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THE WATER MONITOR

26 September 2013

QUICK FACTS

Scientific Name : Varanus niloticus

Lenght : +/- 2.42 m

Species : 59 species

Colour : Greyish-brown to a dirty olive-brown

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Water monitors are large lizards that are geographically limited to the Old World (eastern hemisphere), but they are most diverse in Australia where they occur throughout the continent. They also occur in south-eastern Asia and Africa, but not in Madagascar. There are 59 species of monitor known to science, but only the rock and the water monitor occur in southern Africa.

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The water monitor Varanus niloticus is also known as the Nile monitor. In its geographic distribution it is limited to the eastern, and consequently the more mesic, parts of Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa. However, it does occur along the Orange River to the west coast and also occurs in the Okavango System and the Fish River Canyon. It is the largest type of lizard in southern Africa and can reach a snout to tail tip length of 2.42 m. The neck is long and it has an elongated snout.

The dark tongue is forked and resembles that of a snake. The eyes are well-developed and have scaly mobile eye-lids. Small, bead-like scales cover the body, while the legs are strong and muscular. The tail is laterally compressed to serve as a rudder when the water monitor swims in the water.

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The general colour is greyish-brown to a dirty olive-brown on the top, with ten to 18 yellow bars on the tail. It has yellow and black patches below, and young water monitors are black and yellow. The water monitor is a semi-aquatic, terrestrial lizard that is found near water but it will forage away from water. It can climb well and can often be found lying on thick tree branches. It eats any type of prey that it can subdue, including crabs, frogs, toads, invertebrates, other types of lizard, crocodile eggs and young, snakes, birds, terrapins, tortoises and small mammals. It will also raid chicken coops for eggs and chicks. The food is crushed with the strong jaws that contain conical teeth.

Water monitors are sought after as medicine or magical ingredients by traditional healers, and their meat is edible. The female digs a hole in the ground or in an active termite mound in which she lays 40 to 60 eggs of 35 X 50 mm with soft shells. In termite mounds the termites will reseal the hole and this consequently keeps the eggs at a constant warm and humid environment which is ideal for incubation and protects the eggs from predators. Incubation in the field takes nine to ten months, which is long even for reptiles. The young water monitors dig themselves out of the hole when they are born. 

 

Reference:

Alexander, G and J Marais 2010. A guide to the reptiles of southern Africa, third impression. Cape Town: Struik, pp 212 – 214.

article by: Prof J du P Bothma

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