Last week I wrote about the Rock Monitor and today I will chat about the Water monitor (Varanus niloticus) that is found in southern Africa. They’re apparently called monitors because they are good at monitoring the movements of crocodiles, thus warning humans of their presence.
We had rather an amusing encounter with a Water monitor on a trip to Namushasha in Namibia when a helpful local guide took us to see Carmine Bee-eaters breeding in a nearby river bank. He told us that Water monitors love to raid these deep breeding holes for eggs and we would be likely to see one. Sure enough, as our boat glided slowly past we saw the head of a Water monitor sticking out of a hole in the river bank, but on seeing us he retreated into his dark burrow.
We pulled up gently to the bank and with two cameras poised, we waited while the guide prodded into the hole with a long stick. The Water monitor shot out at such a speed that when the guide asked us if we had caught him on camera we had to laugh. Both cameras showed a blurred tail tip in each frame – neither of us had been as fast as the monitor!
Water monitors are powerful swimmers and use their strong legs and tail to propel themselves through the water. They are capable of remaining underwater for long periods of time and their favourite food is fish and crocodile eggs, although as I said earlier, they will also eat birds eggs if available. Like the Rock Monitors they also eat snakes, rodents and other small animals. They have powerful claws on their legs which assist them in climbing trees and digging for food or making burrows for their own eggs. They also burrow into live termite nests to lay their eggs. The termiites then reseal the damaged mound, which makes an ideal place for the Water monitor’s eggs to incubate and also provides some snakcs in the form of termites for the baby monitors when they hatch. Water monitors lay up to sixty eggs.
These reptiles are often sold as pets, but they are quite ferocious and are something of a nuisance in our environment. If cornered they can be dangerous as they defend themselves and their young most vigorously. They are known to kill and eat household pets like cats and small dogs and make a huge mess when they raid refuse bins. Many myths abound about them and they feature in African folklore and stories, especially about their tail slaps and danger to humans.