Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Reptilia

Order: Squamata

Family: Varanidae

Genus: Varanus

Physical Description

There are at least 50 known species of monitor lizards, with new ones being discovered all the time. Some have been known to be as small as 8 inches, but most (such as the Nile monitor lizard that has become popular in Florida) can be quite large. They have long necks and sturdy limbs. Their claws are very sharp, and their tails typically account for half of their body length. Most species of monitor lizards live in barrows, but some prefer to make their homes in trees or near water. Almost all species of monitor lizards are carnivorous, though a few will eat fruit. Monitor lizards differ from most other known species of lizards in that they have a high metabolism. This means they must be fed more often than other lizards. In fact, while they are referred to as “lizards,” monitors are thought to be most closely related to snakes. They are considered rather intelligent and have even shown the ability to count as high as 6.


Most species of monitor lizard have a predominantly carnivorous diet, eating eggs, smaller reptiles, fish, birds and small mammals. Some species of monitor lizard also eat fruit and vegetation depending on where they live. Female monitor lizards bury their eggs in holes or hollow tree stumps that the female monitor lizard then covers with dirt in order to protect her eggs. Monitor lizards can lay up to 30 eggs at a time, although many monitor lizards lay less, and only a lucky few of the monitor lizard babies tend to survive. Monitor lizards are thought to be fairly intelligent animals, with some people claiming that monitor lizards are able to recognise numbers up to six, therefore meaning that monitor lizards are able to count! Monitor lizards mainly use their intelligence in the wild by surveying areas for oncoming danger and for hunting their prey.

Larger lizard species, with fewer predators on their tail, will simply lie out in the open and cease to move when they spot a predator. However, if the predator comes close, they’ll take off in the opposite direction of the predator’s advance. An adult monitor lizard can go faster than the average human and most other lizards. Once they can, they will hide in burrows, trees, or even under water.

When confronted monitor lizards try to puff themselves up as much as possible, making themselves appear larger and more threatening. They stand upright on all legs, puffing up their lungs, flattening their back, making a hissing sound, and some will also sway from side to side. As a final protective measure they open their mouths as far they can. Some species of monitor lizard are thought to carry a fairly weak venom, for example, the komodo dragon which is the largest of the species. The komodo dragon is native to the small Indonesian island that it is named after and is the largest species of lizard in the world.

Habitat and Distribution

Monitor Lizards are large reptiles found in Africa and all across Asia, including the surrounding seas. The monitor lizard is mainly found in jungle areas although some species of monitor lizard are water-bound


All About Monitor Lizards

Defensive use of the tail in monitors – and also sauropods?