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What is a Monitor Lizard?

By John J. Jones
Updated May 21, 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a monitor lizard?

A monitor lizard is a member of the Varanidae family, which includes about 80 species. These reptiles are known for their elongated bodies, strong limbs, and well-developed claws. They can range in size from the diminutive short-tailed monitor, which is around 20 cm in length, to the imposing Komodo dragon, which can exceed 3 meters and weigh over 70 kg.

Where can monitor lizards be found in the wild?

Monitor lizards are predominantly found in warmer regions of the world. They inhabit a variety of ecosystems, including forests, deserts, and wetlands across Africa, Asia, and Australia. The Komodo dragon, the largest of the species, is native to Indonesia's Lesser Sunda Islands, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

What do monitor lizards typically eat?

Monitor lizards are carnivorous and have a varied diet that can include insects, birds, small mammals, and even other reptiles. Larger species like the Komodo dragon are capable of taking down prey as large as deer. Their keen sense of smell aids them in hunting, and they are known to be opportunistic feeders, sometimes scavenging for carrion.

Are monitor lizards dangerous to humans?

While most monitor lizards are not inherently dangerous to humans, some large species, such as the Komodo dragon, have been known to attack if they feel threatened or are provoked. Their bites can be harmful due to sharp teeth and potent bacteria in their saliva, which can lead to infections. However, unprovoked attacks on humans are rare.

How do monitor lizards reproduce?

Monitor lizards are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs. Females typically lay eggs in burrows or hollow tree trunks, and the number of eggs can vary widely among species. For instance, the Komodo dragon can lay about 20 to 30 eggs, which hatch after an incubation period of several months, as noted by National Geographic.

Are any monitor lizard species endangered?

Yes, some monitor lizard species are considered endangered. Habitat loss, hunting, and the pet trade have contributed to the decline of certain populations. The Komodo dragon, for example, is classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN, with an estimated population of less than 2,500 mature individuals due to these threats.

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