Blue-tongue lizards in your backyard: Your questions answered

Spring is here and blueys are out and about. Here are the answers to some of your most frequently asked questions.

Blue-tongue lizards are one of Australia’s most familiar reptiles, and provide a valuable pest control service to your home, snacking on snails, caterpillars, insects and other garden pests.

As the weather warms up, blue-tongue lizards come out of brumation (see our question below about hibernation!) to warm up their cold-blooded bodies, so it’s very common to spot one in your backyard at this time of year.

If you’ve stumbled across a bluey in your yard, first you might like to read our story: What to do if there’s a blue-tongue lizard in your backyard.

If there’s still more you’d like to know, then read on.

We’ve teamed up with our Conservation and Wildlife Unit here at the Department for Environment and Water to answer some of the most common questions you’ve asked us about how to keep blue-tongue lizards safe if one decides to make itself at home in your backyard.

Q: There’s a blue-tongue living in my backyard, but I’d like to relocate it. What can I do?

A: In their own territory, blue-tongue lizards know where to find food and shelter, so it’s not recommended that you move a blue-tongue lizard from your yard.

The best option is to remove the danger to the lizard, such as by securing your pets (if they might be threatening the lizard), or letting the lizard move on of its own accord.

However, if you feel the lizard is in immediate danger in your yard, you can relocate it as a last resort.

A good way to go about this is by getting an open cardboard box and putting it on its side next to the lizard.

You can then use a broom to gently sweep it into the box and move it to a place as close as possible to its existing home on your property.

Blue-tongue lizards are territorial creatures, so it’s important to keep it as close to its existing home as possible.

Q: Is it okay to pick up a blue-tongue lizard to move it?

A: Blue-tongue lizards generally do not like to be handled, but if you need to move a lizard in your yard, and it isn’t in a spot where you can gently sweep it into a box, you may need to pick it up.

First, you’ll need to make sure it is indeed a lizard and not a snake. Then, when picking it up, make it feel as safe as possible.

Start by gently holding, then lifting, the lizard from behind its head. Supporting its legs – so it still feels connected to something solid – will help to make it feel more comfortable.

While blue-tongue lizards will mostly be docile, if the lizard is scared it may bite, so be sure to protect yourself by wearing gloves when handling it.

Q: I’ve brought a lizard from my backyard inside, and have put it in a box to keep it safe. Is that okay?

A: It is not recommended to keep a blue-tongue lizard in a box (besides while you are relocating it if it’s unsafe to leave it where you found it).

While you may think you’re protecting the blue-tongue, keeping it in a box is actually quite stressful and may be unintentionally making things worse.

It’s probably best to return it to where you found it.

Q: I’ve got a blue-tongue living in my backyard, but I’m worried that my cat/dog will hurt it. How can I keep it safe?

A: A great way to provide blue-tongue lizards with some shelter away from your pets is to place pieces of PVC pipe around your yard for it to crawl into should it feel it's in danger.

It is also important to note that blue-tongue lizards are not poisonous and do not post any threat to your cats or dogs.

Q: Is it okay to feed the blue-tongues living in my backyard? What about providing water?

A: As a general rule, it’s best not to feed wild animals. They need to be responsible for finding their own food without our help, because they may start relying on you for food and if you stop feeding them they will struggle to survive.

If you feel you absolutely must do something to help the blue-tongue lizard, consider providing clean fresh water from a bowl or dish that it (and other wildlife) can easily access and not get stuck in.

Make sure you clean the container regularly to minimise the chance of spreading disease.

Q: There’s a blue-tongue in my backyard that looks sick/injured. How can I help it?

A: If you have a sick or injured blue-tongue lizard in your backyard, you can contact a wildlife rescue organisation, such as Fauna Rescue SA, for help.

Q: Do blue-tongues hibernate in winter?

A: Blue-tongues don’t hibernate in winter, instead they go into what is called ‘brumation’, where their metabolism slows down considerably.

The brumation period happens over winter, and it’s during this time that blue-tongue lizards seek out a safe, dry and warm place to stay. They may hide under vegetation, in hollow logs, under debris and even in drain pipes

If, during brumation, the lizard is finding that the spot it has chosen to stay is not suitable – it may be too warm or too cold, or if they feel in danger – they will seek out a new place to stay.

The length of brumation varies between lizards, and can last up to 12 weeks.

On warm winter days you may see them basking in the sun, but by late September/early October, the brumation period ends and you’ll see them emerging and back in their usual location.

Q: Do blue-tongue lizards attract snakes?

A: Blue-tongue lizards are a prey species for some snakes, so it is possible that if you have a blue-tongue lizard in your yard there may also be a snake.

That being said, many people have had blue-tongues – or rats and mice, which are also prey species for snakes – in their garden or shed for years and have never seen a snake.

Q: I use snail pellets and rodent baits in my backyard. Will these cause harm to blue-tongue lizards?

A: Like the French, blue-tongues see snails as a delicacy. If a lizard eats a poisoned snail, the lizard could also die.

Rodent baits are unlikely to impact on blue-tongue lizards, but they may affect owls or any other animals if they eat the lizards.

Q: I use weed killers in my backyard. Will these cause harm to blue-tongue lizards?

A: To avoid causing harm to blue-tongues, you can opt for an organic weed killer. There are plenty of online guides for creating your own.

Q: I’ve seen someone selling blue-tongues on Facebook. Is this illegal?

A: Private individuals can keep blue-tongue lizards, but most species require a permit to keep and sell them. These animals have been bred in captivity, meaning they have not been sourced from wild populations.

If you suspect the person selling the lizards doesn’t have a licence, or is taking them from the wild, you can ask them about their licence. If they don’t have one, you can report them to the Department for Environment and Water.

Q: Can you catch anything off blue-tongue lizards if you kiss them?

A: Like any animal, lizards can carry pathogens, particularly salmonella (which every animal has in its faeces) so normal hygiene practices should be followed.

It’s not recommend that you kiss a wild lizard (or any other wild animals for that matter), because you don’t know what diseases it might be carrying.

Has a blue-tongue lizard made your backyard its home? Here’s everything you need to know so you and your visitor can live in harmony.

(Main image courtesy of Robdownunder in line with Creative Commons licensing)

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