Berber Skinks Care Guide
Table of Contents
What Are Berber Skinks?
There are 2 species of skinks that are commonly referred to as Berber Skinks. These two species are readily confused by novice pet keepers and others and there is a tremendous amount of misinformation on the Internet. This berber skink care guide will explain the differences and then focus on the care for these species.
Eumeces schneideri Species
Most of the misinformation on the web about ‘Berber’ skinks, refers to the popular Eumeces schneideri. When referred to by this scientific name, this is the skink that is indigenous to eastern North Africa and western portions of the Middle East. Ninety percent of websites and blogs on this species will tell you that they are found in west Africa. This is not true, just an example of blog writers carelessly spreading false information.
Novoeumeces schneideri algeriensis Species
The species that is found in north west Africa is now called Novoeumeces schneideri algeriensis. And guess where it is found? Yep, Algeria (and Morocco). Although referred to just as often as a Berber skink as the other species, a more accurate and less confusing common name for this animal is Algerian Orange-tailed Skink.
They have a striking burnt ochre brown coloration, with stripes arching over the body side to side, rather than racing stripes front to back. They exhibit the classic tubular body shape of most skinks. They are however, just a bit larger and stockier than Schneider’s. Because a change in nomenclature taxonomy was assigned to the west African species fairly recently, there is a massive amount of confusion on the Internet.
Both Species are Excellent Pets
Both make excellent pets, when gently handled and properly cared for. However, when constructing the habitat and taking into account their needs for heat, humidity and UVB, some slight differences exist. Knowing which species of the genus Eumeces you have will help you fine tune your skink’s habitat.
A word to the wise, there are many photos on the Internet that plainly show algeriensis, while labeling the photo as Schneider’s. If a purchase has already been made, you can confirm the species by referring to the IUCN website for Eumeces algeriensis, also called Algerian Orange-tailed skink, also called True Berber Skink. If a purchase has not been made, this research will make your choice and negotiations with a breeder more transparent, as you will be able to sing from the same hymnal. If you are or have purchased from a pet store, they will undoubtedly have sold you a generic ‘Berber’ skink, and there is no telling what species it is.
Review the photos and then compare them to those on the IUCN site for Eumeces schneideri. This comparison should provide a professionally curated photo record of what these species will look like in adulthood.
Buyer Guide for Berber Skink
A purchasing tip… a pet store will probably charge around $30 for ‘Berber’ Skink. At this price, it will almost certainly be a Schneider’s. A skink that sells for closer to $300 is probably an algeriensis. If you are uncertain about which kind you want, do tons of research, because it would be bummer to pay for an algeriensis, and later find that you were the proud owner of a Schneider’s after all.
Both varieties will live to be about 17 years old, although some may live older, and grow to a length of about 16 to 18 inches long. Both are mostly insectivorous.
Berber Skink Habitat Design
An adult must have a minimum cage size of 30” long at least, 12” deep x 12” high. Two females may be kept together, or a mated pair, but never two adult males. Schneider's Skinks are more social than Algerian, and seem to enjoy interaction and companionship with others of their own kind and even different lizard species.
Their cage size should be increased appropriately to house multiple specimens. Housing one male with between one and three females can be perfect and is ideal for a breeding arrangement. If deciding to house this species with other types, do plenty of research first. The high temperatures that this species prefers may be incompatible with the needs of many of popular reptile species.
Many keepers have had excellent results with Exo-Terra Large-Low terrariums or the T3 and/or T8 terrestrial enclosures for permanent adult housing. These animals like to move and groove, so provide plenty of horizontal space for that to happen.
Remember, Berber skinks are terrestrial and prefer floor space over climbing area.
Berber Skink Habitat Substsrate
Both types of Berber Skinks inhabit regions where stony, semi-desert landscapes of hard compacted ground scattered with sandy deposits are the norm. They are tremendous burrowers, even tunneling under stones. This habit keeps them cool during the middle of the day in some of the hottest environments on earth. Therefore, to accommodate this behavior, a deep substrate such as peat moss and coconut fiber, or orchid mix, is recommended. Aspen based snake bedding or lignocel is also highly recommended.
Provide 4-6 inches of substrate. This lighter, organic material substrate can be mixed with 30% sand to weight it down a little and provide a more similar to indigenous habitat feel that your pet can really dig. No more than that for the sand component however, as these lizards are just as susceptible to sand compaction as their relatives, leopard geckos.
Plants that would be found in these semi-arid areas would be mostly xerophytic plants, those that have developed to require little moisture such as succulents and cacti species. Due to the digging capabilities of these skinks, if plants are included they should probably be potted cacti or succulents.
A basking area is a must. An elevated tier of stones directly under the heat lamp seems to be the most common arrangement. Even though this species burrows to escape excessive heat, they seem to enjoy basking for a while in some pretty high temperatures.
When basking is completed and it’s time to hide, they will need a hide. Deep substrate is not enough. A heavy ceramic hide is probably better in the long run than a cork half-round. Low and wide with a small entrance will be more appealing to this species than a high arch.
If branches are placed in the habitat, they should be large pieces of driftwood nestled on the enclosure floor. These creatures are not good climbers and will utilize the height above substrate provided by branches very seldom. Some keepers, meaning well, report that when just getting started they provided a very elevated surface for their Berber, only to have it fall and injure a leg. Best to stick with flat rocks and potted plants for this species.
Be sure to provide your skink with a bowl that is large enough for the lizard to fit into and is small enough that he or she can easily get out of the bowl. Your pet can and will drown if a bowl is dangerously deep and the sides slick and sheer. Tap water contains harmful chemicals, such as chlorine and chloramine, so water straight from a tap should be avoided. However, if that is all you have access to, leave a container of it on a countertop or other well-ventilated space without a lid. Allow 24 hours for the chlorine to dissipate sufficiently for your pet’s safety. If for some reason that is impractical, some reptile hobby companies make solutions to add to tap water that neutralizes harmful chemicals immediately. One such product is "Reptisafe" drops made by ZooMed. Well water, spring water, or rainwater are also excellent options.
Humidity Levels for Berber Skinks
Despite their tendency to bathe frequently, these species like the humidity to be a bit on the dry side. Mist the enclosure once daily to help with humidity, but don’t get carried away. Humidity levels should be kept below 40%. If you live in a very humid climate, you may never need to mist at all, except during shedding. You will know this is about to occur if the normally glossy skin looks dull and faded. Then misting lightly twice a day is recommended.
If you are frequently away from home during the day, a live potted plant can help with maintaining humidity levels. A water bowl, required anyway, will also help with this. An improper shed can cause health problems later, so don’t guess, install a hygrometer so that you can alter the humidity as needed. This may help prevent toe and ear issues caused by an incomplete shed.
Skinks tend to have the annoying habit of fouling their water bowl as soon as it’s changed, so keep an eye on your skink’s water bowl/toilet. A good rule of thumb is to check it every few hours to refill it twice a day if possible.
Berber Skink Habitat Lighting
Berbers are diurnal, which is great if you have children, because they can keep the lizards in their rooms at night and not be awakened by the rustlings of a nocturnal pet. Berbers require a natural cool-down and darkness period, and therefore do not need supplemental heat and light around the clock. They will certainly need supplemental light during the daytime hours.
Many keepers recommend the Arcadia 8 watt MINI UV light Kit 2.4% UVB. This is an extremely low-level source of UVB and is safe for even very shallow tanks. The light should be on a timer, so that the light automatically shuts off after 12-14 hours. Keep your reptile on a 12 hours heat/light- 12 hours dark/night cycle during spring and summer, with about 10 hours light, 14 hours dark cycle in the fall and wintertime.
Be cautious about permitting sunlight to shine directly on the tank. Given other sources of heat, the temperatures inside the tank can quickly climb to 110 degrees F or higher throughout. Without an escape from this level of heat, your skink may overheat, and eventually die.
Berber skink enclosures should be provided with a warm and a cool side. The cooler end should have ambient temperatures ranging from 75 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit, which can be allowed to drop to 70 at night, but never less. The warm end should be toasty 90 to 105 degrees. This is fine for the basking area, and some keepers report that their Berbers occasionally enjoy 115 F in their basking spot. It is likely that keepers reporting that their “Berber” skinks prefer the higher range in temperature basking are referring to the Algerian variety. Experimentation may be necessary to see what your pet is most comfortable with.
A good digital thermometer with a temperature probe is crucial for managing the heating regime. Better still; acquire a digital laser thermometer. It is a worthy investment and for less than $20, a keeper can take readings from all over the habitat with the push of a button. Especially after first setting up the habitat, be sure to take readings from more than one spot so as not to overlook hot spots and overly cool spots. Readings should therefore be taken at bottom of the habitat, in the center, at the top and in any areas your skink seems to hang out in quite frequently. Keepers need to remember that the ambient temperature of the room can affect that of the enclosure, so frequent readings are strongly recommended. Hot spots can be damaging to your skinks internal organs and cool spots can aggravate any respiratory issues, so check frequently. An ounce of prevention and all of that.
Feeding and Diet
Insects for Insectivores
In the wild and captivity, Berbers are primarily insectivorous, consuming
- earth worms
- super worms
Pinky mice should only make for an occasional treat however, as they are very high in fat and too many can lead to obesity and lethargy. Even with care about fat content, skinks fed everyday may become obese. Feeding adults every other day only is recommended.
Crickets and Mealworms
They readily eat crickets and mealworms, although they appear to be somewhat slower than other insectivorous lizards, and sometimes unable to catch fast-hopping crickets or roaches easily. For this reason, their hunting habits in their enclosure should be observed regularly so that stray crickets don’t overrun the tank and end up chewing on your pet.
For a change of pace from insects, a high quality, low sodium canned cat food can be offered. Canned Monitor/Tegu food, and high-quality low-fat dog are also good choices. In addition, veggies should be offered twice a week. Items that are suitable include kale, collard and mustard greens, legumes, carrots, and squash. Some individual skinks seem to dislike vegetable matter. Regardless, they still need some in their diet. If they will not eat fresh greens and vegetables, you may need to avoid cat food and instead offer a low-fat dog food with some vegetables pre-blended in.
Dusting and Gut-loading
As with feeding any insectivorous reptile or amphibian, thought must be given to nutritional supplements. Calcium supplementation should be added to the each feeding and a multivitamin supplement once per week. Regular dusting of prey items with a supplement such a ReptiCal is most important for young, fast growing skinks - older animals that are closer to adult size need supplements less frequently. Instead of dusting, many keepers gut load their prey items.
“Gut loading” means placing the feeder insects on an enriched diet for at least 24 hours prior to being offered to your Berber. This enhances the nutritional value of the insects substantially. A purchased supplement such as those offered by reptile hobby stores is easily available and affordable. The convenience of a dry gut load diet, purchased from a pet supply house, is undeniable. However, many experienced breeders and keepers have found these products inadequate, so for the really persnickety keeper (and you know you should be) the following formula for gut loading your feeder crickets or roaches is suggested.
- 24 pbw whole wheat flour (not self rising)
- 8 pbw calcium carbonate with vitamin D3
- 4 pbw brewer's yeast (Not baker's yeast).
- 3 pbw soy powder
- 1 pbw paprika (this is to provide beta carotene)
The ‘pbw’ stands for parts by weight, whatever that weight may be. Think of this formula as a table of ratios. For instance, if you begin with 24 tablespoons of whole wheat, you would add 8 tablespoons of calcium carbonate and so forth. So for every unit of whole wheat flour, you would add 1/3 as much of the same unit of calcium powder and so forth. Place your feeder insects onto this feed for 24 hours at least and then release the needed amount into your Berber’s habitat. If you have one of those picky eaters that avoids vegetable matter, be sure and include greens in with the formulation recommended above. That way, in a manner similar to the dog food, the vegetable matter can be disguised in the form of cricket stomach contents.
Harmful Effects of Improper Feeding
Improper feeding can be the basis for a number of physical ailments. One of the most common problems for these and other captive reptiles is metabolic bone disease or ‘MBD’. Although this can occur from multiple causes, vitamin D3 deficiency is the most common culprit, preventing reptiles absorbing calcium from their food. This can cause muscle weakness and softening of the bones. A young skink will show signs of nutritional deficiency quite quickly as a wave or dipping of the spine, followed by changes to the shape of the jaw. This can be prevented by providing your pet with a UVB light source as mentioned above, and/or making sure that calcium supplements provided contain sufficient vitamin D3. Also, choose a calcium supplement low in phosphorus, with a minimum Ca:P ratio of 2:1.
Another common deficiency is lack of sufficient Vitamin A. This deficiency manifests as pus and swelling around the eyes and jaw area. A skink suffering from hypovitaminosis (too few vitamins) will have serious difficulties with the mucous membranes lining the eyelids. This can become so severe that the animal will be unable to open its eyes at all. Do not permit your pet to get to this extreme, for this is just the first sign of a progressive condition. The next stage may involve the pancreas, liver, and kidneys. Once the stage of the involvement of these organs is reached, recovery is unlikely. Proper supplementation, lighting, and feeding of dark, leafy green vegetables (not iceberg lettuce, which is utterly useless for any form of nutrition) will help prevent a vitamin A shortage.
Cleaning and Sanitation
Every other day spot cleaning is recommended. Pick up the poop with a paper towel, and if you soil your fingers in this process, be sure to wash your hands afterward for these, and many birds and reptiles, can carry Salmonella. Salmonella infections can result from having contact with reptile or amphibian environments, not just the animal itself or feces. Children under 5 years of age are more likely to develop severe illness. If the skink is housed with very young folks, it is important the parents or guardians perform cleaning diligently. Some health authorities even recommend that children under 5 years old not be allowed to handle reptiles and amphibians at all.
Monthly cleaning is highly recommended as prevention for illnesses and ectoparasites (tiny critters such as mites that live on the skink’s skin). Place your skink in the temporary housing you always have set aside for cleanings. A large Rubbermaid type container with paper towels on the bottom, a hide, and a sensibly warm spot for the duration will do better than asking a friend or family member to hold your pet for 2 hours, which is too long for their comfort.
Scoop out the substrate and discard. Remove all furniture, water and food bowls, and any live plants. Either soak the furniture and bowls in a solution of 10% bleach for 30 minutes or (my favorite) throw it all in an NSF approved dishwasher and hit the pot scrubber cycle. The National Sanitation Foundation offers a list of dishwashers that they can certify as capable of providing the sterilization needed.
Wash the Furniture
While the furniture is washing, do the enclosure itself. Spray the sides and bottom (paying special attention to corners), with a bleach solution recommended for hospital use. Do not use scented bleach of any kind. Let the habitat sit for 30 minutes, wipe it down, and let it air out for another hour. Replace the substrate and furnishings and allow the habitat to come back up to correct temperature and humidity. Wipe down the leaves of any plants thoroughly, including the underside, and place back inside the habitat.
Berber skinks are not terribly difficult animals to manage in a terrarium and once it is set up and your feeding schedule established, then common sense sanitation, handling, nutrition, and environmental management should be all that’s needed for your pet to live their full life span.