersides are either yellow or cream. 

Two features can help you distinguish the males from the females. Males have large blue-grey pores on the toes of their back feet. They also have a rectangular region of enlarged, orange-tinted scales on their bellies in the region where their umbilical cord was attached. Females don't have either of these traits.

When well cared for, red-eyed crocodile skinks can survive for over a decade in captivity.

At birth, red-eyed crocodile skinks only weigh a couple of grams and are just a few inches long. It takes them three to four years to reach maturity, but they start to look like adults when they’re just six months old. 

Adult crocodile skinks are an average of 7 to 9 inches long. The males tend to be slightly larger — in terms of both height and weight — than the females.

For the most part, red-eyed crocodile skinks become very stressed when they’re handled by humans. Interacting with them often isn’t recommended. 

They tend to completely freeze up when something frightens them. They can even fall over and play dead if they’re frightened enough. 

The females become particularly difficult to interact with once they’ve laid an egg. Females from this species are much more protective of their eggs than most lizards. They only lay one at a time and then completely cover the egg with their bodies. They’ll vigorously defend it by biting and chirping at any disturbance.

Both in the wild and in captivity, your red-eyed crocodile skink needs a well-balanced diet in order to thrive. Get them a variety of live insects, including: 

  • Crickets
  • Mealworms
  • Superworms
  • Roaches
  • Hornworms
  • Earthworms
  • Waxworms 

By varying these insects, you’re not only keeping your lizard interested, you’re also providing a better balance of essential nutrients. This is important for your pet’s continued health. Juveniles should be fed daily, and adults should be fed every other day. 

Give them these insects in a small dish or a separate area so they won't eat the materials on the bottom of your tank. The skinks might accidentally eat some of the tank's substrate if the insects burrow down into it. Remove uneaten ones so they don’t harm your pet in any way. 

Also, sprinkle the insects with a special lizard-safe calcium powder that’s fortified with vitamin D. You should do this every day for juveniles and every other day for adults. Your pet should also get a weekly multivitamin.

A single crocodile skink needs at least a 15-gallon tank. This should be oriented so there’s more horizontal space than vertical space. It also needs a mesh lid to allow for good airflow. Just make sure that the lid fits tightly, or your crafty skink will escape. 

You can keep two red-eyed crocodile skinks in the same enclosure, but they have to be one male and one female. Skinks of the same sex will fight for the tank’s limited resources. The tank should also be much larger if you have two.

Other important details for your home habitat are as follows: 

  • Keep the humidity between 70% and 90% — you can do this by misting the enclosure two to three times a day and getting a special hiding box for a localized humid area.
  • Put plants, rocks, logs, and strips of bark throughout the enclosure — just don’t overcrowd them because they also like to move around in open spaces.
  • Keep the substrate 2 to 3 inches deep so they can burrow — safe substrates include paper-based bedding, coconut fiber, or cypress mulch mixed with sphagnum bark.
  • Provide a range of daytime temperatures — there should be a warm spot around 82 degrees Fahrenheit and a cool region that’s between 72 degrees Fahrenheit and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Make sure the temperature doesn’t fall below 70 degrees Fahrenheit at night.
  • Provide full-spectrum UV light for 10 to 12 hours each day — the UVB in particular is necessary for their health.

Red-Eyed Crocodile Skink Health Concerns

Three main health problems commonly affect red-eyed crocodile skinks: 

  • Gastrointestinal disease. Signs include runny stool and weight loss. It could be caused by a bacterial infection or a dietary problem. 
  • Metabolic bone disease. This is caused by low calcium levels and can lead to several serious problems, including skeletal deformities, broken bones, and even death. 
  • Respiratory tract disease. Signs include trouble breathing and discharge coming from their eyes or nose. It could be caused by a problem with the habitat. 

Consult a veterinarian who is familiar with skinks for the best health advice. Sometimes simple changes to your pet’s lighting or diet are enough to bring them back to peak health. Always consult an expert if you have any concerns regarding the care and health of your red-eyed crocodile skink.

Show Sources

Petco: “Red-Eyed Crocodile Skink Care Sheet.” 
The Reptile Database: “Tribolonotus gracilis DE ROOIJ, 1909.” 
Wild View: “A Lizard That Adapts.”

© 2022 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. View privacy policy and trust info