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savanna monitor (varanus exanthematicus) Care Sheets
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Average Rating Given To This Care Sheet Is 3.17    (1=lowest, 5=highest)    Last Updated: 10/21/2007

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Years Experience:

5 to 10 Years


Savanna monitor (varanus exanthematicus)

Other Species or Phases this Care Sheet May Cover:

Albigs have very similar care, but they get larger than the typical savanna. All monitors have similar care needs.

Sexing and Characteristics:

Males will have 2 bulges at the base of the tail that look like two batteries under the skin. Males will also be bigger than the females, and may evert their hemipenes while defecating. (they look like 2 pinkish broccolis). You can also base sexing on head shapes, but it is difficult if you have nothing to compare to and only experienced monitor owners can do this easily.

Mostly Active During:


Substrate and Water Needs:

Most people use a dry substrate for savs because they assume they are from the desert. Don’t do it. These live in seasonally dry areas, when it gets dry, they go inactive. You want to make your cage like the wet season, which is when they are active. Don’t use sand. That is too dry. Use a mix of DIRT that provides humidity and holds a burrow well. Use a large water dish that the lizard can fit its entire body into. Please DO NOT USE NEWSPAPER. The lizards can’t dig in it, and they really dislike it.

Go to for more on soil.

Lighting and UVB:

No UVB is necessary. For a basking spot of 130-170, you can use good old halogen 25-85 watt floodlights. Try to do it with the lowest wattage possible. I wouldn’t recommend anything higher than a 100 watt bulb. Monster bulbs (150 and up) take up much more electricity, and can sometimes pose electrical dangers. It will dry out your cage very fast and turn your monitors habitat into a monitor jerky machine.

Temperatures and Humidity:

130-170 for the basking area. I have heard of some using 200+ spots, but I really can’t attest to this since mine usually use nothing hotter than 155. Don’t forget a range of 70-105 ambients. (I can offer these extremes because I offer many choices, I wouldn’t recommend those temps for a newbie keeper). Remember to give your monitor lots of temperature choices and see what it prefers. (ex, always being in the warm end, you might want to raise the temps, always in cool end, lower temps). Listen to your monitor. The best way to get good temps is to see what your monitor uses. I don’t measure the humidity. I just provide dirt and hide spots. The monitor knows what it needs, if you provide at least 2 feet of dirt, humidity control won’t be a problem. If you are using a fish tank for a baby, the least you can do is cover the top with aluminum foil. This will keep the humidity and heat loss to a minimum.

Heating and Equipment:

Low wattage halogen floodlights, that is all I use. For some people living in cold places, you might want to use Ceramic heat emitters just to be sure about ambient temps. Nighttime temps much lower than 70 could lead to sickness or stress. I leave my "daytime" lights on all night, as do many others on this site. Your monitor knows what it needs, and if it needs sleep it will go somewhere dark, if it wants heat it can get some, providing your cage allows for this.

Caging Provided:

A 10-20 gallon is fine for a hatchling-juvenile. As they get bigger, you will of course need to increase cage sizes. A fully grown male savanna will need a 8 by 4 by 4 cage. Always provide as much space as you can, these are very active lizards and need to thermoregulate properly.



Description of Diet:

You don’t need a "schedule" for monitors, but care must be taken to feed whole food items (eg, mice, insects, birds, etc) and no unbalanced food (eg turkey, meat, etc). Supplement the insects. Babies should not have meat often, mostly insects. You don’t need a huge variety, as long as you feed whole food items only. DO NOT FEED CAT OR DOG FOOD! Think...are you feeding a monitor, or a dog? Don’t feed egg often either, raw or hard boiled. If feeding raw egg, the shell is good for calcium, but it’s still not recommended. The feces are also smellier and harder to clean up after eating egg anyway. Never offer cooked meat.

Supplements, Nutrition and Usage:

I use miner-all indoor, but rep-cal is good too. Supplement all insect matter, and pinkies.


Monitor maintenance can be easy or hard, it depends on if you’re taking good care of them or not. I’ll tell you, hauling enough dirt to fill an 8 by 4 by 4 cage takes a lot of work. They will throw dirt everywhere, poop everywhere, make a mess everywhere. If you have a more aquatic species, such as a Nile or Water, it only gets worse. Emptying a kiddie-pool full of feces and dirt everyday is not a fun task; but it’s what it takes to keep a monitor happy.

Some Words on this Species:

A mediocre "first monitor", considering many newbie reptile keepers will not be able to accommodate a 4-foot carnivorous lizard. Not to mention, 99 percent are wild caught. When you buy it, check for ticks and get a fecal by a local reptile vet. Setting that aside, most of these calm down well, (compared to others, I say that no monitor is "dog tame"). The problem is that many people’s "tame" monitors are simply set up wrong and not warm or hydrated enough. Most healthy savs will not let you pick it up without a fuss, though over time they can learn to trust and tolerate you. Proper temps and humidity are key. For the people who want a first monitor lizard, go with an ackie. (Varanus Acanthurus). All of these are CB, since it is illegal to export from Australia. They only get 2 feet.

Overall, savanna monitors are very common (bad thing, I wish they were rare and expensive) and a lot of fun to keep (correctly). I would get one as a next step up from the Ackie.

Books to read:
The Savanna Monitor Lizard (Daniel Bennet and Ravi Thakordyal)

Nile monitors (Robert Faust)

Books to NOT read:

General Care and Maintenance of Popular Monitors and Tegus

Savanna and Grassland Monitors

The last two are out of date, and the first two are the most recent.

Go to or for more info, or just use this site’s forum.

Feel free to pm me if you have any questions.
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The information contain in these care sheets represents only the opinions and husbandry care of members and therefore is not guaranteed to be 100% accurate or reflects the advice or opinions of It is always advised to seek additional information or the advice of a qualified veterinarian or qualified reptile dealer. It is also advisable for you to a good amount of research before implementing any of the ideas and care described in these care sheets. We also recommend you ask many questions in their related forums before acting on any information.

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