Monitor lizards actually require less work than other species

Posted: Sunday, July 27, 2003

Monitors are one of the most popular pet lizards.

Classified in the genus Varanus, monitors are most widespread in Australia where roughly 30 of the world's 40 species exist. Some of the Australian species also can be found in Asia, which has 14 species of monitors. Africa has only four species in the whole of the continent.

"They make great pets," said Robert Donadio, a monitor enthusiast from Kasilof. "They're not really a touchy feely pet like a cat or a dog. They're more like fish you keep them to appreciate them, not to play with them."

When selecting a monitor for a pet, effort should be made to obtain one bred in captivity. There are several places to begin the search for a monitor, including local pet shops, classified ads and numerous Web sites.

Care should be taken to research potential species that may be acquired since some are much more challenging to care for than others.

"Some of the species, like the tree monitors, require pretty specific husbandry requirements, while others like the Nile monitor are fairly aggressive," Donadio said. "Beginners should probably steer clear of them."

The adult size of various monitor species also can play a major role in the decision-making process.

"All the monitors start out only a few inches long," Donadio said. "But some of the species like water monitors and crocodile monitors can get well over six feet in length as adults."

When purchasing an enclosure for a pet monitor, Donadio recommends starting out with a large enclosure. In the long run this will save money since monitors are such fast-growing lizards that they can quickly outgrow numerous enclosures within the first year alone.

Donadio said an Africa species known as the savannah monitor is one of the best for beginners.

"Savannahs are very docile, aren't very challenging to maintain and are relatively abundant to buy," he said. "They also only grow to about two feet long most of the time."

Donadio maintains his savannah monitor in a 20-gallon long aquarium with a wire mesh lid that clips on.

Savannahs are arid, land monitors that don't do well in high humidity environments. A pool is not required, but a water bowl should be provided. Care should be taken not to let the water spill, creating too much moisture.

Newspaper can be used for substrate. It is easy to clean and cheap to replace. It also doesn't harbor bacteria the way some Astroturf and carpet substrates can.

Heat is very important, but monitors should be given a temperature gradient so they can thermoregulate themselves. This is usually accomplished by putting a heat rock or heat lamp over one side of the enclosure and leaving the other side cooler. Temperatures should range from around 78 to 95 degrees in the daytime and 60 to 68 degrees at night.

Hiding structures such as rock caves or hollowed-out logs should be on both ends of the enclosure so the lizard can feel secure in the temperature zone of its choice.

Savannahs tend not to be picky eaters. In the wild their diet can include several species of birds, fish, insects and small mammals. However, according to Donadio, in captivity savannahs usually do well with one to two appropriate-sized rodents one to two times a week.

"Watching them eat is really exciting," he said. "It's just like watching a wild monitor there is no hesitation whatsoever.

Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. He has worked with wildlife and domestic animals for more than 10 years as a veterinary technician, a zoo keeper, and most recently as a zoologist for the Wildlife Conservation Society. He welcomes any pet-related questions or story ideas, but please none of a veterinary nature. Ideas and questions can be sent to his attention by e-mail at

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