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Savannah Monitor Fact File

Ochotona princeps

Credit: SqueakyMarmot, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Weight

4-8kg

(8.8-17.6lbs)

Length

0.9-1.2m

(3-4ft)

Lifespan

Wild 8-10 years

Captive 25 years

Diet

Carnivores

Insects, Amphibians

Conservation Status

IUCN

Least Concern

Monitoring the Savannah!

The savannah monitor is a large lizard species which enjoys a wide range across parts of Africa.

They spend the wet season seeking out as much food as possible so that they can survive through the dry season when it is common for this species to not eat at all for up to four months.

Female savannah monitors may dig a hole in the soil in to which the can deposit their eggs but it is also common for them to dig in to termite mounds and leave the eggs there.

These animals are threatened by hunting for food, leather, traditional medicines and to supply the international pet trade.

Read on to learn more about these remarkable reptiles.

Appearance

What does the Savannah Monitor look like?

Savannah monitors are a stocky monitor species with a broad head. Across their body they have grey or light yellow scales. On the head are light yellow markings. Their underside is colored a yellowish-grey or flat yellow.


The coloration of this species is highly variable across their wide range.


At the end of the body is a tail which tapers to a point. Running along its length are alternating brown or yellowish rings.


The tongue is colored blue and has a forked tip.

Adaptations

How does the Savannah Monitor survive in its habitat?


The teeth of the savannah monitor are rather blunt and serve to crack through the hard shells of prey.


They are able to move the hyoid bone out of place which allows them to consume larger prey items.


Their forked tongue allows them to sense smells in the air.

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Diet

What does the Savannah Monitor eat?

Savannah monitors are carnivores and will primarily feed on invertebrates though some eggs from reptiles and frogs may also be consumed.


Food is swallowed whole with their teeth primarily used to crack through the hard shells of these animals.


These animals have shown an ability to consume poisonous millipedes without coming to harm. They run their chin over the millipede for up to 15 minutes to make it expel the harmful liquid before consuming it.


This species will gorge itself on food over the wet season and then feast over the 4 month long dry season.

Learn more about the Savannah Monitor in this video from The Wild Side With Clay on YouTube

Range

Where do you find the Savannah Monitor?

Africa is the native home of the savannah monitor. Here they can be found in the following countries – Benin; Burkina Faso; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; The Democratic Republic of the Congo; Côte d'Ivoire; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Gambia; Ghana; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Mali; Mauritania; Niger; Nigeria; Senegal; South Sudan; Togo and Uganda.

Their current presence in Liberia and Sierra Leone is considered uncertain with not all authorities listing this species from these areas.

An individual has been collected in Mexico indicating an introduced population may have established.

Habitat

Where can the Savannah Monitor survive?

This species is known from forest, savanna, shrubland and grassland habitats.


They will rest in a burrow. They may dig some of their own burrows but will also make use of those abandoned by other species. Some are also located in abandoned termite burrows.

Savannah Monitor (Varanus exanthematicus)

Credit: Melanie Jäger, CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons

Reproduction

How does the Savannah Monitor produce its young?

Breeding takes place during the dry season while they undergo their feasting period.


Females produce a maximum clutch of up to 41 eggs though this is rather variable across their range. In some areas they can produce as many as 41 clutches of eggs each year.


They deposit the eggs in a hole in the soil which they dig or the inside of a termite mound.


Eggs hatch following an incubation period of five to six months long.

Behavior

What does the Savannah Monitor do during its day?

These animals are primarily active during the wet season. Over the dry season they will undergo a period of inactivity known as aestivation during which they will rest in a tree hollow or burrow.


They are active during the day but will seek out shelter during the harsh heat.


This species is rather territorial and will defend its territory against attack. To defend themselves they will thrash their body and hiss.

Savannah Monitor (Varanus exanthematicus)

Credit: Σ64, CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Predators and Threats

What stops the Savannah Monitor from surviving and thriving?

Natural predators of the savanna monitor include snakes and birds of prey.


If threatened these animals may play dead or produce a foul smelling excretion from their body.


This species is considered to be common in some of its habitats.


In some areas within their range they are subject to hunting for food, skins and to produce traditional medicines.


Within the global pet trade they are likely the most popular species of monitor lizard. As many as 100,000 of these animals may be being collected from the wild to supply this trade each year. A focus for this collection is pregnant females which allow the collector to take the young.

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Quick facts

The rock monitor or white-throated monitor (Varanus albigularis) may also be referred to as the savannah monitor despite being a different species. Previously they were listed as the same species.

They may also be known as the Bosc monitor. This name is taken from the first person to describe the species,  French scientist Louis Bosc.

This species was first described for modern science during 1792.

Savannah Monitor (Varanus exanthematicus)

Credit: Shizhao, CC BY 1.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/1.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

References

Bennett, D., Sweet, S., Wilms, T., Wagner, P., Segniagbeto, G., Niagate, B., Branch, W.R. & Rödel, M.-O. 2021. Varanus exanthematicusThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2021: e.T178346A16967669. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2021-2.RLTS.T178346A16967669.en. Accessed on 11 April 2022.

Diemer, D. 2000. "Varanus exanthematicus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 11, 2022 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Varanus_exanthematicus/

Hoglezoo.org. 2022. Africa Savannah Monitor | Utah's Hogle Zoo. [online] Available at: <https://www.hoglezoo.org/meet_our_animals/animal_finder/africa_savannah_monitor/> [Accessed 11 April 2022].

Elmwood Park Zoo. 2022. African Savannah Monitor – Elmwood Park Zoo. [online] Available at: <https://www.elmwoodparkzoo.org/animal/savannah-monitor/> [Accessed 11 April 2022].

Zoomontana.org. 2022. Savannah Monitor. [online] Available at: <https://www.zoomontana.org/animals/savannah-monitor> [Accessed 11 April 2022].

Once in a Wild. 2022. Savannah Monitor – Once in a Wild. [online] Available at: <https://onceinawild.com/our-animals/savannah-monitor/> [Accessed 11 April 2022].

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