Within the Monitor Lizard family, the relatively small and easy to domesticate savannah monitor, Acklin’s monitor and white-throated monitor are most commonly kept as a pets. Larger varieties have been kept in captivity, such as the Nile monitor and the mangrove monitor, but due to their large size and aggressive nature are not recommended pets.
Monitors have long, sharp claws and very strong jaws, once they bite something it can be very difficult to make them loosen their grip.
The Monitor Lizard’s Origins
The genus name, "Varanus" is taken from the Arabic, which translates to English as "monitor". Suggestions that the occasional habit of varanids to stand on their two hind legs, and appear to "monitor" their surroundings led to the original Arabic name. This, according to legend was the monitor’s way of warning people that crocodiles were nearby.
The various species of Varanus cover a vast area, occurring through Africa, the Asian subcontinent from India and Sri Lanka to China, down Southeast Asia to Indonesia, the Philippines, New Guinea, Australia and islands of the Indian Ocean and South China Sea.
Your Monitor Lizard's New Home
The Monitor Lizard is mostly a terrestrial dweller, but among the species are found good swimmers and adept tree climbers.
Appropriate substrate, hiding places, full-spectrum lighting and plenty of space are minimum requirements for your monitor lizard’s new environment. You should also supply him with a large water bowl – large enough for him to climb in and have a soak. Your monitor’s water will need frequent changing to keep it clean and fresh.
Almost all Monitor lizards are carnivorous and possess a relatively high metabolic rate amongst reptiles.
In their natural habitat, monitors will eat almost anything they can catch, overpower and swallow whole, including giant land snails, beetles, crocodile or birds’ eggs, crabs, fish, snakes, grasshoppers, squirrels and even other lizards.
As a pet, the monitor’s diet should be mostly made up of crickets, superworms and the occasional rodent. Silkworms, earthworms, feeder fish and boiled eggs may also be fed.
Juveniles should have their diet supplemented with calcium/vitamin D3 powder, which is dusted onto the food at every meal, to allow for proper skeletal growth and muscular development. As your monitor approaches adulthood, marked by a slowing and eventual ceasing of growth, supplements may be added just a few times a week.
Dusting food items with a reptile multivitamin powder supplement is also recommended three or four times a month, ensuring no deprivation of vital nutrients.
Foods to Avoid
Foods designed for other types of animals, or humans, should be avoided or fed sparingly. These include cat and dog foods and red meat. While a serving or two of any of these items will certainly pose no threat to a healthy lizard, large amounts may cause problems including vitamin deficiencies, overdoses and obesity.
Monitor lizards can be very hostile. They threaten open-mouthed, while inflating the neck and flattening and spreading the body and so appearing ‘larger than life’. The monitor will make a hissing sound and often rise up on its hind legs, just before attacking. A well-aimed lash from the tail is subsequently delivered.
According to studies held at San Diego Zoo, Varanid lizards are highly intelligent - some species have been observed ‘counting’ – feeding snails has shown they can distinguish numbers up to six. Others use ingenuity when foraging for food, luring a female crocodile away from her nest, while another steals the eggs and the decoy returns to feed also.
Monitor lizards have been dubbed the ‘feline of the reptile world’ - independent animals with different personalities. However, due to their predatory nature and large size some monitors can be dangerous to keep as pets. An Adult Nile monitor can reach seven feet in length, and is stronger than an alligator of equal weight.
Photographs by GeoWombats Atoll Aidan Jones