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What is a Monitor Lizard?

By John J. Jones
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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A monitor lizard is a family of lizards that range in size from half a foot long (15cm) ranging all the way to the largest known lizard, the Komodo dragon, which can weigh up to 364 pounds (165 kilograms).

All monitors are tropical reptiles and many of these reptiles are very hostile. They all have very long claws and a tail which can be used to lash out at the smallest sign of aggression. Don't be fooled by their size, since a lash from even the smallest Monitor can leave a serious welt. Unlike many lizards, the monitor lizard cannot grow its tail back if it is lost.

Along with these natural defenses, the monitor uses poise to frighten off its predators. Standing alert with their heads to the sky, the monitor will often puff out their throats and whip their tail, putting on a fearsome display. Their ribs may expand slightly as they hiss making this lizard actually appear larger than it really is.

The moitor's diet consists of anything it can get its claws on. A carnivore, this lizard will eat almost anything that it can fit in its mouth, from fish, beetles, whip scorpions, crocodile and birds, to eggs, crabs, other lizards, snakes, nestling birds, and squirrels.

To reproduce, monitors often lay from 7-35 soft-shelled eggs in a hole dug near a riverbank or grove of trees along the water. The eggs incubate there for about 8-10 weeks before the young use a sharp egg tooth to break out of the leathery shells.

There are a surpring number of different varieties of monitor lizards; here are two:

The Savanna monitor or varanus exanthematicus, can grow up to five feet (1.5 meters) long. It has a brownish color with a few pale ringlets and bands of color. This monitor makes its home in central Africa in the hot and rocky forests. It is is also very adapt to being on land and water.

Another example is the Nile monitor or varanus niloticus. This particular lizard can grow to be 6 feet (1.8 meters) in length. It is noticeable by the pale yellow bands on its dark brown skin. The Nile Monitor also makes its home in Africa. It prefers to remain close to water, and it can dive for up to one hour. It is diurnal, or active during the day.

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