Tag Archives: Monitor Lizard

Common Indian Monitor (Varanus bengalensis)

Monitor lizards include some of the largest of their kind on Earth with 70 or more species spread around the globe. In India, we have the common Indian monitor or Bengal monitor, yellow monitor, water monitor and Thar desert monitor.

DISTRIBUTION: Common Indian or Bengal Monitor (Varanus bengalensis) can be encountered across the Indian sub-continent and thrive in lower elevations, be it moist forests or semi-arid deserts.

As the most widely distributed of varanid lizards, their global range extends to west and south-east Asia; from the riverine valleys of Iran to Afghanistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Burma and Indonesia. The clouded monitor is considered a sub-species of the common Indian monitor.

HABITAT: They dig soil to create burrows that are used as shelters along rock crevices and buildings. Common Indian monitors are not territorial and are constantly exploring new range in response to food availability and the seasons.

BIOLOGY: Monitors wear a dark studded, leathery hide stretched from snout to tail, around 100 cms is the average length of a Bengal monitor. They constantly flick a forked tongue, much like their serpent relatives, employed as a sensory organ rather than to swallow food. They store fat as reserves especially in their powerful tail that can grow up to 100 cms, a good source in times of prey scarcity.

Sub-adults are comparatively more colourful with cross bars across their throat, neck and belly; colouration has been observed to vary across the range.

Monitors are fantastic swimmers, reptiles with the highest standard metabolic rate, capable of submerging themselves for a whopping 17 minutes.

One of Into the Wild’s camera traps caught a common Indian monitor cooling off in a rock pool set in his natural habitat in Magadi. Click the forward arrow really fast to watch a stop motion of this rare footage:

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Read more about these active lizards:


BEHAVIOR: Being diurnal, they sleep during the night and begin their day with a good bask at around 6a.m. These shy lizards avoid humans to every possible extent and are known to be solitary by nature. Though certain varanids are known to possess a small amount of venom, the Bengal monitor makes no claims to such toxicity; even when caught, they rarely bite.

BREEDING: Their breeding season is between June and September with male combat emerging as early as April.

FEEDING: A regular meal for a common Indian monitor could mean eggs, arthopods, snails, ants, beetles, grubs, among invertebrates. They are also known to feast on vertebrates such as fish, frogs, lizards and snakes but rarely. Even rarer is their scavenging of dead carcass.

Monitor lizards in India are significant beyond their natural history. Legend has it that Tanaji Malusare, one of Shivaji’s commanders, used Yeshwanthi (his monitor lizard) and rope to scale a rock face and launch an attack on his enemy, winning the Battle of Sinhagad in 1670.

Read more about how illegal trade of monitor lizard meat has entered the urban market here: http://wp.me/p5P9Ju-L

Monitors in hot soup!

Large monitor lizards once occupied the dry scrub forestation on the Hosur and Kanakapura roads towards the outskirts of Bangalore. The centuries of demand for its meat has put it on  Schedule II, part I of the Indian Wildlife Act, making it a criminal offence to hunt or kill them.

Regardless, persistent poaching of these active lizards continues; their meat believed to be Indian Viagra, a medicine for aches and pains and other ridiculous superstitions.

The demand for monitor lizard from local hunters, villagers or tribal communities is an ancient saga that never seemed to change; however, in a more disturbing turn of events, urban consumers have found a taste for the illegal bush meat. Obviously hunters seized the opportunity and began to sell the meat more boldly.

Monitor lizards find their way to market, The Hindu:


Effectively, the easy access to monitor lizard meat has brought it to the tables of wealthy folks as conveniently as table meat (chicken, mutton, beef etc). Dhabas have tie ups with various poachers and offer monitor lizard a la carte cooked in popular recipes of kabab, 65, manchurian and other ‘delicacies’. As the meat is also considered a good supplement for body building, certain gyms have begun to supply them on the side. The uses for monitor lizard don’t stop with the consumption of its meat. Black magic practitioners make oil using their fat.

Dead, alive or in any other condition – monitor lizards are killed and traded as a commodity for human consumption under blind faith and false promises.

In the year 2010, a raid was carried out on a community of poachers from the village Sikkarimedu, situated off the Krishnagiri main highway. 43 monitor lizards were seized. The village was dominated by a local tribe, traditionally hunters who depended on the forest or engaged in farming. From a self-sustained life to poaching wildlife, it was not long before they found commercial use for their traditional skill and knowledge; trapping monitors, jackals, porcupines, quails, muniyas and other scrub jungle animals for consumption and sale.

Record shot of specimens from Sikkarimedu raid

As demand for monitor lizard meant grows unrestrained, Sikkarimedu and other communities continue to hunt out these defenseless reptiles. Awareness about this illegal meat, monitor lizard conservation status (both globally and locally), coupled with lockdowns of poaching basecamps and strict enforcement of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act are ways in which we can give them a shot at survival.

Read more about common Indian monitor’s habitat, range, distribution here: Urban Ecology: Common Indian monitor lizard