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:
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