Nile Monitor

(Varanus niloticus)




Facts about this animal

Nile monitors, the largest lizard in Africa, grow to about 180 – 210 cm in total length They have a muscular bodys, strong legs, powerful jaws and sharp claws for climbing, digging, defense, or tearing at their prey. Like all monitors they have a forked tongue, with highly developed olfactory properties. In fact they can identify prey, enemies or a mate by smell. Their nostrils are placed high on the snout, indicating that these animals are highly aquatic swimmers and divers (Nile monitors can remain underwater for more than an hour). But they are also excellent climbers (in particular when young) and quick runners on land (adults can easily outrun people over short distances). The body and tail color is gray-brown or dark olive with darker reticulation, and 6-9 yellowish bands or bands of yellow-gold ocelli. The belly is yellow with black spots.The Nile monitor lives in long self-made burrows os takes over abandoned burrows dug by other animals or abandoned termite mounds. It retreats to these burrows at night Mostly it lives solitary but if there is enough food other conspecifics are tolerated nearby. It prefers to lay its eggs into termite mounds: The female tears open the nest (in particular in the rainy season when the walls are soft) and deposits up to 60 eggs without attempting to cover them. The termites quickly repair the nest and the eggs are incubated safely, with constant heat and humidity, providing the mound remains occupied by termites. When suitable termitaria appear to be unavailable however, eggs are deposited in burrows, or holes in riverbanks or in trees along water courses Theincubation period lasts several months. Eggs collected in the wild or laid by wild caught females hatch after 141-150 days at 27-30.5oC, 120-137 days at 30oC and 92 days at 32oC During the dry season in tropical Africa and in the cooler months in temperate regions activity is reduced or suspended. Nile monitors will eat anything that fits into their mouth and can be swallowed as a whole, like fish, snails, slugs, frogs, toads, eggs (in particular crocodile eggs), birds, small mammals, young crocodiles, turtles, crabs, large insects, termites, caterpillars and carrion.

Did you know?
Young specimens have sharp pointed teeth that become blunt and peg-like with age and develop ridges on the crown. These changes are generally attributed to a shift in diet from fast moving prey such as insect and lizards to a diet of more sessile, but better armoured, prey such as molluscs and crustaceans that must be crushed in the jaws before being swallowed. Females mature at around 120cm total length and initially produce only about ten eggs per year. Large female Nile monitors however can lay enormous clutches of eggs. (up to 60 in a single clutch) By producing large numbers of eggs that hatch comparatively quickly, The Nile monitor, like other African monitor lizards, enhances its chances of survival. Most eggs weigh 46-52g. Therefore the weight of a clutch of eggs from a large female can approach 3,000g! It is not surprising then that females spend most of the spring and summer feeding heavily and accumulating massive fat reserves which are then converted into egg yolk in the liver during the long period of inactivity during the winter, Or the dry season. The need for females to accumulate large fat deposits and then greatly reduce activity during ovagenesis appears to be important in a number of both temperate and tropical varanids.


Name (Scientific) Varanus niloticus
Name (English) Nile Monitor
Name (French) Varan du Nil
Name (German) Nilwaran
Name (Spanish) Varano del Nilo
CITES Status Appendix II
CMS Status Not listed



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Range Angola , Benin , Botswana , Burkina Faso , Burundi , Cameroon , Central African Republic , Chad , Congo , Côte d'Ivoire , Democratic Republic of the Congo , Egypt , Equatorial Guinea , Eritrea , Ethiopia , Gabon , Gambia , Ghana , Guinea , Guinea-Bissau , Kenya , Liberia , Malawi , Mali , Mauritania , Mozambique , Namibia , Niger , Nigeria , Rwanda , Senegal , Sierra Leone , Somalia , South Africa , Sudan , Swaziland , Togo , Uganda , United Republic of Tanzania , Zambia , Zimbabwe and USA (introduced in Florida).
Habitat Savannahs and forests near permanent bodies of water (rivers, swamps, pools, lakes and even seashores). Exempt from desert regions but can be found at desert fringes They will also readily inhabit human settlements and cultivations
Wild population Unknown
Zoo population 74 reported to ISIS (2008)

In the Zoo

Nile Monitor


How this animal should be transported

For air transport, Container Note 41 of the IATA Live Animals Regulations should be followed.


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Why do zoos keep this animal

Zoos keep the Nile Monitor primarily for educational reasons. This fairly large monitor is an attractive representative of the African herpetofauna, which is an interesting component of any African savanna, forest, or wetland display. It is also of interest to compare this species with Varanus exanthematicus, which is adapted to drier habitats.