Monitor Lizards of Africa

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One of the toughest characters in our neighbourhood here at Thornybush Collection is not among the Big Five, in fact it isn't even an animal. However, the monitor lizard does come equipped with a formidable arsenal of teeth and claws.

There are two kinds of monitor lizards in Southern Africa, the Nile Monitor (Water Leguaan) and the Rock Monitor (Tree Leguaan).

Nile monitors can reach 2m in length with their tail taking up about 60% of this, while the rock version is slightly shorter and stockier with tails longer than their bodies.

No morsel is safe

Monitors are fierce predators, hunting anywhere that the chase leads them, even under ground. They will eat almost anything, and no insect, reptile, bird, frog, or small mammal is safe from them once they are on the scent. Even pets, carrion, and rubbish qualify for inclusion in the monitors' menu. Once they have latched onto their meal, it is difficult for them to release their jaws and they will usually swallow each bite in one go.

Water monitors are the main predators of crocodile eggs, often working in tandem, with one distracting the mother croc while the other digs into her nest. Their own eggs are often laid in termite mounds, where the young lizards can incubate warmly and hatch to a feast of these unsuspecting insects.

They sniff out their prey using a combination of their snake-like tongues and a fluid-filled bi-lobed sensory organ in the roof of their mouth, called Jacobson's organ.

Kitted out for survival

Unlike snakes, monitor lizards have movable eyes and external ears – all the better to see and hear with. Their short powerful legs are tipped with sharp strong claws perfect for digging and climbing and the tail of the water monitor serves as a powerful engine when swimming. Their swimming style is similar to that of the crocodile and they can remain underwater for over an hour. Don't let the short legs fool you, they are lightning-quick over short distances, travelling at speeds of up to 45 km an hour.

Jumping is no problem either, and Nile monitors are prone to launching themselves into the water from a convenient tree if they spot something tasty.

Both types of African monitor are extremely aggressive and rarely back down from a challenge. When cornered they will commence hissing and swishing their tails and may even feign death to avoid giving way. In extreme cases they will scratch, lash their tails and can bite with the tenacity of a bull terrier.

Monitor lizards are one of those fascinating African creatures that are best admired from a distance during your safari.

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Sunday, 20 August 2017