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The Monitor Lizards (Family Varanidae) – Family Overview and Species Accounts; – Some Interesting Monitors and Their Care – Part I

Note: Please see The Monitor Lizards (Family Varanidae) – Family Overview and Species Accounts
for information on the natural history of monitor lizards.

Storr’s Pygmy Monitor, Varanus storri
This is the smallest monitor regularly available in the pet trade.   Also nearly the tiniest member of the family Varanidae, this species has much to recommend it as a “first monitor”.  Reaching just 14 inches in length, Storr’s monitor is one of the only monitors that can be housed within an aquarium-sized (see below) enclosure when adult.

A Popular Pet
Storr’s monitors are immensely popular because they combine all of the typical monitor traits in a small package – indeed, they act exactly like tiny versions of their larger cousins.  What they lack in size is more than made up for in attitude, and they are quite bold as captives.  In fact, keeping more than one in a cage, even a mated pair, is difficult due to their aggressive natures.

This plucky, brown little lizard hails from northeastern Australia.  A subspecies, reddish in color but otherwise similar (V. s. ocreatus) ranges further west.  In the eastern part of its range, Storr’s monitor is threatened by the introduced marine toad, which both preys upon and competes with it.  Populations have all but disappeared from some areas already.

Storr’s monitors are quite active and should be housed in a tightly secured aquarium of at least 30 – 55 gallons (“long models are best”).  They require a source of UVB light  and a basking site that reaches 90 F or so.

Although they are often fed pink mice and small rodents in captivity, the natural diet of this species consists largely of insects.  The bulk of their food in captivity should be roaches, crickets, waxworms, super mealworms, mealworm beetles and wild-caught insects.  Canned insects, such as silkworms and grasshoppers, offer an excellent source of dietary variety.  Many individuals also accept canned monitor diets.

Captive breeding is possible, but pairs must be watched closely for aggression.  The 2-5 eggs hatch in 100 days at 82F.

Crocodile Monitor, Varanus salvadorii

Crocodile Monitor

At the other end of the spectrum from Storr’s monitor is southern New Guinea’s massive crocodile monitor – it approaches 9 feet in length (nearly as long as, but much lighter than, the Komodo dragon), and there are unverified reports of much longer individuals.  The prehensile tail is twice as long as the snout-vent length.  Crocodile monitors are black in color and boldly marked with yellow spots, and sport long claws and a bulbous snout (particularly so in mature males).

Highly arboreal despite their size, crocodile monitors dwell in the canopies of lowland forests in the vicinity of rivers and mangrove swamps.  Little is known of their status in the wild, but there is concern given the limited range; the species is listed on CITES Appendix II.

In contrast to the other lizards described here, crocodile monitors are suitable only for very advanced hobbyists, or as zoo animals.  Those I worked with learned to tolerate my presence, but remained wary and agressive even after many years.

In contrast to the usual structure of monitor teeth, those of the crocodile monitor are serrated and over-lapping – possibly an adaptation to holding onto and carrying large prey high above the forest floor.  These animals are formidable predators, and capable of inflicting potentially life-threatening wounds.

Captive-bred animals are available and adjust moderately well (please see above) if given huge, high-topped enclosures that accommodate their arboreal lifestyles – forcing crocodile monitors to remain on the ground is, in my experience, quite stressful to them.

A cage or room of 10’ x 10’ by 10’ would be required for a single adult.  UVB light and a basking spot of 90-95 F are needed.  A humid environment is preferred, but they must be able to dry off as well.

Wild crocodile monitors feed upon cuscus, young tree kangaroos, naked-tailed rats, bandicoots, bats and other mammals, birds and their eggs, frogs, snakes, lizards and carrion.  Captives do well on rats, mice, chicks, crayfish, large roaches and hard-boiled eggs.

Image referenced from Wikipedia.

Check back on Friday for more Monitor Species Profiles.


The Monitor Lizards (Family Varanidae) – Family Overview and Species Accounts, Part II

Click here: The Monitor Lizards (Family Varanidae) – Family Overview and Species Accounts, Part I, to read the first part of this article.

Monitor Intelligence
Monitor lizards exhibit an extraordinary degree of intelligence and retain what they have learned for long periods.  Gould’s monitors (V. gouldii) have been observed taking indirect routes when chasing rabbits.   Rather than running directly after the rabbit, they veer off in a direction that takes them away from the animal, but leaves the lizard in a position to intercept the rabbit at the mouth of its burrow!

Parentie monitors (V. giganteus) seeking animals hidden within burrows do not dig away at the burrow entrance (as would a foolish dog!) but rather sniff the ground several feet away.  Once they locate the underground position of their prey, they dig directly down to reach it, keeping an eye on the entrance as well.

An Experience with a Bright Monitor
I have often had the good fortune to observe monitor intelligence in action.  While working at the Bronx Zoo, I once looked up from a phone conversation to see a 6 foot long crocodile monitor (V. salvadorii) go shooting by, followed by an equally fast-moving coworker of mine.  We cornered the animal behind a large cage, where he remained as long as we were in view.  As soon as we moved off to either side, he cautiously peered around the cage and looked both right and left, to fix our new positions.  The lizard most definitely did not want either of us sneaking up on him, and made sure he saw both of us at all times.

Mangrove MonitorThe stout fellow was recaptured – with more wear and tear to us than he!  Monitors are incredibly strong – a 7 foot long water monitor (V. salvator) I worked with was able to move along with myself and 2 other strong men trying to pin him down – this despite being rather seriously ill.

Monitor Venom
In 2005, Dr. Bryan Frye and researchers at Australia’s Melbourne University discovered that several species of monitor lizards, including the Komodo dragon, V. komodoensis and the lace monitor V. varius, produce venoms of varying strengths.  Lace monitor venom was subsequently shown to cause the lizard’s prey to rapidly loss consciousness by affecting the blood’s pressure and clotting ability.

Until this discovery, bacteria in the mouth of the Komodo dragon were thought to be responsible for the quick onset of death seen in deer, goats and other large animals bitten by these lizards.  While such bacteria no doubt add to the trauma associated with a bite, it now seems certain that venom delivers the knockout blow.  A combination of venom and bacterial infection is also the likely source of the strong reaction often associated with bites inflicted by monitor lizards upon people.

The Bearded Dragon, Pagona vitticeps, a popular pet species not related to the monitor lizards, was also shown to produce mild venom – other members of the lizard family Agamidae are being studied.

An interesting article on Florida’s introduced Nile monitor lizards is posted at:

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