Open main menu

The Nile monitor (Varanus niloticus) is a large member of the monitor family (Varanidae) found throughout much of Africa, but is absent from the west, where it is replaced by Varanus stellatus.[1] Other common names include the African small-grain lizard,[2] water leguaan[3] or river leguaan (leguan, leguaan, and likkewaan mean monitor lizard in South African English, and can be used interchangeably).[4]

Nile monitor
Nile monitor lizard (Varanus niloticus).jpg
Nile monitor lizard (Varanus niloticus) head.jpg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Family: Varanidae
Genus: Varanus
Subgenus: Polydaedalus
V. niloticus
Binomial name
Varanus niloticus
Nile monitor (varanus niloticus) distribution map.png
Nile monitor's native range
  • Lacerta monitor Linnaeus, 1758
  • Lacertus tupinambis Lacépède, 1788
  • Lacerta capensis Sparrman, 1783
  • Lacerta nilotica Linnaeus, 1766
  • Tupinambis elegans Daudin, 1802
  • Tupinambus ornatus Daudin, 1803
  • Monitor niloticus Lichtenstein, 1818
  • Monitor pulcher Leach, 1819
  • Stellio saurus Laurenti, 1768
  • Varanus niloticus Mertens, 1942
  • Varanus (Polydaedalus) niloticus ornatus Mertens, 1942
  • Varanus (Polydaedalus) ornatus Böhme & Ziegler, 1997



Nile monitors can grow to about 120 to 220 cm (3 ft 11 in to 7 ft 3 in) in length, with the largest specimens attaining 244 cm (8 ft).[5][6] In an average-sized specimen, the snout-to-vent length will be around 50 cm (1 ft 8 in).[7] In body mass, adults have been reported to vary widely, one study claiming only 0.8 to 1.7 kg (1.8 to 3.7 lb), others state weights ranging from 5.9 to 15 kg (13 to 33 lb) in big monitors. Variations may be due to age or environmental conditions.[8][9][10] Exceptionally large specimens may scale as much as 20 kg (44 lb), but this species weighs somewhat less on average than the bulkier rock monitor.[11] They have muscular bodies, strong legs, and powerful jaws. Their teeth are sharp and pointed in juvenile animals and become blunt and peg-like in adults. They also possess sharp claws used for climbing, digging, defense, or tearing at their prey. Like all monitors, they have forked tongues, with highly developed olfactory properties. The Nile monitor has quite striking, but variable, skin patterns, as they are greyish-brown above with greenish-yellow barring on the tail and large, greenish-yellow rosette-like spots on their backs with a blackish tiny spot in the middle. Their throats and undersides are an ochre-yellow to a creamy-yellow, often with faint barring.[11]

Their nostrils are placed high on their snouts, indicating these animals are highly aquatic. They are also excellent climbers and quick runners on land. Nile monitors feed on fish, snails, frogs, crocodile eggs and young, snakes, birds, small mammals, insects, and carrion.They are also the second largest reptile in the Nile river.

Distribution and habitatEdit

Nile monitors are native to Africa and the species is distributed throughout the entire central and southern regions of the continent, including Sudan and a portion of central Egypt along the Nile river.[12] They are not found in any of the desert regions of Africa, however, as they thrive around rivers.[13][14] Nile monitors were reported to live in and around the Jordan River, Dead Sea, and wadis of the Judaean Desert in Israel until the late 19th Century, though they are now extinct in the region.[15] They were also introduced to California, where they don't appear to be invasive and have no known negative impact. 1

Invasive speciesEdit

In Florida, established breeding populations of Nile monitors have been known to exist in different parts of the state since at least 1990.[16] The vast majority of the established breeding population of the species is in Lee County, Florida, particularly in the Cape Coral and surrounding regions, including the nearby barrier islands (Sanibel, Captiva, and North Captiva), Pine Island, Fort Myers, and Punta Rassa. Established populations also exist in adjacent Charlotte County, especially on Gasparilla Island.[14] Areas with a sizeable number of Nile monitor sightings in Florida include Palm Beach County just southwest of West Palm Beach along State Road 80.[17] In July 2008, a Nile monitor was spotted in Homestead, a small city southwest of Miami.[18] Other sightings have been reported near Hollywood, Naranja, and as far south as Key Largo in the Florida Keys.[17] The potential for the established population of Nile monitors in Lee, Charlotte, and other counties in Florida, to negatively impact indigenous crocodilians (American alligator, Alligator mississippiensis, and American crocodile, Crocodylus acutus) is enormous, given that they normally raid crocodile nests, eat eggs, and prey on small crocodiles in Africa. Anecdotal evidence indicates a high rate of disappearance of domestic pets and feral cats in Cape Coral.[14]

In captivityEdit

Nile monitors are often found in the pet trade despite a highly aggressive demeanor and resistance to taming. Juvenile monitors will tail whip as a defensive measure, and as adults they are capable of inflicting moderate to serious wounds from biting and scratching. Nile monitors require a large cage as juveniles quickly grow when fed a varied diet, and large adults often require custom-built quarters.

"There are few of these lizards less suited to life in captivity than the Nile Monitor. Buffrenil (1992) considered that, when fighting for its life, a Nile Monitor was a more dangerous adversary than a crocodile of a similar size. Their care presents particular problems on account of the lizards' enormous size and lively dispositions. Very few of the people who buy brightly-coloured baby Nile Monitors can be aware that, within a couple of years, their purchase will have turned into an enormous, ferocious carnivore, quite capable of breaking the family cat's neck with a single snap and swallowing it whole."[19]


  1. ^ Dowell, S.A, D.M. Portik, V. de Buffrenil, I Ineich, E Greenbaum, S.O. Kolokotronis and E.R. Hekkala. 2015. Molecular data from contemporary and historical collections reveal a complex story of cryptic diversification in the Varanus (Polydaedalus) niloticus Species Group. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2015.10.004
  2. ^ "Synonyms of Nile Monitor (Veranus niloticus)". Encyclopedia of Life. Retrieved 15 December 2013.
  3. ^ Varanus niloticus, The Reptile Database
  4. ^ "leguan - definition". Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 17 December 2013.
  5. ^ Nile Monitor Care Sheet
  6. ^ Enge, K. M., Krysko, K. L., Hankins, K. R., Campbell, T. S., & King, F. W. (2004). Status of the Nile monitor (Varanus niloticus) in southwestern Florida. Southeastern Naturalist, 3(4), 571-582.
  7. ^ "Varanus niloticus". Monitor Lizards – Captive Husbandry. Archived from the original on 25 October 2012. Retrieved 15 December 2013.
  8. ^ Condon, K. (1987). A kinematic analysis of mesokinesis in the Nile monitor (Varanus niloticus). Experimental biology, 47(2), 73.
  9. ^ Hirth & Latif 1979
  10. ^ "ANIMALS - Varanus niloticus". Dr. Giuseppe Mazza's Photomazza. Retrieved 2013-06-06.
  11. ^ a b "Nile Monitors". L. Campbell's Herp Page. Retrieved 2013-06-06.
  12. ^ (Schleich et al., 1996; Spawls et al., 2002).
  13. ^ Reptile Specialists (Nile monitor)
  14. ^ a b c "NAS - Invasive Species FactSheet: Varanus niloticus (Nile monitor)". Nonindenous Aquatic Species. USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Gainesville, FL: United States Geological Survey. Archived from the original on 2009-05-09.
  15. ^ Baker., Tristram, Henry (2013). The Fauna and Flora of Palestine. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 148. ISBN 9781108042048. OCLC 889948524.
  16. ^ (Campbell, 2003; Enge et al. 2004).
  17. ^ a b Everglades CISMA
  18. ^ Hofmeyer, Erik (10 June 2008). "Homestead ARB home to diverse array of wildlife". Homestead Air Reserve Base News. Homestead Air Reserve Base. Retrieved 15 December 2013.
  19. ^ Bennett, Daniel (1995). A Little Book of Monitor Lizards: A Guide to the Monitor Lizards of the World and Their Care in Captivity. Viper Press. ISBN 978-0952663201.