African Fire Skink

a close up of an African Fire Skink's head

African Fire Skinks are a lizard species native to the woodlands of West Africa. They are very fast moving lizards, and are known for being able to climb trees.

African Fire Skinks are very active, and enjoy running around in their enclosure. They are very agile, and will enjoy climbing just about anything. They are also very curious, and enjoy investigating things in their enclosure. 

A pet Fire Skink will not only add flair to your home, but will also make a valuable companion for your kids. Skinks are easy to care for and are known for their intelligence. They are active, social, and curious, and even though they are small, they don’t bite. They also make great pets because they are clean and quiet, and don’t require a lot of attention, which makes them suitable for people who don’t like high maintenance pets.

Africa is home to many colorful species of Skink, but few are as striking as the African Fire Skink. There are several different subspecies, but the most common are the African Fire Skinks. This species is one of four closely related species that are found across the continent, and the only species that is from the tropical rainforests of western Africa.

For those who don’t know, the African Fire Skink is a lizard that spends its time basking on plants and rocks. They are known as a great pet as the animals seem to be great with children as they are super friendly and endearing.

If you decide to purchase an African Fire Skink, you can expect to pay about $40 to $50.

African Fire Skink Information

  • Average Length: 14 to 15 inches
  • Average Weight: 2.5 ounces
  • Skin Appearance: Black and white stripes with red scales.
  • Skin Colors: Black, White, Golden, Red.
  • Grooming Needs: Low 
  • Shedding: Once every few months
  • Sensitive to Touch: No
  • Biting Tendency: No
  • Tolerance to Heat and Cold: No tolerance to cold
  • Good Pet: They allow people to hand them, so yes! 
  • Safe with Children: Yes
  • Good with Other Pets: No
  • Suitable to live in an Apartment: Yes
  • Good for Less Experienced Pet Owners: Yes
  • Weight Gain: Normal
  • Health Concerns: Respiratory Infections and Metabolic Bone Diseases.
  • Allergies: None
  • Average Life Span: 15 to 20 years

Physical Appearance of African Fire Skinks

an African Fire Skink resting on a rock

African Fire Skinks have a long rounded body. Think “hotdog with legs” and a tail. They have short stout legs with a thick tail.

They have bright red color scales on their body. Their skin has a variety of vibrant colors with vertical black and white stripes running along the side of their body. The scales resemble an 8 bit Nintendo video game because each scale is only 1 color.

Running from head to tail on the back of their body is a copper or bronze hue. This hue creates a nice contrast with their red scales. Some people speculate that their back is this color to help them hide from airborne predators. As if this wasn’t enough different colors, their underside is black and white like a chess board.

Like some lizards African Fire Skinks can change their skin color but it is not that intense as seen in others. The slight color change can happen based on the situation or their environment.

Temperament of African Fire Skinks

African Fire Skinks are thought to be shy but this is not completely true. While they will spend most of their time hiding, if given an enclosure they feel safe in, they can be more active. They are docile and generally don’t get aggressive with their owners. Most are docile and allow their owners to gently handle them but some can be less receptive to handling.

While they don’t usually get aggressive it’s a good idea to not irritate them. They could bite you if they are not happy. They tend to move very fast and can squirm quickly to try to escape if they don’t want to be handled.

African Fire Skinks are active during the day and sleep at night. They are active burrowers and will spend most of their time burrowing and hiding inside the substrate.

While most lizards tend to be territorial and are recommended to be kept alone, African Fire Skinks can be kept as a male and female pair. African Fire Skins kept in pairs will usually get along with each other and may mate. If you don’t want them to mate, keep them in separate enclosures. Some African Fire Skinks kept in pairs could become territorial about food. This is not normally a problem unless the fights become serious. If the fights do get serious keep the male and female in separate enclosures.

Avoid keeping more than a pair or keeping two or more males with a female. This could lead to territorial aggression between the males.

Their Compatibility with Children

an African Fire Skink resting in a persons hand

Because African Fire Skinks are docile and are non-aggressive, many consider them a good pet for families with children. The lizard can still bite children if frightened or not handled properly. To keep your lizard from becoming angry or afraid and biting your child, teach your children how to handle them correctly. Allow younger children to handle African Fire Skinks only when there is an adult around to supervise their interactions.

Children should always wash their hands after handling reptiles. This is because most reptiles are carriers of infectious bacteria like Salmonella which can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain. Washing their hands should prevent your children from contracting bacterial and fungal infections from the Skinks.

Living Space for African Fire Skinks

Creating an ideal enclosure for African Fire Skinks is easy because they don’t get very large. A glass aquarium or reptile tank can be used for housing them. It is important to get a tank that is secured from all sides because African Fire Skinks are good at escaping. The glass tank should have a strong lid on top to keep them from getting out.

Like most reptiles African Fire Skinks need separate hot and warm areas inside their enclosure. A separate basking spot should also be created. You can create these zones using heat sources like reptile heat pads and heat bulbs. Placing the heat pad in one corner will help create different temperature areas inside the tank.

African Fire Skinks like to burrow and hide. Adding decorations that let them burrow and hide is important to keep them active and feel safe. Having an ideal enclosure and keeping the recommended climate conditions will help keep the African Fire Skinks happy and healthy.

Cage Size

a close up of the front half of of an African Fire Skink's body while they're walking on a branch

A 40 to 50 gallon tank is ideal for an adult African Fire Skink but they can be kept in a smaller tank if needed. Having a larger tank for them is always better because it gives them more space to move around. If you plan to get a pair then you’ll want a tank that is larger than 50 gallons.

African Fire Skinks generally do not climb, so having a longer tank is more important than having a tall tank. And with large tanks being so expensive, one way to cut down on costs is to house them in storage totes. This way you still give your Fire Skinks a wide home without spending a fortune.

To expand them you can use parts to connect them together. These are much cheaper than things like aquariums, but won’t give you as good of a view without modifications.

Decorations

Depending upon the size of the tank, try to add in decorations like branches and logs. The decorations should be placed in a way that helps your reptile to both bask and hide. Hiding spots can be created using a simple hollowed out round log. There are commercial reptile hides available at pet stores, or you can make your own. The hide should be large enough for your African Fire Skink to comfortably get inside.

To help the African Fire Skinks bask, keep branches away from the basking area. The branches should be placed in a way to prevent the African Skinks from touching the heating equipment.

Artificial or living plants can be added inside the tank. The plants should be large and strong, or your African Skinks might damage them. If you have a small tank it may not be possible to add a large plant in their enclosure.

Substrate

a close up of an African Fire Skink

There are a variety of substrates that can make good choices for African Fire Skinks. When selecting a substrate it is important to get one that stays moist. A dry substrate is not recommended because African Fire Skinks can ingest it.

Dry substrates can also cause the humidity level in the enclosure to drop. Low humidity levels can lead to poor shedding and even respiratory infections. A moist substrate helps keep the humidity inside the tank higher. It might be needed to mist the substrate one or two times a day to keep it moist.

Good substrate options include using a mix of cypress mulch and nutrient-free soil. Substrates like leaf litter or sphagnum moss are a good choice for the top layer. Avoid using coconut bark because it can be harmful for African Skinks if ingested.

African Fire Skinks like to burrow so the substrate should be 4 to 6 inches deep. Having the substrate a few inches deep will give your African Fire Skink more places to burrow and hide.

Best Climate for African Fire Skinks

Like most reptiles African Fire Skinks depend on their environment to regulate their body temperature. That is why the ideal temperature conditions are so important. The good thing is they don’t need a very large cage set up. Because they don’t need a large cage it is easy to keep the climate conditions inside their tank just right.

Temperature

The daytime temperature in the enclosure should be kept between 84°F and 86°F. The temperature in the basking spot should be between 92°F and 96°F. Night-time temperature can be kept as low as 70°F, but it must never fall below 65°F. 

Humidity

When it comes to climate, keeping the humidity in the optimal range is very important for African Fire Skinks. The recommended humidity range is 60 to 70%. Placing a water bowl inside the tank and misting the tank will help keep the humidity higher. Using a substrate that retains moisture is important to keep the enclosure humid. 

a close up of an African Fire Skink's face

Check the humidity in the hygrometer regularly and make changes if the reading is outside the recommended range.

Lighting

Dome lights or ceramic heaters should be added to their enclosure. These lights will help illuminate the tank and also help with keeping the tank warm. Pair the lighting equipment with a thermostat to make sure the temperature stays in the recommended range. 

The heat source should be placed in a way so that the African Fire Skinks cannot touch them. Coming in contact with the heat source will burn their skin.

African Fire Skinks need a full spectrum UVA/UVB lighting source. They need the UV light to better absorb calcium. If they don’t get enough UV light, or absorb enough calcium they will get MBD and it won’t be a good situation. We recommend that they be exposed to UV light for 10 to 12 hours a day in summer months and 8 to 10 hours in winter months.

Water 

African Fire Skinks do not usually drink water. They get most of the water they need from the food they eat or the water droplets that are formed after misting their tank. While this means a water bowl is not needed, adding it can still be helpful. Having a small water bowl can help keep the humidity in the recommended range.

The Attention an African Fire Skink Needs

Caring for African Fire Skinks is pretty straightforward since they do not need a lot of attention from their owners. They are not very demanding about food and will eat most things that you give them. Most African Fire Skinks will grow up enjoying human handling and will not bite or attack you. These things make them a great reptile for beginner reptile owners.

Finding an African Skink can be difficult because there are not many breeders who breed them. This can be because they are difficult to sex. Getting a wild-caught African Skink is not recommended because they could carry diseases or be more aggressive.

Expert reptile owners don’t generally like getting Skinks as a pet because they consider them somewhat boring, but they make great family pets.

Health Issues

African Fire Skinks are not known to have many health issues. Most of the health issues are caused by poor living conditions. Cleaning their tank regularly and feeding them a balanced diet should keep them healthy.

Metabolic Bone Disease

Metabolic Bone Disease is the most common disease found in pet reptiles. The disease is caused by your reptile not having enough vitamin D to properly absorb calcium. Being exposed to UV lighting helps them create vitamin D that they can use to absorb calcium.

 Symptoms include:

  • Lower jaw swelling 
  • Limb swelling
  • Facial bone softening
  • Loss of appetite
  • Seizures
  • Lethargy

An X-ray can help identify the extent of the disease. Sometimes MBD can lead to fractures, thin bone tissue or thickened bone shafts. The disease is more common in reptiles less than 2 years old.

If left untreated the disease can also lead to death. Consult your vet immediately if you find any of the above mentioned symptoms in your reptile.

Treatments can range from injecting your reptile with mineral supplements to medication and dietary modifications. To keep your reptiles from having MBD, they should be fed a diet rich in calcium (or calcium supplements) and have daily exp

Respiratory Infections

Respiratory infections are a common health issue in reptiles. Poor enclosure conditions like excessive cold or humidity as well as stress can lead to respiratory infections or pneumonia. 

Symptoms include:

  • Nasal discharge
  • Sneezing
  • Bubbles in mouth
  • Labored breathing
  • Lethargy

Take your reptile to your vet if they have any of the above symptoms. Antibiotics are commonly used to treat the disease. If the infection is severe, they may need to be hospitalized.

Respiratory symptoms can become serious if not attended to in the initial stages. Maintaining the right temperature gradient and humidity levels inside their living enclosures can prevent your reptile from getting respiratory diseases.

Symptoms include: 

  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain in humans

As a preventive measure, we always recommend washing your hands after handling any reptiles. Pregnant women, young children and older people shouldn’t handle reptiles. These people are at an increased risk of getting infected because they have a weaker immune system.

Salmonella

All reptiles are potential carriers of salmonella bacteria. The bacteria is present on their skin and shells (for turtles) but doesn’t seem to harm them. A major concern is that the disease can be transmitted to humans. Salmonella can cause serious and life-threatening conditions in humans. 

Symptoms include: 

  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain in humans

As a preventive measure, we always recommend washing your hands after handling any reptiles. Pregnant women, young children and older people shouldn’t handle reptiles. These people are at an increased risk of getting infected because they have a weaker immune system.

Grooming and Care

African Fire Skinks have low grooming needs. They generally don’t bathe so you don’t have to bathe them. They will however need a water bowl and a slightly higher humidity when they are about to shed their skin. A visible sign of shedding is when their skin becomes pale or starts to come off. If this happens, slightly increasing the humidity will help them shed.

The decorations inside the tank like substrate and branches should help them wear down their nails. If their nails don’t wear down naturally, use a pet nail clipper to trim their nails.

Their living enclosure should be cleaned regularly. The substrate should be spot cleaned every day and completely changed every 2 to 3 months. Fecal matter lying on the substrate or tank decorations should be removed regularly. Wash your hands after removing their fecal matter. The fecal matter of reptiles can contain harmful bacteria that can cause diseases in humans.

Disinfect the tank completely once every 2 to 3 months. Remove your Skink and all the tank decorations before you start cleaning. Keep your Skink confined in a secure place while cleaning the tank. African Fire Skinks are fast and if they get an opportunity to escape they will. Let the tank and decorations become fully dry before putting your lizard back in their tank.

Feeding An African Fire Skink

African Fire Skinks are omnivores that feed on a mixture of plant and animal-based foods in the wild. In captivity they can, but don’t need to eat plants. Most will be fed only insects or worms. Feeding them is easier when compared to other reptiles because they don’t have specific preferences and will eat almost anything they are given.

Crickets should make up the majority of their diet. Crickets should be gut loaded before feeding them. African Fire Skinks can be occasionally fed butterworms, mealworms, silkworms or waxworms. For treats they can occasionally be given pinky mice. Treats like pinky mice should not be given frequently. Giving them a variety of food is important because it will help them get all the nutrients they need.

Don’t feed wild caught prey to them. Wild insects or worms can carry diseases that can infect your lizard.

Recommended feeding for African Fire Skinks is 2 to 5 insects every 3 days. Following this schedule will help keep them from overeating. Every third feeding should be dusted with calcium and vitamin powder. Dusting their food with minerals can keep them from having health issues like metabolic bone disease.

If there is uneaten food inside their tank, remove it after a few hours. Clean the water kept inside their tank and replace it with fresh water daily.

Related Questions:

Do African Fire Skinks Hide Most of the Time?

In the wild they spend most of their time hiding in burrows or logs. While most Skinks in captivity will like to be handled, some Skinks can be shy and will hide most of the time. The only time they may come out is to bask or when you feed them. Burrowing and hiding is a natural behavior in Skinks and it should not be seen as a problem. It can be a pain to find them when you want to check up on them though.