Savannah Monitor

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Species group:

Other common names: Bosc Monitor; Cape Monitor

Scientific name: Varanus exanthematicus

The basics:
The Savannah Monitor is one of the most inexpensive and widely-kept large lizards, with hatchlings often being purchased on impulse by inexperienced hobbyists. Sadly, many of these youngsters are wild-caught, and a poor understanding of their unique husbandry needs condemns most to an early demise. While the Savannah Monitor can make a most interesting, responsive pet, adults can inflict serious injuries, and require much more space than the average owner can provide. It is a species best left to serious, experienced, adult keepers.

The Savannah Monitor is native to Sub-Saharan central Africa, where it ranges from Mauritania and Guinea east to Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya. An isolated population lives in Zimbabwe, and feral Savannah Monitors are established in Florida, USA. Collection for the leather, food and pet trades threatens this species in some regions.

Brushy savannas form the primary habitat, but rocky thorn scrub, open woodlands and farm edges are also utilized. Youngsters spend time in trees and bushes, while adults are terrestrial and shelter in deep self-dug burrows.

Appearance / health:
This thick-set lizard averages 3 to 4 feet in length, with occasional individuals exceeding 5 feet and perhaps approaching 6 feet. The gray, tan or brown body is marked with dark-edged yellow spots, and rings of yellow and brown encircle the tail. The underside is colored various shades of light yellow.

Savannah Monitors appear less-hardy than related species, with their maximum longevity averaging only 8-10 years, but occasionally approaching 20. This may be due to the huge numbers of wild-caught hatchlings that enter the trade annually. Respiratory ailments and a gout-like disease can take hold if your pet is kept at sub-optimal temperatures. Metabolic bone disease is common in animals that are not provided with ample calcium and/or UVB exposure. Females without access to a suitable nesting site may retain their eggs. Animals suspected of being wild-caught should be examined by a reptile-experienced veterinarian.

Behavior / temperament:
Hatchlings can be skittish, and adults vary greatly in personality. Many pets become quite responsive, learning to predict feeding times and seeming to distinguish between owners and strangers. However, they can inflict severe injuries, requiring stitches or other medical attention, with their teeth, tails, and nails. Savannah Monitors are not suitable pets for children.

Hatchlings may be started in a 55 gallon aquarium, but will need a homemade or commercial cage in time. An enclosure measuring at least 8 x 6 x 6 feet is essential for the proper housing of an adult. Outdoor cages or dedicated indoor rooms can be excellent options.

Youngsters are somewhat arboreal and may be stressed if kept in enclosures that do not allow climbing opportunities. Stout branches and wooden shelves, and a variety of shelters, should be included in the terrarium. Adults fare best when provided with 2-3 feet of a sand/soil substrate in which to burrow; hollow logs should also be in place as hiding spots. A water bowl large enough for bathing must always be available.

While Savannah Monitors have been kept successfully without UVB exposure, providing such is preferable. Mercury vapor bulbs broadcast UVB over greater distances than do florescent models, and also provide beneficial UVA. They require a temperature gradient of 78-88 F, with a dip to 72-76 F at night if possible, and a basking temperature of 100 -110 F. Slate or a flat rock (not a commercial “hot rock”) should be placed under the basking lamp to provide an extra-warm (to 130 F) area. Large enclosures will allow your pet to thermo-regulate by moving from hot to cooler areas. This behavior is important to long-term health, and is usually not possible in small cages. Humidity should be kept at 40-60 %.

Monitors are active, intelligent reptiles, and should be provided opportunities to search through decaying logs, soil, and leaf piles for live invertebrates.

The natural diet is made up primarily of invertebrates such as snails, locusts, scorpions, millipedes, spiders, beetles and large termites. Lizards, snakes, birds and their eggs, rodents and toads are taken when available.

Young Savannah Monitors should be fed near-daily meals of roaches, crickets, butterworms, locusts, silk worms, hornworms, calci-worms, earthworms and other commercially-available species and, as they gain size, small mice. Crickets and mealworms alone, even if supplemented, are not an adequate diet. The adult diet should revolve primarily around large invertebrates such as large roach species, locusts, European (“edible”) snails, night crawlers, crayfish and (if collected from pesticide-free areas), grasshoppers, cicadas and field crickets, along with mice, small rats and chicks. Commercial monitor diets, while not suitable as a base diet, can be offered on occasion.

Most meals provided to growing animals should be powdered with a Calcium source. Vitamin/mineral supplements should be used 2-3 times each week. Both can be reduced to once weekly for well-nourished adults.

Breeding behavior may occur seasonally or year-round, depending on the animal’s origin within the range. Pairs must be watched closely, and separated each evening, as copulation is accompanied by a good deal of biting. Males exhibit wide heads, somewhat bulbous snouts, 2 bulges (the hemipenes) along the cloaca and may be somewhat brighter in coloration. Although sexual maturity occurs earlier, animals selected for breeding should be at least 3-4 years of age.

A simple 10-15 F degree drop in temperature for 2-4 weeks may stimulate breeding behavior. Females should be provided with at least 3 feet of a sand/soil mix in which to nest. Clutches may contain 6-40+ eggs. The eggs should be incubated in a mix of 1 part vermiculite to 1 part water (by weight) at 85-86 F for 4-5 months.

Written by Frank Indiviglio


best monitor, fantastic eater, favorite monitor lizard, experienced hobbyists, great personalities


food monthly costs, painful bite, escape artist, large enclosure, bone-crushing jaws, foot 25lb lizard


big poops, High basking temps, smart species, appropriate basking temperature

Savannah Monitor Health Tip

Savannah Monitor

From NomadMorgan Jul 2 2015 11:37AM


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