2012 – The ‘year of the dragon’ according to Chinese astrology. The closest thing that southern Africa has to the dragon is the Rock monitor – a distant relative of the ferocious-looking Komodo Dragon ( Varanus komodoensis) of Indonesia. Rock monitors are ugly creatures with bulky bodies and stubby heads and look rather like lizards on steroids. In our part of the world both Rock and Water monitors are also known as leguaans or likkewane, which is the Afrikaans name for them.
Rock monitors (Varanus albigularis) are found in central and southern Africa in savannah and semi-desert areas. In the wild they weigh about 6-8 kgs, but if kept in captivity, with little or no exercise and food readily available, they tend to pile on the kilos and can easily reach up to 20 kgs. They average 1.0 – 1.5 meters in length and have a life expectancy of 10 – 15 years.
Rock monitors are fierce predators and hunt both on the ground and in trees. This one that we saw at Etosha in Namibia came off second best and had its length somewhat shortened in an unfortunate skirmish with something – possibly a competitor for food – and is missing part of its tail.
An interesting feature of the Rock monitor is its forked tongue, which it uses to collect odour particles from the air. These particles are then sent to the Jacobson’s organ in the roof of its mouth for analysis on the scent of its prey. Once it hones in on the scent, the monitor can then follow the trail to its next meal. Prey being anything from small invertebrates to mammals, tortoises, carrion and even snakes.
Like other lizards and reptiles, monitors also shed their skin, although the Rock monitor does it in patches instead of stepping out of its old skin in one piece. So it looks rather scruffy while this whole process is taking place.
Females lay clutches of between 8 – 55 eggs in burrows.
The Water monitor (Varanus salvator), which I will blog about next week, is smaller and has a much more gentle looking face than the Rock monitor. It is therefore easily distinguishable from its somewhat heftier relative described above.