Acquired: Wild caught / rehabilitation animal
Richardson, Texas, United States
Posted Mar 04, 2017
Scincopus fasciatus, also known as the "Peter's Banded Skink" and sometimes "Giant Sandfish Skink," is a rather mysterious, nocturnal skink that's been recorded in scattered locations across the northern half of Africa. Not much is known about these skinks in the wild, let alone captivity. What I write here is what has worked for me and what I have heard from others. My way of care is not the only way, so make sure to do your own research and talk to other keepers. YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary)
Appearance: These skinks have a rather unique appearance (in my opinion at least). Their body is primarily a darker yellow that has black stripes going horizontally down the back and onto the tail. Some will have black markings around their eyes, and there is even a subspecies that has a black head (though as far as I am aware, that subspecies is not kept in captivity). They have a large head and stout body with rather short legs. Some skinks will have shorter, regenerated tails. Another interesting feature of their appearance is their eyes. Their eyes are very dark, so it can be hard to tell, but their pupils are slit, like cats and some snakes.
Health: All banded skinks in captivity are wild caught. There have been no claims of captive breeding (or even captive born/captive hatched, when a pregnant/gravid female is imported and then gives birth/lays eggs and then hatches in captivity), and I have not heard of any kind of breeding behaviour observed in captivity either (people aren't even 100% sure if they are live-bearers or egg-layers). If someone tries to sell you a banded skink as captive bred, I would be hesitant to believe them without proof (such as breeding photos/videos or birthing/egg laying photos/videos).
Like many imported reptiles, it is not uncommon for these skinks to have health issues. From what I have heard from others that have acclimated wild caught individuals to captivity, these skinks seem to have a more difficult time acclimating than some other imported lizard (I've seen it mentioned before that what they go through between capture, export, and import is harsher than most imported lizards; I do not know the validity of that claim). Many come in dehydrated and thin and can potentially be harbouring internal parasites. However, once they are hydrated well and eat on their own, they seem to become a lot hardier.
I have had a very negative experience when it comes to working with fresh imports, so I would highly recommend purchasing a healthy individual that has been in captivity for an extended amount of time ("long-term captive" or LTC). Currently (with today being March 4, 2017), I have seen them typically sell between $60-$120 per individual (for both fresh imports and LTC).
Activity Level/Visibility: Since these skinks are nocturnal, there will be little to no activity during waking hours. Once night comes around, both of mine become active, digging machines that like to tear up their environment.
Temperament/Handleability: For a wild caught reptile, these skinks are fairly mellow. From my experience, they can be a little shy and a bit skittish, but they seem reluctant to bite and are not defensive. They would rather not be handled, however, so I would limit handling to reduce stress.
Habitat/Environmental Needs: The majority of keepers have these skinks set up very similarly. The most commonly used substrate is sand, typically children's playsand, and some people mix in a bit of soil to allow the substrate to hold shape more. At least several inches of the substrate should be provided so that they may bury themselves. You can provide some hides on the surface of the sand and perhaps even some that extend underneath to make a sort of burrow. As far as enclosure size, I would think that the floorprint of a 20 gallon long tank (30"x12") should be the /bare minimum/. If you can offer more space, they would gladly use it.
As for heating and lighting, I have seen several methods used. It's mostly agreed upon that these skinks do not require any special lighting (like UVB for instance), however, offering it might not necessarily be a bad thing. Some sort of ambient light to replicate a day-night cycle is encouraged.
Heating can be provided in many ways. You can use an overhead heat light, ceramic heat emitter, radiant heat panel, or a method of undertank heating (undertank heater/heat pad or heat tape with thermostat). The basking surface temperature for my banded skinks is about 95 (oF).
For hydration, I keep a shallow water dish in the enclosure at all times. Some keepers will also occasionally spray one side of the enclosure. Make sure to keep the overall humidity of the enclosure low.
I completely clean the enclosures only a few times a year. I otherwise remove feces as I see them.
Feeding: Once these skinks are eating on their own, they seem to keep a good appetite. Favourite foods for mine have been beetles (from mealworms and superworms) and superworms, however, they have also eaten mealworms, dubia roaches, and crickets. I occasionally supplement their food with calcium with D3. One topic that has been debated is whether or not they eat vegetation in the wild. The IUCN redlist suggests that they might eat vegetation, and I have also heard other people say that their skinks will eat vegetables and fruit if offered (some have offered crested gecko diet as well). I offered one of mine strawberry pieces, and he did eat them with some interested (he did not eat green beans or bell pepper that I offered).
Overall, Peter's Banded Skinks are an interesting species that can be a fun reptile for those who like some of the more obscure species of lizards. I would not recommend these skinks to someone as a beginner reptile, but someone that has had previous experience with various lizard species may fair much better. For further reading, I would recommend the Facebook group called "Scincopus (Peter's Banded Skink)". That group contains a wealth of information and practically everything we know about this mysterious species.