The days are getting longer and warmer, water levels in our lakes and rivers are rising, and the landscape is getting greener. Spring time is here. We all have different reasons to rejoice this time of year, and a big one for us is knowing that lots of baby Savannah Monitors will soon arrive. Reptile farmers in African countries like Ghana have spent the recent weeks responsibly collecting Savannah Monitor eggs, and bringing them to facilities where they can be hatched in a controlled environment. And now, some of these healthy hatchlings have made the long journey to Scales ‘N Tails stores, where we will care for them as they wait to go home with a new loving family. These little monitors only come to us one time a year, and we’re celebrating their arrival by naming them as our May 2019 Animal of the Month.

The Savannah Monitor (Varanus exanthematicus) is a medium sized monitor lizard native to, as the name implies, the grasslands and savannahs of Central Africa. In the northern part of the continent, their range extends nearly coast to coast, from Sudan in the east all the way to Senegal in the west. They are found as far south as the Congo River, where they are replaced with their larger cousins, Black and White Throat Monitors. (These three monitors were actually once thought to be a single species as they share a very similar morphology.)

Savannah Monitors, as well as Black and White Throat Monitors, can best be described as large, stout lizards. These monitors have a very wide, bulky body with relatively short legs, toes, and even heads when compared to other monitor lizards. (I like to think of them as the Basset Hounds of the lizard kingdom.) Hatchlings are just a few inches long, but they quickly grow to an average mature length of 2 to 5 feet, with typical specimens reaching about 3 feet. The skin covering their neck and back is distinguished by their large bumpy scales, which are so unique they were actually named for them. The scientific name exanthematicus is derived from a Greek work meaning an “eruption or blister of the skin.”


As is common for animals that live in very hot climates, Savannah Monitors are burrowers and spend much of their time underground. They are excellent diggers and will happily dig out their own burrows and tunnels if necessary, but they are just as likely to move into burrows abandoned by other animals. These underground shelters provide security from predators, relief from the mid-day heat of equatorial Africa, and the more humid environment necessary to avoid dehydration and for healthy shedding.

Wild Savannah Monitors diet consists primarily of insects like millipedes, scorpions, and large crickets, but they will consume almost anything they can catch. Bird eggs, amphibians, and other reptiles are also common sources of food. Captive animals should also receive as varied a diet as possible, with the bulk of their diet coming from insects like crickets, roaches, and mealworms. Older animals can be fed rodents on occasion, but they should not be offered to young Savannahs whose diet should consist strictly of invertebrates. We must note that these lizards can and will eat themselves into obesity if allowed to. To prevent this, avoid overfeeding them, (they will rarely turn down a meal even when full,) keep the emphasis on invertebrates instead of rodents, and give them enough room to exercise.

Since Savannah Monitors are native to equatorial Africa, captive animals require fairly high temperatures in order to thrive. An ambient daytime temperature of 82 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit should be maintained year round. These animals also enjoy basking in direct sunlight, so a basking spot that reaches 100+ degrees is also recommended. (Some suggest basking temperatures up to 130 degrees, which they could surely tolerate, however we suggest the basking spot be kept under 110 degrees.) Since this animal is a natural sun bather, it is also important to provide a source of UV for them. This can be achieved by utilizing a Mercury Vapor Bulb, like a Zoo Med PowerSun, that serves as both a heat and UV source, or by simply using a basic heat bulb in conjunction with a linear or compact fluorescent UV bulb. Night temperatures should not be significantly lower than day time temps, although slightly decreasing it to around 74 degrees is certainly safe. (Since this is slightly higher than typical room temperatures, we recommend using a Zoo Med Ceramic Heat Emitter in order to provide night time heat without illuminating the enclosure.)

The enclosure setup itself should be kept fairly simple. As mentioned previously, Savannah Monitors are diggers, so the ideal enclosure will allow for this natural behavior. For substrate, we recommend using Zoo Med Cypress Mulch at a depth approximately ½ to ¾ the length of the animal. This product is ideal as it is excellent at holding moisture which helps keep the humidity in the enclosure at a healthy level.

You’ll want to find a heavy water dish for these guys as their active nature often leads to flipped over water bowls. (A ceramic crock dish that can easily be disinfected is our ideal choice.) The final element you’ll want to include in the enclosure is some sturdy wood for climbing. Sandblasted grapevine and Zoo Med Mopani Wood are both excellent choices that both provide the animal an enriched environment with more opportunity for exercise and beautify the look of the terrarium for the owner.

While environmental requirements for Savannah Monitors are fairly simple, it is important to remember that these lizards grow quickly, and reach a fairly large adult size. A baby can be kept happily in a 20-gallon terrarium, but it will out grow that enclosure very quickly. A mature Savannah should be provided an enclosure that measures at least 6 feet long by 2 feet wide. Glass caging is not always the best option for housing these large lizards, and many people prefer keeping adults in molded plastic reptile enclosures like those offered by Showcase Cages and other specialty manufacturers. Homemade enclosures also work well so long as special attention in given to ensure it will hold up to abuse from a large, powerful lizard and be able to accommodate the animal’s temperature requirements.

If you provide the right environment for your Savannah Monitor, then you’ll be able to enjoy your pet for a long time. Captive animals, when kept in the proper conditions, have a life expectancy of 10 – 20 years. Creating the right environment, offering a healthy Savannah Monitor diet, and providing room for exercise are the keys to success for people keeping these animals as pets.

Finally, we wouldn’t be doing our Animal of the Month justice if we didn’t make it an affordable pet option. So for the month of May, while supplies last, we will have hatchling Savannah Monitors available for just $24.99! So if you’re interested in a new pet lizard, there has never been a better time to get one!