Animal Information

Fire Skink (Lepidothyris fernandi)

The African fire skink was first documented in 1836. It inhabits forest and woodland habitat in West Africa, as well as scrub adjoining grasslands—areas that are abundant with hiding spots, rife with leaf litter and rich with insect life.

Being opportunistic feeders, fire skinks spend the majority of their time hunting arthropods and small vertebrates. Beyond these basics facts, the fire skink is largely unstudied. Very little is known about its reproductive habits and general behaviors.

Like most skinks, the African fire skink(Lepidothyris fernandi) prefer to keep low profiles by hiding under logs and leaves most of the time. Give fire skinks at least 4 inches of soil and tree bark to burrow into.

Fire skinks will spend the vast majority of time hidden, except when hungry. After a few weeks in captivity, most fire skins learn to lose their innate fear and come out when their keepers are heard nearby.

Feed fire skinks during the day when they are most active.

Insects, snails, spiders, and worms make up most of the diet, but some fire skinks also accept pieces of fruit.  Aim a directional heat lamp at one corner of the cage so there’s a hot spot for the fire skink to sunbathe to reach their preferred temperatures for activity and digestion.

A fire skink may challenge its keeper to create an enclosure that will provide the required sense of security, this beautiful lizard can be a hardy and easy-to-care-for pet, rewarding hobbyists with plenty of personalities in addition to its good looks.

Lepidothyris fernandi is fairly large, reaching up to about 15 inches in length, including the tail. It may live 15 to 20 years in captivity. Fire skinks have been available in the reptile hobby for quite some time, and specimens do turn up at reptile expos and online. However, many of these are wild caught. Finding captive-bred fire skinks can be challenging, but it’s worthwhile to make the effort.

Captive-bred fire skinks are generally healthier and don’t experience the shock and stress their wild-caught counterparts do when having to adapt to a captive environment. Because they are not as stressed, captive-bred skinks are also more visibly active in their enclosures.

Wildfire skink populations are believed to be stable, but the impact of deforestation and capture for the pet trade remains unclear. As a reptile that is largely unstudied, efforts to promote captive-breeding programs and to curb the import of wild-caught skinks are critical to keeping this beautiful lizard stable in both its habitat and the hobby.

The key to successfully keeping a fire skink is providing a proper enclosure. Starting with the most basic requirements, fire skinks need plenty of room. A glass or acrylic tank will work well. Be careful too much ventilation will negatively impact the humidity.

An adult skink can be kept in a 20-gallon long tank measuring 30 inches long by 12 inches deep and 12 inches tall, but nothing any smaller. Because fire skinks will make use of whatever space is provided, a 40- to 50-gallon tank would be much preferred.

Fire skinks can be housed together if there is sufficient space and if the pairing is male to female. There are always exceptions and anyone desiring to keep a pair should carefully monitor the skinks, especially during breeding season, to make sure they are eating well and that there is no fighting.

Horizontal space is more important to fire skinks than vertical, although these lizards are good at climbing, and branches placed vertically in their enclosure can add to their sense of security.

Any fire skink enclosure should be naturalistic, as natural elements inside their enclosure play a pivotal role in the daily behavior of the animal, as well as its general health.

A secure fire skink will display a calm disposition and will tolerate handling. They are very fast, though, so handling should be done carefully.

The substrate is the literal foundation of a good fire skink enclosure, and because these lizards are burrowers, their enclosure needs between 4 and 6 inches of substrate.

Humidity retention is the most important factor when selecting a substrate type, as it should always be moist, but never soggy; relative humidity should sit between 60 and 70 percent when properly misted.

Substrates such as cypress mulch work well but require more frequent misting, and because fire skinks can be voracious eaters, coconut husk, although it provides good humidity retention, can create a risk of ingestion and impactions or stomach problems. Never use sand for a fire skink enclosure.

Every substrate choice has its pros and cons, and in the end, a mixture is best. Combining nutrient-free soil and sphagnum moss offers great humidity retention.

Health risks do not usually occur unless the substrate is not kept moist enough, so mist thoroughly once or twice a day. Leaf litter or moss placed on top of the substrate can help with humidity retention and create additional hiding places.

Equally important to providing a proper subterranean environment for your skink is what will go on top of the substrate. Many new keepers mistakenly believe a simple hide is enough, which has led to the misconception that fire skinks remain burrowed for most of their lives.

The larger the enclosure, and the more décor it contains, the more comfortable and active your skink will be and the more it will be seen.

In addition to a good hide, which can be a simple rounded log or any of the commercially available naturalistic hides available at pet stores, provide branches and plants.

Designing an enclosure similar to the fire skink’s natural habitat is not hard, and because this lizard does not feel secure in open space, artificial broad-leafed plants, shrubby bushes, and other items should be used to create an enclosure that is interesting to look at and one in which the skink will be most active.

Except in the case of very large enclosures, avoid live plants. They can be difficult to maintain, even if potted. Fire skinks are veritable bulldozers, and live plants will die unless they are large and well established with very secure root systems.

Proper humidity is critical for shedding and hydration, and substrate humidity is most important. Fire skinks do not require high surface humidity as long as the humidity in the substrate is in the previously mentioned 60- to 70-percent range. If this is provided, surface-level humidity can be as low as 40 percent without causing any problems.

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