Due to a shortage of time to work with this species, I have temporarily put the merauke project on hold. I hope to be able to get back to it in the not too distant future, but for now I will not be breeing any of the gigas species.
Merauke bluetongue skinks (pronounced mer-roo'-kee), or Tiliqua gigas evanescens, originate in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. They are the longest of the bluetongue skinks. Meraukes can easily reach a length of 26". While they are longer than northern BTS, they have a much more slight build. This is why the heavier northerns are considered larger. Meraukes are differentiated from indonesian blue-tongued skinks, T. g. gigas by the spots on their front legs, the single stripe on the back of their neck, and the thinner, less distinct banding across their backs. They also lack the dark outlines on their head scales and have very long thin tails compared to other BTS.
Meraukes have rarely been bred in captivity. This is largely due to the fact that they are still collected from the wild by exporters in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea who export them to the United States and sell them to reptile distributors for very low prices. It has also proven to be very difficult so far for potential breeders to figure out exactly how to get this species to breed in captivity. The exporters are not concerned with the fact that as many as 50% of the animals exported will die before they reach their final destination, or the fact that they may be devastating the wild populations of these skinks, they are just trying to make a living. This is why I desperately want to breed these skinks in captivity. If we can produce enough to satisfy the demand for them here, there will be no reason for people to buy WC animals in the future.
Meraukes are wonderful skinks to keep. They are usually well tempered and tolerate handling well. They are hardy lizards that rarely have health issues as long as their basic needs are met. If a merauke is the type of bts you are looking for, I would urge you look for one that was captive bred and born (CBB). That way you not only get a skink that is much less likely to be loaded with internal parasites and other health concerns, but you also don't support the practice of collecting these awesome animals from the wild. You need to be wary of meraukes or any other Indonesian BTS that are advertised as "captive born". While these skinks may technically have been "born" in captivity, it is very likely due to the fact that their mother was collected from the wild while she was gravid.
Here are some of my meraukes:
The following are my recommendations for keeping a merauke bluetongue skink:
40 gal. breeder (36"long x 18"wide x 17"high), or larger. It is not necessary for BTS to have more space than this, but people who keep them in larger enclosures report that they do explore as much space as you give them. Floor space is what matters. BTS are ground dwellers, so they don't need a tall enclosure. You just need enough height to accommodate your lighting setup. Many types of enclosure will work well for BTS, from an all glass aquariumwith a screen lid, to a custom made wood enclosure. I prefer enclosures that open to the front rather than the top because they can be stacked much easier. Whatever type of enclosure you choose to use, be sure that it closes securely. Bluetongues are very good at escaping if given the chance. Even an aquarium that is 12" - 16" tall is not tall enough to keep an adult merauke from climbing out of. They will actually use their tail to push themselves up much higher than you would think possible.
Meraukes, like all reptiles, need a temperature gradient in order to regulate their body temperature. To achieve this, you need to create a basking area on one end of the enclosure where the surface temperature reaches 90 - 95 Fahrenheit. the other end of the enclosure should be 80 or below. This is usually easily achieved by placing a spotlight at one end of the enclosure. You may need to experiment with different wattages until you achieve the temperatures you need. I find it much simpler to use dimmers. That way you can adjust the amount of heat your bulb emits without changing the bulb.
Merauke bts, like northerns are hardy animals that can tolerate a wide range of lighting choices. Still, I think most people desire to provide the best they can for their animals. I use separate bulbs in my enclosures for heat and light. For heat I use 50 watt halogen bulbs that I purchase from any hardware store. I regulate them with dimmer switches (also from >Home Depot, Lowe's etc.). Because the heat bulbs are not operating at full power when they are giving off the appropriate amount of heat, they only produce a dim light. It is my belief that bts benefit from being exposed to bright light for some portion of each day. I do NOT have scientific proof of this, it is something that I believe after having countless conversations with other keepers, some that have far more experience than myself, and have tried many different setups with their skinks. For this reason, I include a second bulb in each of my enclosures for the purpose of providing bright light. Of course both heat and light could be provided by one bulb if it is set up correctly. This is the way I choose to set my enclosures up it in order to have the flexibility of dimmer switches on my heat bulbs. My secondary bulb is a compact fluorescent. These give off very bright light, with almost no heat. It is frequently argued whether or not BTS require UVB lighting. I won't get into that argument here, but rather, give you my opinion. As long as you provide your skink with the proper calcium w/D3 supplement, you do not need to provide UVB lighting. While this is strictly my opinion, it is based on the condition of numerous BTS that have been kept by others for 20 years without ever having access to UVB lighting. All of these skinks are in tip top condition, and have bred consistently over the years. It is important to note that all have been provided with calcium w/D3 as a dietary supplement. As soon as anyone can show me ANY negative effects from keeping bts in this manner, I will adamantly insist on the use of UVB lighting, but until then, I will continue to suggest that it is not necessary. I have no problem with people who choose to provide UVB for their skinks, I just encourage you to follow the instructions for proper use.
Meraukes come from a range with very high humidity. Some areas where they are found have 90 - 100% humidity year round. While it usually proves difficult, if not impossible to achieve these humidity levels in most places, it is a good idea to attempt to keep the humidity level in their enclosures above 40% if possible. If the humidity drops too low for some reptiles it results in difficult sheds, or even more serious health issues. Because high humidity is hard to achieve where I live, I have been experimenting with much lower humidity levels for my meraukes. For the last year I have kept them at around 20% for most of the time with the exception of a couple months when I simulated the "rainy" season for them. To date, I have seen no signs of any problems from keeping them this way. The final test will be whether or not I am able to breed them in these conditions.
Indonesian species of bluetongue skinks are notorious for refusing to eat greens. I have found the only way I can get mine to eat any at all is to mix them up well with dog food. They still tend to eat around them when possible, but they have a hard time avoiding them completely if they are mixed in well. I use collared greens, peas, and green beans mixed into dog food for my meraukes. These skinks will eat a variety of feeder insects as well. Silkworms, mealworms, night crawlers, and similar are all readily taken by most meraukes.
Just like all BTS, meraukes should be given a pinch of calcium on their food once every week or two. Remember, if you don't provide UVB lighting for your skink, then you will need to use calcium with D3. I also sprinkle a pinch of reptile multivitamins on their food around once a month.
Because meraukes need a little bit higher humidity than most bts, it is important to use a substrate that does not dry out their enclosure. I use cypress mulch for my meraukes and it works very well. Coconut fiber is another substrate that holds moisture well. Aspen will dry out an enclosure quickly, and I don't recommended it for any of the Indonesian species of BTS.
All bts should be given something to hide under. Ideally, one hide on the warm end of the enclosure and another on the cool end so that your skink has a choice.