Caring for Your New Water Monitor
The inside scoop on Varanus salvator
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Young 12" water monitor. Snake-like movements. Easy to handle. Likes water.
Honkers: These cute snake-tongued guys grow into huge honker lizards that eventually need their own room. You can keep the babies in aquariums for a while, but these guys will all need a bathtub-sized swimming pool when fully grown. These are definitely not a lizard for youngsters to keep. And youngsters should stay away from all monitors altogether.
Environment: As their name implies, water monitors live near water. When young, they love climbing and swimming. As they grow, they spend even more time in the water. Monitors need lots of swimming room and small ones love being misted. Misting seems to invigorate them.
Temperature: Monitors demand 85o or better during the day. Too cool temperatures make them susceptible to disease. High temperatures speed up their metabolism. This helps them digest their food more easily and fight off diseases. Sick monitors often respond to temperatures around 100o. Take your ill monitor to a good lizard vet fast.
Foods: Feed the small guys gut-loaded crickets, grasshoppers, pinkie mice, small fish, eggs and canned or frozen monitor food. You also need to check out nightcrawlers and canned insects. Larger monitors eat larger goldfish (water monitors inhale them), mice, crayfish, rats, eggs, and birds. If you give your monitor live rodents, you are asking for a scarred (and maybe scared) lizard. (You would stop eating bacon and tomato sandwiches if they bit you in the face.) Humanely killed rodents make a much safer food choice. The new canned monitor foods make feeding them even easier. Yes, monitors will eat canned dog food. So will people. We do not recommend it for you or your lizard. Cost-wise, feeder goldfish make an economical food for little water monitors. If you got the guts, feed them by hand. Otherwise, use tongs.
Lighting: Like most
reptiles, monitors need full-spectrum fluorescent lighting or daily
sessions in real sunlight. (Real
sunlight is hard to provide and even harder to regulate.) The
closer they can climb to your bulbs, the better your bulbs work.
Supplements: Because the bones of small water monitors grow so fast (one report said three inches in one month), your babies also need calcium and vitamin supplements dusted on their food. If you give them pinkies (baby rodents), you will meet many of their mineral and vitamin needs. Ditto goldfish. Never depend on crickets alone.
Heat: An under-cage
heater plus a basking heat source make a good combination. Provide a range
of temperatures if possible. Heat
rocks also provide a good basking site.
Clean yours often to discourage bacterial growth.
Water: Monitors love playing in the water. They also love turning over their water dish and making a royal mess. They snake their head under it and flip it over. Possibly trying to hide, looking for food, or just having fun. Use a very heavy water container or buy a wet/dry vacuum cleaner.
Handling: Water monitors tame quite easily.
Handle them often.
Inquisitive: Monitors like to explore their surroundings. Give them branches and rocks to climb on and caves to explore. If you provide them a box of sand or dirt, they will probably burrow into it for fun. They like variety.
Tail Info: Half your monitor’s length is tail. Unlike iguanas (and many other lizards), monitors do not “drop” their tails. Grabbing them by the tail is still not a good habit to get into. Lots of monitors can speedily snake around and give you a bite that leaves a scar that lasts longer than a tattoo on your butt. Hurts almost as much, too. Monitors also do not run from very many predators. In the wild, they prey on crocodile eggs. They do run from hostile momma crocs. Most monitors prefer to start fights rather than run from them.
Last Words: Remember that monitors walk around in their own digested food. This means they probably carry salmonella. Wash your hands after handling all reptiles. Also, don’t feel too bad if your monitor never grows to full size. Full-grown monitors need way lots of room. LA.
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