Monitor Lizard

Monitor Lizard
Setswana Name: 
Scientific Name: 
Varanus exanthematicus

Size: 70-110 cm; max. 132cm


This very large, stout lizard has strong stocky limbs and sharp claws. The skin is tough and covered with small, bead-like scales in numbers of 150-165 rows in its mid-body.

Its head has a bulbous snout, with the nostrils being slit and closer to the eyes than the end of the snout. Its tail is longer than the body and cylindrical at the base but compressed towards the tip.
Its back is dark-grey brown above, with 5-6 pale yellow, dark edged blotches. The top of the head and neck are dark brown. The limbs are spotted with pale, yellow, and the tail is banded in dark brown and off-white bands. The belly is dirty yellow, with scattered spots. Juveniles are more intensely marked.


The Monitor lizard lives in a tunnel which it digs under rock overhangs, or in a disused animal burrow, a hole in a tree or rock crack. It is usually solitary and hibernates, semi-dormant, in its retreat in winter.

Its skin is usually dulled with dirt and grime, and tainted with  patches of unshed skin. It is also infested with ticks in its soft skin around the eyes, nostrils and limb joints.

Its diet consists mainly of invertebrates (millipieds, bettles, grasshoppers and land snails), although it will kill and eat any animal small enough to swallow, and also scavenges on carrion like; baby tortoises are eaten often.

When in defence, it adopts a side-on posture and lashes its tail. It will bite and hold on like a bulldog. If it is held behind its head, it will usually eject its cloacal contents, and finally it may play dead.


Savannah and arid areas; they are most commonly found in the north and east of Botswana, and is not seen in the Kalahari Desert.


Mating occurs in August-September. The female may occasionally lay her eggs in a live termite nest, but normally uses a hole dug out in soft, moist soil. She may dig several ‘test holes’ before selecting a suitable spot. Between 8 and 37 eggs are laid, depending on the size of the femals.

When in captivity, the eggs can hatch in 120 days, but may take up to 12 months in the wild.