This detailed, comprehensive guide on savannah monitor care will teach you about their terrarium parameters, health, diet, behavior, and more!
The African savannah is most notable for being home to elephants, hyenas, and lions. An underlooked and eccentric creature also roams these grasslands. Native to sub-Saharan Africa, the savannah monitor, scientifically known as Varanus exanthematicus, has a fascinating habit of playing dead. In the wild, when they are distressed by humans or other animals, they will avoid further annoyance by faking their death. Despite their lack of interest in humans, the savannah monitor has made its way into households. It has become a relatively popular and interesting pet.
Savannah Monitor Availability
There are limited spaces where a pet owner can buy savannah monitors since they are not often found in pet stores. However, the internet makes them more available and easy to acquire. A juvenile savannah monitor lizard can be found on some internet sites for just under $25 before shipping costs.
In the wild, savannah monitor lizards can live around eight to ten years. They have natural predators and can die from exposure to the elements and humans. While in captivity, these lizards can live up to twenty years.
Savannah Monitor Appearance
Savannah monitors are known by their long tails and stocky frame with strong, robustly clawed limbs. Baby savannah monitors are around 6 to 10 inches long, and they grow rapidly, reaching maturity in only two years. Adult savannah monitors can be anywhere from 2.5 feet to 4 feet. Much of their length coming from their tails.
Typically, savannah monitors are grey or light yellow with scales that feature circular patches of dark brown and yellow spots. Their tails tend to be banded with dark yellow and black or gray colors. These colors and patterns help them blend into their surroundings in the savannah.
Savannah Monitor Morphs
There are known albino savannah monitors, but their colors and patterns are relatively the same and depend on the region of Africa they come from. If they’re from the coast, they tend to be lighter colors. Darker colored savannah monitors usually come from inland areas.
Savannah Monitor Terrarium Requirements
Terrariums and enclosures for savannah monitor care have some specific requirements in order to mimic their natural habitat.
For savannah monitors, it’s important to have an enclosure that has plenty of space for them to explore. Young and smaller monitors will need a space that’s about 36”x24” with a good amount of height. For adults that are larger, enclosures should be at least 6’x5’. They should have a lot of overhead room for trees and limbs for them to perch on.
Temperatures in tanks and enclosures can range from 75 degrees—at the coolest—to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. This is for when savannah monitors are basking. Because these lizards are cold-blooded, they will bask in the sun to keep warm. This means savannah monitors will need a designated basking spot that is kept at a higher temperature.
A heat lamp or a heating pad might be necessary to facilitate the basking area. Consider using a ceramic heat source to keep the nighttime temperature above 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Because savannah monitors will bask in the sun while in the wild to absorb vitamin D, it’s important for their enclosures to have good quality UVB lighting in order for them to get enough vitamin D. This light should mimic savannah monitors’ natural cycle of being in the sun. Lighting should be kept on for 10 to 12 hours a day. It’s also important for these UVB bulbs to be changed every 6 months or so. Their emission of appropriate light will fade after that point.
While savannah monitors live in hot and dry climates in Africa, their enclosure humidity can range from zero moisture in the basking area to 100 percent humidity in other areas. Using a hygrometer will help monitor humidity inside enclosures. It’s best to keep the humidity around 60 percent in the cooler parts of the tank.
Because savannah monitors tend to gobble up their food, it’s important to choose a substrate that will not clog their digestion in case it is ingested during feeding time. Choosing a semi-digestible substrate like calcium sand might be a good option in this case. Some owners choose to have an entirely different enclosure with a flat surface specifically for feeding.
In addition, savannah monitors like to dig and burrow. A mix of bedding and substrate is necessary for them to live a natural life. A mixture of sand and organic soil is a good choice, but it should be at least two feet deep.
Plants and Decorations
As mentioned previously, savannah monitors require tanks or enclosures with plenty of height. In the wild, they tend to bask on high areas. It’s completely natural for them to climb in their tanks. It is important to provide a large branch that is sturdy enough for the monitor’s weight. Ideally, the basking spot would be at the top of this branch. If this branch reaches to the top of the tank, make sure that the lid is always securely fastened to prevent the lizard from escaping.
Rocks can also be included, but savannah monitors can be destructive, so anything that is added to the tank or enclosure should be durable and non-toxic.
While the substrate, soil, and tank should be cleaned every two weeks or so, it’s important that there is daily cleaning for feces, which should be spot cleaned. Usually, monitor owners will keep their lizard in a hard pet carrier while the entire enclosure is cleaned.
Since savannah monitors don’t care for human contact in the wild, it’s important to handle baby monitors regularly when they are meant to be pets. Regular handling when they’re young can desensitize them to humans being around and in their enclosures. If they are not properly handled when they’re babies, they are prone to aggressive behavior and can bite as they age. Though they need regular handling, it’s also important to give them time alone because they are naturally solitary creatures.
Is Savannah Monitor The Best Pet?
Savannah Monitor Health
Savannah monitors are prone to a few health issues in captivity, and they are not generally considered beginner friendly animals. Sunken eyes, thin bodies, red spots around the eyes or mouth, and irregular eating habits are all signs that a monitor is unhealthy.
Common Health Issues: Because savannah monitors get most of their vitamin D from the sun, a common issue in enclosures in a calcium/phosphorus imbalance. Monitors need vitamin D to properly absorb and process calcium and phosphorus, so if they don’t get enough UV light, they can become ill.
Other common illnesses are mites and internal parasites, egg binding in females, and obesity and liver disease for less active animals.
Healthy Signs: Healthy savannah monitors will have smooth scales and bright, clear eyes. Their bodies will be rounded and strong. They are voracious eaters, so if they are eating heartily, it’s a good sign that they are healthy.
Savannah Monitor Food & Diet
In the wild, savannah monitor lizards primarily feed on arthropods such as centipedes and scorpions. They also have been known to eat smaller reptiles and mammals as well as ground dwelling birds and their eggs. Most notably, savannah monitors are known for eating snails in the wild. They have specially adapted mandibles and strong, blunted teeth in order to break snails’ tough shells. These lizards will also scavenge.
In captivity, it’s common for savannah monitors to eat protein rich foods, like mealworms, mice, crickets, and hard-boiled eggs. Roaches, earthworms, and snails might also be given.
Savannah Monitor Behavior & Temperament
In the wild, savannah monitors are diurnal, meaning they are awake during daylight hours, and typically, they spend much of their time basking in the sun to keep themselves warm or hunting. Though they mostly stay on the ground, they also tend to climb trees to hunt for prey or to escape predators.
Typically, these creatures live alone and can be territorial. They will use their long tails and sharp claws, inflate their throats, and hiss loudly to ward off rival males or predators.
In captivity, they tend to be more docile as long as they are handled from a young age.
While savannah monitors are interesting creatures, the proper enclosures and environments are needed for them to have a full and happy life. They need daily maintenance and handling to ensure they are properly adapted to human interaction. With proper savannah monitor care and handling, they can be wonderful pets.