Savannah Monitor Care Advice, Enclosure & Diet Information

The Savannah Monitor is one of the smallest and most popular species among the monitor genus.

They have earned their popularity because they are very friendly and easy to care for.

This means that even beginners can easily care for them.

Known to like insects and small mammals, they are an inactive pet and will spend most of their time basking or lounging in their enclosure.

These African lizards need to live in large enclosures with high temperatures. If you are interested, read one below to find out how to care for them…

Savannah Monitor Feature

Savannah Monitor Overview

Savannah Monitors are naturally found in sub-Saharan Africa. As their name implies (savannah terrain), they like to live among the rocky desert and woodlands.

This species is used to the hot temperatures of sub-Saharan Africa. They naturally soak themselves in pools of water to keep cool.

Reptile owners love them because they have a very docile nature when compared with other monitor species. They also tolerate handling well.

Grayish-tan in appearance, they have spots on their backs and rings on their short tails.

They eat a variety of invertebrates and small mice. In the wild, they hunt using their tongue to pick up chemical cues from the environment they live in.

Solitary lizards, they will only interact with their own species during the breeding season. If you are planning to keep this reptile, it should be the only one you have in the enclosure.

Unfortunately, they are considered to be endangered by some organizations due to hunters seeking them out for their skin.

What We Like About Savannah Monitors

Pros

  • One of the friendlier monitor species, they make a great first reptile. They are easy to handle when compared to other monitors.
  • Relatively few health issues and are very hardy.
  • Can survive in low humidity and have low husbandry requirements.
  • They can grow up to three feet in length and weigh as much as 11 pounds. Grayish-tan in color, they have dorsal spots and rings on their tail.

Cons

  • This species must be housed alone. You cannot have more than one in an enclosure at once.
  • They need a very big enclosure and their housing set-up may be costly.
  • Savannah Monitors are carnivorous; eating insects as well as the occasional rodent.
  • They require extremely high temperatures in their basking spot.

Species Appearance

Savannah Monitor Portrait
Savannah Monitor Portrait

There are five subspecies of the Varanus exanthematicus, so their appearance and size will vary based on which species you purchase.

However, all Monitors have deeply forked tongues. This helps them pick up chemical signals from their environment.

Their typical appearance is stocky and thick with a wide head.

They have a short neck and tail.

You may need to rely on a veterinarian or expert herpetologist to sex your lizard, because there is no true sexual dimorphism. This makes it very difficult to tell males and females apart.

How Big Will a Savannah Monitor Get?

Full grown Savannah Monitor lizards are between 2 to 3.5 feet in length by 3-4 years old. They can weigh as much as 13 pounds.

At birth, Babies are only a couple inches long, but they grow incredibly quickly.

Color Variations and Markings

This species has a gray-brown base color with have dark-edged yellow spots on their back. They have a bluish tongue and yellow and brown rings on their tail.

Savannah Monitor Enclosure

Savannah Monitor In An Enclosure
Savannah Monitor In An Enclosure

This lizard lives in a natural habitat of rocky deserts and forests in Africa’s wild savannah.

They are relatively inactive in the wild. They will spend much of their time basking and soaking themselves and will likely display similar behaviors in their enclosures.

Because they like to spend plenty of time soaking and in the forest, their cage should have some logs, branches, rocks, and even cork bark slabs.

Any of these items will work as long as they can be easily cleaned or removed for cleaning.

Savannah Monitor Cage & Set Up

Although they are only considered a medium-sized monitor, they are still considered a large reptile.

They need a large enclosure, which should have a space of about 5ft x 4ft x 4ft, if not more. Their tank will likely need to be custom made.

Bathtubs can work as temporary housing when you first adopt your lizard, however, make sure they cannot get out.

Enclosures should be made of plexiglass or plastic.

The top of their enclosure should have a screen to allow for airflow, whilst being secured to prevent any escapes. These monitors are very strong and smart.

Baby Savannah Monitors can be kept in 10 gallon tanks, but they grow quickly so some reptile owners decide to put them directly into their adult enclosures:

  • Tank Type: plastic or plexiglas cage.
  • Tank Size: 5ft x 4ft x 4ft minimum.
  • Lighting: UVB and high wattage basking bulb required.
  • Substrate: reptile carpet.

Active during the day, they require a UVB light for essential vitamin production, especially for babies! Lighting should be on for about 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness each day. You should also use an incandescent bulb to create a very hot basking spot. Make sure the incandescent light is out of reach from your monitor.

In terms of temperature, the daytime gradient in the enclosure should be 80℉-95℉.

A basking spot should be even warmer, as high as 120℉ is ideal.

Being a desert-type lizard, Savannah Monitors are not as picky about their humidity levels as many other reptiles.

In their natural environment, it is very dry and arid. Because of this, the basking spot can be kept at very low humidity. The rest of the tank should be kept at between a 50 to 60% humidity.

The water-pool in your Savannah Monitor’s enclosure should be large enough to soak in too.

Finally, because monitors are messy, a suitable substrate would be something that can be cleaned easily! It will need to be spot cleaned every day and thoroughly cleaned out at least once a week.

Given that they will be in a large enclosure, a substrate like newspaper or reptile carpet will be the easiest to clean. Make sure not to use sand or gravel as this can cause bowel obstruction, especially in Juveniles.

Savannah Monitor Full Grown

Cleaning & Misting

As a species, monitors are very messy and defecate frequently. They have a tendency to defecate in their water, so be sure to monitor it carefully and immediately change it if it becomes dirty.

Their pool of water should contribute to keeping the tank at mid-level humidity, and you should not have to mist the tank. The best way to keep track of this is to place a humidity gauge on the cool side of the tank and only mist if the humidity falls below 40%.

Their enclosures must be cleaned frequently.

Feces should have a normal solid brown part and a solid white part too. If it is unusually colored or textured, this may be a sign of a health problem.

Feces should be spot cleaned every day from their enclosure, especially if it is in their water.

The entire tank should be thoroughly cleaned out every week or two.

This may require removing substrate or various logs and branches and temporarily homing your monitor somewhere else (e.g. the bathtub).

Savannah Monitor Care

Savannah Monitor
Monitors should always have access to clean drinking water.

Savannah Monitor Diet

This Lizard eats a variety of invertebrates and small mammals in the wild. They are not picky about what they eat and may eat insects, mealworms, small mice, or even snails. You can on occasion feed a mouse. They may also eat thoroughly cooked pieces of beef, but ideally they should stick to mice and invertebrates.

A carnivorous reptile, they hunt and sense their environment by flicking their tongue to pick up chemical cues.

Food should be dusted with a calcium supplement, and a multivitamin should be fed if you are not feeding mice to your monitor.

When you feed your monitor, place the food into the cage so that they can forage for it. This keeps them more active:

  • Adults should be fed several insects 1-2 times a week (larger monitors may eat less frequently).
  • Juveniles should be fed 2-3 times per week.
  • Babies should be fed every other day.

Baby Savannah Monitors will eat the same basic diet, anything from crickets and waxworm larva to pre-weaning mice. Food fed to a baby will need to be crushed before being placed in their enclosure.

Any live food, for adults or babies, should be removed at the end of the day if uneaten.

Finally, monitors should always have access to clean water.

Their water bowl should be large enough for them to soak in; built-in containers or plastic pans work great.

Savannah Monitor Lifespan & Health

Savannah Monitors live about 12 years in captivity but can live up to 20 years with good husbandry.

They usually have few health issues in captivity, especially if they are captive-bred.

Two distinct problems may occur with a poor diet:

  1. Metabolic bone disease can result from a lack of calcium and may cause your lizard to feel sluggish.
  2. Obesity can result from overfeeding your monitor. If your Lizard starts abnormally gaining weight, you may need to restrict the amount of food they are consuming temporarily.

Wild-caught Monitors are prone to having parasites, which is one reason that you should acquire this species through a breeder.

They enjoy soaking themselves, so you shouldn’t need to bathe them.

Signs They Are Healthy

  • Basking and soaking normally.
  • Eager to eat.
  • Clear and bright eyes.

Sickness Symptoms

  • Lethargic and sluggish.
  • Sudden weight gain.
  • Dragging their limbs or tail.

Typical Behavior

Savannah Monitor's Tail
Sometimes this species will “play dead” to fool predators.

When not in captivity, the Savannah Monitor is a solitary reptile and will only socialize with its own species during its breeding season.

Known for being very territorial, males will fight if they come into contact with one another.

They are not particularly active creatures and will spend time lounging in or out of the basking spot.

Most of their time will be spent basking and occasionally foraging for food, they do this with tongue flicking. Tongue flicking in captivity may indicate that your monitor is hungry or just being curious.

They only communicate with each other through pheromones and other chemical signals which they detect with their tongue.

Mating and fighting will show different forms of communication.

To ward off predators, they might hiss loudly and thrash their tail, or it may play dead as a last resort.

Are Savannah Monitors Friendly?

Yes. Especially as far as monitors go. They are a very friendly species and tolerate handling well from a young age.

They are generally one of the less nervous monitor species so get along well with their owners.

However, they are strong lizards and require a strong grip.

They may not show aggression to you, but these creatures must be housed alone due to their territorial behavior towards other lizards.

Handling Advice and Tips

It is a commonly known fact that most reptiles carry Salmonella bacteria. Washing your hands before and after handling is good for your health and can prevent infections.

Another problem owners may find during handling are scratches from their lizard’s nails.

The best way to handle your monitor is to place a firm grip behind the reptile’s head and put one hand near the hind limbs.

Baby Savannah Monitor

Baby Savannah Monitor

The breeding season occurs during the wet season (i.e. May). A male will follow a female and will periodically bite and scratch her neck until she allows copulation.

Females need a nest box to lay eggs. In the wild, she would usually make her own or lay them in a termite mound. For your monitor, a suitable nest box can be a plastic tub filled with soil.

After she lays her eggs, they should be incubated in groups within sealed, one-gallon glass jars or all together in a ten-gallon aquarium filled with vermiculite and water.

There is a 5-6 month incubation time, and the container should be opened occasionally to let oxygen in. They should be incubated at 82℉, and the temperature and moisture should be monitored carefully.

There are usually 20-50 eggs per clutch.

Hatchlings are a couple inches long at birth.

They will start eating insects and other invertebrates a week after hatching. They will need to be feed nearly every day at the start and then less often as they age (see diet guide above).

Buyer’s Guide

Savannah Monitors are one of the more readily available monitors and cost about $30-$40 USD.

It is strongly recommended that you obtain your Lizard from a trusted breeder, rather than somewhere where they are wild-caught.

Wild-caught monitors are highly prone to having parasites and are often stressed when forced to adapt to a captive lifestyle. Breeding them in captivity can be difficult, so while finding a captive-bred monitor may prove to be more of a challenge, it is worth the effort for your experience and the species’ protection.

Savannah Monitor Facts

Vital Facts
Common Name Savannah Monitor
Scientific Name Varanus exanthematicus
Price ~$40
Size 2.5-3 feet long
Lifespan 12 to 20 years
Diet Insects and other invertebrates
Tank Size Minimum 5ft x 4ft x 4 ft
Humidity & Temperature Daytime temperature: 80℉-95℉
Basking Spot: 100°F-120°F
Humidity: 60%
Popular Alternatives Ackies Monitor, Black or White Throated Monitors

Summary

Savannah Monitors are one of the more docile monitors in the world of reptile keeping.

They do require a high temperature in a large habitat, but they also have an easy feeding routine and are tame.

If you are looking for a smaller breed of Monitor, the Ackies is a very popular choice and is easier for some beginners to handle. If you are looking for more of a challenge, the Black or White-Throated Monitor is a good idea.

They can make a great and fascinating addition to a home, will it be for you?

Johnathan David Author Bio Picture
Johnathan David leads the editorial team at Everything Reptiles as our Editor in Chief. He brings decades worth of publishing experience. A reptile hobbyist since childhood, he has years' of experience in herpetoculture and has cared for Geckos (2 Gargoyles), Skinks (Blue Tongue) and a Frog (Poison dart). A trusted member of the industry, his work being featured by major publications (e.g. PetMD).

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