Nile monitor

The Nile monitor was highly respected by the ancient Egyptians, moreover, they even worshiped these animals and erected monuments to them. Today, the reptile plays an important role in the life and life of the peoples of the northern part of the African continent. The meat of the monitor lizard is often eaten, and the skin is used to make shoes. Monitor lizards are hunted using fishing line and hooks, and the bait is pieces of fish, meat, fruit.

Origin of the species and description

Photo : Nile monitor

Photo: Nile monitor

The Nile monitor lizard (Lacerta monitor) was first described in detail in 1766 by the famous zoologist Carl Linnaeus. According to the modern classification, the reptile belongs to the squamous order and the genus «Varana». The Nile monitor lives in the central and southern regions of the African continent, including Central Egypt (along the Nile River) and Sudan. Its closest relative is the steppe monitor (Varanus exanthematicus).

Video: Nile Monitor

This is a very large species of monitor lizards, as well as one of the most common lizards in all of Africa. According to zoologists, the Nile monitor lizard began its spread across the continent many millennia ago from the territory of Palestine and Jordan, where its oldest remains were discovered.

The color of monitor lizards can be either dark gray or black, and the darker the color, the younger the age of the reptile. Patterns and dots of bright yellow are scattered all over the back, tail and upper limbs. The belly of the monitor lizard is lighter – yellow in color with many dark spots. The body of the reptile itself is very strong, muscular with incredibly strong paws armed with long claws that allow animals to dig the ground, climb trees well, hunt, tear prey apart and defend themselves from enemies.

Appearance and features

Photo: Great Nile Monitor

Photo: Great Nile Monitor

As already mentioned, juveniles of this species, in comparison with adult monitor lizards, have a darker color. You can even say that they are almost black, with rather bright transverse stripes of yellow small and large round spots. On the head, they have a characteristic pattern consisting of yellow dots. Adult monitor lizards are greenish-brown or olive in color with duller transverse stripes of yellow spots than young ones.

The reptile is very closely connected with water, therefore it prefers to live on the banks of natural reservoirs, from which it is very rarely removed. When a monitor lizard is in danger, it does not flee, but usually pretends to be dead and can remain in this state for quite some time.

The body of an adult Nile monitor usually has a length of 200-230 cm, with almost half of the length falling on the tail. The largest specimens weigh about 20 kg.

The lizard's tongue is long, forked at the end, and has a large number of scent receptors. To facilitate breathing while swimming, the nostrils are positioned high on the muzzle. The teeth of young individuals are very sharp, but with age they become dull. Monitor lizards usually live in the wild for no more than 10-15 years, and in places near settlements their average age does not exceed 8 years.

Where does the Nile monitor live?

Photo: Nile monitor in Africa

Photo: Nile monitor in Africa

Homeland Nile monitors are considered to be places where there are permanent water bodies, as well as:

  • tropical forests;
  • savannas;
  • bush;
  • undergrowth;
  • bogs;
  • outskirts of deserts.

Varanas do quite well on cultivated lands near settlements, if they are not pursued there. They do not live high in the mountains, but are often found at an altitude of 2 thousand meters above sea level.

The habitat of the Nile monitor lizards extends from the upper reaches of the Nile throughout the African continent, with the exception of the Sahara, small deserts in Namibia, Somalia, Botswana, and South Africa. In the tropical forests of Central and West Africa, it somewhat intersects with the range of the decorated monitor lizard (Varanus ornatus).

Not so long ago, at the end of the 20th century, Nile monitor lizards were discovered in Florida (USA), and already in 2008 — in California and southeastern Miami. Most likely, lizards in such an unusual place for them got into the wild by accident – through the fault of negligent and irresponsible lovers of exotic animals. Monitor lizards quickly acclimatized to the new conditions and began to disrupt the previously established ecological balance, ruining the clutches of crocodile eggs and eating their newly hatched young.

What does the Nile monitor lizard eat?

Photo: Nile monitor in nature

Photo: Nile monitor in nature

Nile monitors are predators, so they can prey on any animals that they have the strength to deal with. Depending on the area, age and season, their diet may vary. For example, during the rainy season it is mostly molluscs, crustaceans, amphibians, birds, small rodents. During the dry season, carrion dominates the menu. It has been noticed that monitor lizards often sin with cannibalism, but this is not typical for young, but for adults.

An interesting fact: Snake venom is not dangerous for these reptiles, so they successfully hunt snakes.

Young monitor lizards prefer to eat mollusks and crustaceans, and older monitor lizards prefer arthropods. This preference for food is not accidental – it is caused by age-related changes in the structure of the teeth, as over the years they become wider, thicker and less sharp.

The rainy season is the best period for Nile monitors in terms of getting food. At this time, they hunt with great enthusiasm both in water and on land. During a drought, lizards most often lie in wait for their potential prey near a watering hole or simply eat different carrion.

Interesting fact: It happens that two monitor lizards come together to hunt together. The role of one of them is to divert the attention of the crocodile guarding its masonry, the role of the other is to quickly destroy the nest and run away with eggs in their mouths. A similar pattern of behavior is used by monitor lizards when destroying bird nests.

Now you know how to feed the Nile monitor lizard. Let's see how he lives in the wild.

Character and lifestyle features

Photo: Nile Monitor

Photo: Nile Monitor

Nile monitors are excellent hunters, crawlers, runners and divers. Juveniles climb and run much better than their adult counterparts. An adult lizard at a short distance can easily overtake a person. When monitor lizards are pursued, in most cases they seek salvation in the water.

Under natural conditions, Nile monitors can stay under water for an hour or more. Similar experiments with reptiles living in captivity have shown that their immersion under water lasts no more than half an hour. During diving under water, lizards have a significant decrease in heart rate and blood pressure.

Reptiles lead a predominantly daytime lifestyle, and at night, especially when it gets cool, they hide in termite mounds and burrows. In warm weather, monitor lizards may remain outside, dozing in the water, half submerged in it, or lying down on thick tree branches. As housing, reptiles use both ready-made burrows and dug with their own hands. Basically, lizard dwellings (burrows) are located in semi-sandy and sandy soil.

An interesting fact: The monitor burrow consists of two parts: a long (6-7 m) corridor and a rather spacious living chamber.

Nile monitor lizards are most active at noon and in the first couple of hours afternoon. They really enjoy sunbathing at various elevations. They are most often seen basking in the sun lying on rocks, on tree branches, in water.

Males control plots of 50-60 thousand square meters. m, and 15 thousand square meters are enough for females. m. Barely hatched from eggs, males begin with very modest lands of 30 square meters. m, which they expand as they grow older. The boundaries of monitor lands often overlap, but this rarely leads to any conflicts, since common territories are usually located near water bodies.

Social structure and reproduction

Photo: Nile Monitor Cub

Photo: Nile Monitor Cub

Puberty in reptiles comes in 3-4 years. The start of the mating season for Nile monitor lizards always falls at the end of the rainy season. In southern Africa, this happens from March to May, and in the west — from September to November.

To get the right to continue the race, sexually mature males arrange ritual fights. At first they look at each other for a long time, not attacking, and then at some point the one who is smarter jumps on the opponent’s back and presses him to the ground with all his might. The defeated male leaves, and the winner mates with the female.

For their nests, females most often use termite mounds located near water bodies. They unceremoniously dig them up, lay their eggs there in 2-3 doses and are no longer interested in the further fate of their future cubs. Termites repair the damage, and the eggs mature at the right temperature.

Interesting fact: In one clutch, depending on the size and age of the female, there can be 5-60 eggs.

The incubation period for monitor lizard eggs lasts from 3 to 6 months. Its duration depends on the surrounding conditions. Monitor lizards that have just hatched from eggs have a body length of about 30 cm and a weight of about 30 g. The menu of babies initially consists of insects, amphibians, slugs, but gradually, as they grow older, they begin to hunt larger prey.

Nile monitor lizards natural enemies

Photo: African Nile Monitor

Photo: Nile monitor in Africa

The natural enemies of the Nile monitor are:

  • birds of prey (hawk, falcon, eagle);
  • mongoose;
  • cobra.

Since lizards are immune to even very strong snake venom, the cobra often turns from an enemy into prey and is safely eaten from head to tail.

Also, monitor lizards of this species, especially newly hatched young, are often hunted by Nile crocodiles. Older individuals, apparently due to their life experience, are much less likely to become victims of crocodiles. In addition to hunting, crocodiles often go the easier way – they ruin the egg clutches of monitor lizards.

To protect against most enemies, the Nile monitor lizards use not only clawed paws and sharp teeth, but their long and strong tail. In older individuals, characteristic deep and ragged scars can be seen on the tail, indicating its frequent use as a whip.

There are also frequent cases when birds of prey, having grabbed a monitor lizard not too successfully (leaving their head or tail free), themselves become their prey. Although, having fallen from a great height during such a fight, both the hunter and his victim usually die, subsequently becoming food for other animals that do not disdain carrion, thus participating in the cycle of life in nature.

Population and species status

Photo: Nile monitor lizard in nature

Photo: Nile monitor lizard in nature

As already mentioned, the Nile monitor lizards among the peoples of Africa have always been considered sacred animals, worthy worship and construction of monuments. However, this has never prevented and does not prevent people from exterminating them.

The meat and skin of the monitor lizard are of the greatest value for the natives of Africa. Due to poverty, few of them can afford pork, beef or even chicken. So you have to diversify your menu with what is more accessible – monitor lizard meat. Its taste is very similar to the taste of chicken, but it is more nutritious.

The skin of the monitor lizard is very strong and quite beautiful. It is used for making shoes, bags, and other accessories. In addition to skin and meat, the internal organs of the monitor lizard, used by local healers for conspiracies and the treatment of almost all diseases, are of considerable value. In America, where monitor lizards came at the suggestion of exotic lovers, the opposite situation was recorded – a rapid increase in the population was recorded, since it is not customary to hunt them there.

In the first decade of the 2000s, a density of 40-60 monitor lizards was recorded in northern Kenya per square kilometer. In the area of ​​Ghana, where the species is very strictly protected, the population density is even higher. In the area of ​​Lake Chad, monitor lizards are not protected, hunting for them is allowed, but at the same time, the population density in this area is even higher than in Kenya.

Nile monitor lizard conservation

Photo: Nile Monitor from the Red Book

Photo: Nile Monitor from the Red Book

In the last century, the Nile monitor lizards were exterminated very actively and uncontrollably. In just one year, about a million skins were mined, which were sold by poor local residents to arrogant enterprising Europeans for almost nothing and were also exported out of Africa without control. In this century, thanks to the increased consciousness of people and the active work of environmental organizations, the situation has changed radically, and thanks to conservation measures, the number of lizards has begun to recover.

If you think about it quite globally, then the Nile monitor lizard cannot be called such a rare animal, since it is considered the most common species of monitor lizards on the entire African continent and lives there almost everywhere, with the exception of deserts and mountainous regions. However, in some African states, probably due to the standard of living of the population, the situation with the size of the monitor lizard population is different. For example, in the poorer countries of Africa, the population barely survives and monitor lizard meat is an essential part of their meat menu. In richer countries, monitor lizards are almost never hunted, therefore, they do not need conservation measures there.

Interesting fact: Nile monitor lizards are staunch hermits and pair up only to procreate.

In the last decade, the Nile monitor has become a pet more and more often. When choosing a similar animal for yourself, you should know that it is very peculiar and aggressive. For various reasons, monitor lizards can deliver powerful blows to their owners with their paws and tail. Therefore, experts do not recommend starting such a lizard at home for beginners, and more experienced exotic lovers are advised to be careful.

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