Keeping Monitor Lizards
Monitor lizards are an impressive group, including the largest lizard in the world – the Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodensis), growing up to 10 feet (three metres) in length and weighing in at around 25 stones (160kg).While not all monitors are so large – the smallest being less than a foot long (30cm) – most kinds do grow to something between four and six feet (1.2 – 1.8m) in length. This, coupled with the fact that they are active and very strong, means their quarters have to be sizeable –even half-grown monitor lizards need a remarkable amount of space.
Clearly, opting to keep monitors as pets is not a decision to be taken lightly – and they certainly aren’t animals for the inexperienced. With the most well-developed legs of all lizards, equipped with formidable claws, a muscular tail that they use like a whip, strong jaws, sharp teeth and, in some cases, very unhealthy saliva, keeping monitors is a serious undertaking.
There are two species commonly seen for sale – the Nile Monitor (Varanus niloticus) and the Savannah or Bosc’s Monitor (Varanus exanthematicus). Bosc’s is generally accepted as the best choice of all the monitors for a pet, not least because most of the other species become increasingly difficult to manage as they get bigger. Bosc’s monitor, by contrast, can become surprisingly tame if handled well and often enough from young – though even they can inflict some nasty claw wounds as adults just by hanging on to your arm a bit too tightly if they feel a little insecure.
Housing Monitor LizardsWhatever container you use to house your monitor, it’s going to be big! Even if your pet fits into modest accommodation at first, youngsters grow at a phenomenal rate, so it won’t be too long before you’re looking at a terrarium ten feet by five (3x5m), which you’ll need to keep heated to 27-30 degrees C (80-86F), rising to around 35C (95F) at the “hot” end. Ideally there should be an even hotter spot for basking and the temperature should be dropped substantially at night to mimic their natural environment. Like other species of lizards, they also benefit from UV exposure to help them form strong, well calcified bones, given their fast speed of growth.
A range of flooring materials are suitable for these lizards, but they tend to be messy feeders and produce a large amount of droppings, so it’s probably best to pick something that can be easily removed for cleaning, such as paper towelling or newspaper. Bark chippings and gravel can give a more natural look to the terrarium, but if you do use gravel, pick a size that is not likely to be ingested along with food, since this can cause digestive problems – and avoid sand for the same reason.
Monitors like water – so a dish large enough to allow your pets to get a good soak will be a much appreciated addition to their home, though you will almost certainly be forever cleaning it!
Food And FeedingOne thing that is very much in their favour is that, unlike many varieties of lizards, monitors are remarkably unfussy feeders and in the wild, they eat almost any suitable prey that they can overpower. In captivity, various types of insects, garden bugs, “pinkie” mice, adult mice, rats and even eggs will be more than welcome – in fact they often eat so well that they are prone to suffer from obesity.
The relative proportions of live insect to pre-killed rodents or day-old chicks has often provoked fierce debate amongst lizard keepers. Given the habitat that these animals naturally occupy, it’s probable that insects make up the bulk of their intake – perhaps up to 60 or 70 per cent – but if your pets are doing well on a different diet, it really isn’t worth risking changing it.
Most monitor owners also make use of proprietary supplements to ensure that their pets get all of the essential minerals and vitamins that they need; dietary calcium is particularly important for juveniles.
Although these lizards are challenging creatures to keep, if you provide them with the right environment and put in the necessary work, Bosc’s monitors in particular can make rewarding pets – and may live for ten years or more.