On Morphs and the Australian Blue Tongue Skink in America

Updated: Nov 1, 2019

Repost: Originally posted on Facebook on January 5, 2017

Okay by now a good majority of tech savvy reptile lovers have seen a certain set of YouTube videos where a successful pony-tailed reptile breeder/vlogger states that he believes blue tongue skinks are going to be the next big thing to follow the ball python craze. I don’t think he’s wrong. Actually I agree. Considering all the reputable breeders I know sell out of babies super fast every year (my litters sell out in second) it appears to be very true.

Since it’s a natural progression for many people in the reptile hobby to want to be out in front of the next big wave the first thing many do is “Google/Facebook it,” whatever “it” is for them and in this case it’s blue tongue skinks. Although blue tongues have been around for decades they haven’t “exploded” until recently in part thanks to the YouTube video. With this boom has come a flurry of information, misinformation, and confusion all mixed in with enthusiasm.

"Hypo-like" Northern Blue Tongue Skink
Classic Northern Blue Tongue Skink (Tiliqua scincoides intermedia) USA CBB produced and owned by Reptile Mountain (Me). This animal shows lighter coloration but does not constitute an established visual trait

Interestingly enough the Australian blue tongue hobby has just started to “explode” as well and in a global internet age it makes for some extra confusion. To clarify, Australia NO LONGER allows exportation of their wildlife, not since the Wildlife Protection (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act of 1982 and therefore, the Australian animals in the reptile hobby outside of Australia are either descendants of animals exported prior to the Act or related to or actually illegally smuggled (not counting a few exceptions for zoos/research here or there but NOT for the private hobbyist).

Basically, animals outside of Australia are their own captive population which is why the U.S. community (myself included) frowns so heavily on hybridization with Indonesian species.

Within the reptile hobby many people love morphs and myself included. Who doesn’t love genetic anomalies that can have such incredible colors!? Naturally, blue tongues are included.

So the question comes up, “what morphs are there in the U.S.?”

On many occasions I’ve seen this asked on Facebook groups and seen a variety of answers. Many in the U.S. shy away from the term “morph” so as not to mislead individuals. Either way I’ve written this note to help clarify and I intend to modify it as needed.

There are many ways to define “morph” in reptiles, and I will try to clarify two for my purposes here.

First, usually people are referring to visual traits that make an animal look different from the classic wild-type seen in nature. Some such as albino, anerythristic, hypo/hypermelanistic, or axanthic traits are simple genetic which can mean recessive, co-dominant, sex linked, and much more. Simple genetic usually means there is part of a gene or one gene in particular that has influence on the visual trait that the animal displays. These simple genetic traits are what most would call “morphs.”

Second there are the polygenic traits which is also known as the line-bred animal. These are produced by breeding animals with similar desired visual traits to each other to create a higher concentration of the genetics that produced their “look.” Often these are referred to as the “Smith line” or the “Smith Purple” etc.

In Australia there are multiple visual traits (most are genetic) that have been bred: Albino, T+ Albino, Anerythristic/Axanthic, Hypermelanistic and combinations of double recessives such as Snow, Lava, and more. I’m happy for our Aussie brethren. I’m also a bit jealous.

In the U.S. hobby we have the following traits:

Genetic = Genetic mutation influence at play    
Polygenic = Line Bred for a trait 
Possibly Genetic = More work needed to confirm genetic mutation influence

Northerns (Tiliqua scincoides intermedia)

[Updated January 2019]

  • True Hypomelanistic (Genetic) - Proven to be simple recessive inheritance by Cheryl Matula and David Levinson. Gene compatibility with the Australian Hypo White Northern is uncertain and unlikely based on neonate pattern comparisons. Original animals produced from Koen Stokes stock.

  • Caramel (Possibly Genetic) - originated by James Wilson

  • T+ Caramel (Possibly Genetic) - originated in captivity by Ray Gurgui from James Wilson’s caramel line, some call it a T+ Albino however Ray never has

  • Turner White (Possibly Genetic) - originated in captivity from Matt Turner

  • Fenn White (Polygenic) - line originated by James Fenn

  • Black & Gray (Polygenic) - line originated by Ray Gurgui

  • Orange (Polygenic) - line originated by Austin Molyneux

  • Sunset (Polygenic) - line originated by Andrew Seike

  • Sunrise (Polygenic) - line originated by Andrew Seike

  • Coffee (Polygenic) - line originated by Andrew Seike

  • Red (Polygenic) - line originated by Jeff Greene

  • Hypo (Polygenic) - Super reduced black from Ray Gurgui’s classic line

Colorful Classic Northern Blue Tongue Skink
Classic Northern with exceptional coloration produced by me here at Reptile Mountain

Easterns (Tiliqua scincoides scincoides)

  • Hypomelanistic (Genetic) - Appeared in US captivity from Ray Gurgui’s collection (Ray and Austin Molyneux have worked to show it is a simple recessive gene). It also occurs in the wild (Queensland) population but is not common nor bred much in Australia. Photos of it can be found in Danny Brown's book "A Guide to Australian Skinks in Captivity." He calls the morph the double factor hypo or undefined morph found on page 181.

  • Albino (Genetic) - There are pure Eastern albinos that are legal* in the US in addition to the ones that Ty Park imported (he has papers on imported animals from Hong Kong), Hets were offered at Daytona in 2016 for $ 5K each (It is important to know that there are some Albinos that are labeled as Eastern but are in fact Subspecies Intergrades crossed between Kimberly Northern and Eastern Blue Tongues (T. s. scincoides x T. s. intermedia) which should NEVER be bred or sold as pure Eastern or Pure Northern animals. They are not pure subspecies.

  • Hypermelanistic (Genetic) - Ty Park imported some het and pure hyper melanistic animals around 20015/16 (he has papers on these imported animals from Hong Kong), Hets are visual and were available 2017. In 2018 Ty sold his animals to other breeders. More animals have been imported from Bion in the Ukraine with paperwork by other US keepers as well. These will likely become more commonly kept in the US within the next 5-10 years.

Hypomelanistic Eastern Blue Tongue (Tiliqua scincoides scincoides)
Hypomelanistic Brisbane Eastern (Tiliqua scincoides scincoides) USA CBB 2017. Produced by Austin Molyneux. Owned by Reptile Mountain (Me)

There are other people who have albino and hypermelanistic Easterns, however, the acquisition/origin of those animals is “legally fuzzy” and have not been available to the general community yet. If you have legal animals or other morphs/polygenic traits and want to be listed here or unlisted here for any reason please let me know and I will add you. If you have corrections to be made regarding this information please email me and I will be happy to oblige. I’m not claiming to be an expert on blue tongues genetics or visual traits, I’d say this article is more an attempt to get all the info in one place about visual traits in the U.S., I liken myself to the score keeper not a major player.

*The term legal is used above to refer to animals that have legitimate importation paperwork from US Fish & Wildlife. However, there is no Export paperwork from Australia for these animals meaning that it is likely that they were smuggled or are decedents of smuggled animals. The albino and hypermelaistic traits were both bred commercially AFTER the 1982 ban whereby their presence outside of Australia without accompanying paperwork suggests illegal smuggling occurred.

NOTE: I highly recommend getting the COMPLETE history on animals prior to purchase as even though animals may have been legally imported to the USA it does not mean they are the offspring of legal animals. There is a tendency for people to smuggle animals to a third party outside of the USA, breed them, and then import the CBB babies legally. Essentially, laundering wildlife. This is the very reason some strict actions by U.S. Fish & Wildlife have recently been implemented regarding the importation of CBB wildlife from other countries.

I personally don’t fully agree with the Australian Wildlife Protection Act of 1982 and wish there was a provision for CBB animals to be exported. I also disagree with smuggling. Not because of some noble ideology about respecting overzealous laws but because smuggling wildlife often is at the expense of animal welfare and for greed. I am opposed to the mistreatment of animals for monetary or human recreational use.

P.S. Thank you to all the individuals who helped me get this info as correct as possible.

#bluetongueskink #morphs

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