Water Monitor

Varanus niloticus

The Water, or Nile, Monitor is one of the three largest lizards occurring in Africa, growing to a total length of up to almost 2.5m and a weight of up to 15kg or more!

As its name suggests, this enormous lizard is very much at home in aquatic habitats (streams, rivers, pans, lakes, dams, marshes, etc.) and is an excellent swimmer, often diving beneath the water surface to hunt for prey or escape enemies. They feed predominantly on crustaceans and molluscs, but will also prey on insects, frogs, fish and the eggs of birds, tortoises and crocodiles. They’re often seen basking in the sun on rocks or logs close to the water and are very good climbers, often hibernating in the tops of trees in temperate regions like South Africa. When cornered they lash out with their long, muscular tails in self-defense, often inflicting serious damage to any bold attacker.

After the first spring rains, females dig holes in occupied termite mounds in which they lay between 20 and 60 eggs. The termites then fix the nest and the monitor eggs then develop inside it at a constant temperature and humidity. The eggs can take anything between 6 months and a year to hatch, with the young then digging themselves out of the termite mound.

In South Africa, the Water Monitor occurs along all the river systems running to the Indian Ocean north of Port Elizabeth, as well as along the rivers making up the Orange-Vaal system running to the Atlantic. North of our borders they occur widely in sub-Saharan Africa and along the Nile River into Egypt. Sadly they are a target species of the exotic pet trade.

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36 thoughts on “Water Monitor

    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      You’re right, Leslie – it could be very easy to confuse them with crocodiles, especially a large specimen in the water. But I had to smile when I once heard about a frightened tourist calling a reception office in Kruger to complain about a “gecko” hanging from the rooms curtains etc. The camp staff tried to calm him down by saying that there’s no need to worry about a gecko, but after several distraught pleas eventually went to investigate, only to find a 2 meter long leguaan in the rondawel!

      You did a very good job of translating Leipoldt’s verse, that contrast between sweet nature and horrid war…

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      The Water Monitor isn’t really able to kill a human, John, but they can deliver a very nasty bite (which could well become infected if not treated) and if they hit you with that tail it can cause some serious damage!

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      Definitely one of the animals that you should hope to see when visiting South Africa, Montucky, even if it isn’t one of the charismatic and iconic large African animals featured in the doccies on tv!

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      Sickening really, isn’t it, Lois!? Animals like these really do best in their natural environment and can never have the quality of life they deserve being cooped up in a cage.

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      Thank you for the kind compliment, Miriam. Indeed,their patterns are what gets them into captivity, but they really are too large and aggressive to make good pets and so many are killed or abandoned once they’ve outgrown their accommodations and their owners fancy. And many, many more die after being caught than what eventually ends up in a pet shop.

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      1. Miriam Hurdle

        We went to the Crocodile farm near Sydney, Australia. We don’t like the fact that the young crocodile skin makes the most expensive leather purses and shoes. I don’t like many thing human do to animals.
        When we went to Spain, we went to a bull ranch, and found out that the bulls are raised innocently until the day they put in a ring and got killed. Good the Barcelona banded the bull fight.

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