Monitor Lizards Are the Pet Dinosaur You've Always Wanted
Getting a large lizard as a pet is a lot different than getting a dog. Keeping a bearded dragon is a much more reasonable choice for most reptile owners. If you're ready to graduate to a larger lizard that's more like a baby dinosaur, though, monitor lizards are worth considering.
The largest need zoo-sized enclosures, but some species are smart, affordable and interesting to keep. Just make sure you know what you're getting into first.
Monitor Lizards Are One of the Largest Lizards
Monitor lizards come in a wide range of sizes, but most are large.
Many monitor lizard species can outweigh people, and even the lighter-bodied ones are several feet long.
There Are 80 Different Monitor Lizard Species
There isn't just one type of monitor lizard. They range from fairly small lizards to ones that way hundreds of pounds, with 80 different verified monitor lizard species in total.
The spiny-tailed monitor lizard shown above can reach 3 feet in length, but that's much more manageable in captivity than some of the giant monitor species.
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The Komodo Dragon Is the Largest
Komodo dragons are the largest lizards on the planet, and they're a type of monitor lizard. They usually weigh about 155 pounds, but the largest was over 365 pounds and measured 10.3 feet in length.
They'll eat virtually any kind of animal, alive or dead. They'll eat small lizards and birds when they're young, but eventually, they graduate to monkeys, goats, boars and deer. They've even been known to eat each other. Fortunately, attacks on humans are rare.
Monitor Lizards Are Insanely Adaptable
Do they live in rainforests? Yes. Deserts? Yes. Aquatic areas? Yes. In your closet? They probably would do fine. A closet is no way to keep a pet lizard, of course, even if you name it after Harry Potter, but monitor lizards are notoriously hardy.
They can live in so many different environments, which is why various species of monitor lizards are spread across three different continents – Africa, Asia and Australia.
These Land Dinosaurs Have a Weirdly Long Tongue
Since a Komodo dragon can gobble up an entire deer, the long tongue initially seems pointless. Monitor lizards have a sixth sense, though, called the vomeronasal sense, in which they use an organ called Jacobson's organ to detect nearby food.
Their long tongues are used to collect scents and then touch the Jacobson's organ on the roof of their mouth. This allows the lizard to pinpoint what animal is nearby and whether or not it is an acceptable dinner.
They're at the Top of the Food Chain
In the wild, not much of anything can take down a large monitor lizard. Humans and occasionally large wildcats are the exception.
This photo shows a Pied Kingfisher attacking a Nile monitor lizard in Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda, and for good reason. The lizard is trying to eat her eggs as a snack, but the bird probably can't do much about it.
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They're Big, but They Can Climb
Most monitor lizards are terrestrial species, but they're good climbers, too. While they mostly eat meat, they like to lounge in trees and snack on fruit while they do it.
Female lizards also lay their eggs in hollow trunks some of the time, so hanging out on branches makes it easy to look after them while enjoying a meal.
Monitor Lizards Are Amazing Swimmers
Actually, they'd make great triathletes, except for the biking part. The largest monitor lizards can hit speeds of 12 mph, which is about the speed of a human sprinting.
If one is mad at you, jumping in the water isn't a great tactic. They use their long, powerful tail as a rudder, and they can probably swim faster than you can.
They’re Equipped With Weapons
If you get a pet monitor lizard, socializing them when they're young is important.
Monitors have large, sharp claws that can deliver a nasty scratch if they're trying to scramble away from you.
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Speaking of Danger, Monitor Lizard Teeth Are No Joke
Monitor lizards have up to 60 small, razor-sharp teeth. But, thankfully, they rarely bite humans.
You'll be glad you don't look like prey because monitor lizards go after their dinner with gusto. They're aggressive hunters, waiting in the brush and ambushing prey in a whirlwind of claws and teeth.
Their Bite Is Mildly Venomous
Not all monitor lizard species are venomous, but some species, including the infamous Komodo dragon, have a weak venom that works like an anticoagulant.
This causes their victim, er, prey, to lose blood faster, making them easier to subdue.
They're Really, Really Smart
OK, they're not joining Mensa anytime soon, but they're smart for lizards. They're considered one of the most intelligent reptiles, which is why so many people like keeping them as pets.
Smaller species are just as smart as larger ones, and keepers claim their monitors are akin to scaly puppies. We're not so sure, but a puppy dinosaur does sound pretty rad.
Monitor Lizards Eat a Lot
Like, a lot. If you don't know anything about reptiles, this would seem normal. They are, after all, ginormous. Most reptiles, however, have slow metabolisms, requiring less frequent meals than mammals.
But not monitor lizards. They have unusually fast metabolisms and should be fed live or frozen-thawed prey once or twice a week.
Some Monitor Lizards Are a Manageable Size
Monitor lizards are not considered pets for beginner reptile keepers. If you already have experience with lizards, some species are easier to keep than others. The Ackie monitor is a popular choice because of their amazing temperaments, easy care requirements and reasonable adult size of 2 to 3 feet. Savannah monitors are also popular and only 4 feet long.
Blackthroat monitors are huge, but they're often the most docile and easiest to handle of all the monitor species kept as pets.
They Can Make Beautiful, Interesting Pets for the Right Owner
The easiest-to-keep monitors aren't very colorful, but the blue tree monitor is stunning. They're tougher to keep, with specific requirements to keep them from getting stressed, but their show-stopping color has quickly turned into a coveted lizard at reptile expos.
Many monitor species live for decades, so make sure you meet a monitor and learn what its care entails before you pick one up.