Juvenile Water Monitor Lizard - Varanus salvator

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Photograph by Scott Tuason

The genus name for monitor lizards, Varanus, is a Latin word derived from "Waran", an Arabic word for monitor. The "monitor" name probably originated from the superstitious belief that Nile monitors warned of the presence of crocodiles. Nile monitors eat crocodile eggs and were therefore often seen near crocodile nesting sites. There are "40 or so" species of monitors (number varies with different references.)

Approximately two-thirds of the monitor species are from Australia, while the one-third are found in Africa, the Middle East, tropical Asia, and some Pacific Islands. Most monitor species grow to lengths of 3 feet or more, making them the largest of all living lizards. Monitors range in size from the smaller tree monitors (1.5 feet) to the Komodo dragon, an endangered species native to Indonesia, which may reach lengths of 10 feet.

The Malayan water monitor (Varanus salvator) is known by several other names including: Asian water monitor, water monitor, Malayan monitor, common water monitor, two-banded monitor, ring lizard, rice lizard, plain lizard, no-mark lizard.

This brightly coloured juvenile was captured on film in the Philippines. The "Water Monitor", is the largest lizard found in the Philippines, growing up to 2-1/2 meters, and is a cousin of the Komodo Dragon. It is locally known as "bayawak" and is sometimes called a "chicken lizard" because it may feed on chicken eggs or chicks. Monitors are opportunistic feeders and scavengers and eat a variety of small animals, insects, fish, molluscs and carrion. As their name implies, they prefer living near fresh or salt- water bodies and are good swimmers.

Varanid lizards are widely distributed throughout the Philippines with at least two species: V. olivaceus (Gray's Monitor) and V. salvator, (Water Monitor) with several subspecies. Although fairly common, monitors are at risk due to habitat destruction and unregulated hunting.

 

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