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Nile Monitor Care Guide

The Nile Monitor is a large, agile, and big, strong monitor lizard. These dragon-like creatures are known as aggressive and not really good-mannered pets.

The Nile Monitor has also been observed to display great intelligence in the wild. And some through hard work have been known to be successfully tamed in captivity. (We’ll touch on that later).

Most owners/keepers appreciate the beauty and grace of these powerful, intelligent large lizards.

Nile Monitor Facts

  • Experience level: Experienced
  • Family: Varanidae
  • Scientific name: Varanus niloticus
  • Other Names: African small-grain lizard, Water Leguaan, River Leguaan
  • Average adult size: 4-7 feet
  • Lifespan: 10 to 20 years
  • Clutch Size: 60 eggs
  • Egg Incubation Period: 180-275 days (6 to 9 months)
  • Food: Fish, rodents, birds, insects, other reptiles
  • Average Temperature: 100-130°H/80-90°L
  • Humidity: 50-75%
  • UVB lighting: Required
  • Average price range: $25 – $70
  • Conservation Status: “Least concern”
River Leguaan (Nile Monitor)
River Leguaan (Nile Monitor)

The Nile Monitor, Water Leguaan or River Leguaan (Scientific-Varanus Niloticus) is a big, relentless, and aggressive lizard, belonging to the Family Varanidae and Genus Varanus.

These carnivorous creatures are native throughout most of the Sub-Saharan African continent, preferring to be and thriving near the water, like along the Nile.

In the wild, they are reported to have an average lifespan of 10-15 years. When taken care of and fed properly in captivity, these carnivores can live between 10-20 years in captivity.

The Nile Monitor is the second largest reptile in the Nile River, second to the Nile crocodile. They can grow between 4-7 feet long. Most commonly grow around 6 feet. In the wild, some can grow to even 8 feet long.

Varanus niloticus
Varanus niloticus

Nile Monitors are characterized with muscular bodies, strong legs, and powerful jaws. These big lizards have sharp claws for climbing, digging, and attacking prey and adversaries.

The Nile Monitor’s body is decorated with striking, varied, skin patterns. They are greyish-brown above with greenish-yellow and large, greenish-yellow rosette-like spots on their backs.

Their throats and undersides are an ochre-yellow to a creamy-yellow. These lizards like all Monitors have a forked tongue. Nile Monitors possess dark blue, or purple-blue tongues.

The Nile Monitors are largely aquatic lizards known to be adept swimmers. They can remain underwater for over an hour.

Aside from being good swimmers, they are also excellent climbers and surprisingly swift runners (for their size) on land. They are also the second largest reptiles found in the Nile river.

Nile Monitor Care Sheet

Nile Monitor Habitat


Water Leguaan (Nile Monitor)
Water Leguaan (Nile Monitor)

Keep in mind, bigger is better when preparing an enclosure for a Nile Monitor. An outdoor space would be the ideal thing for this pet. But be aware that these lizards grow quickly and get quite large.

For an already big and growing adult, a customized room, or an outdoor customized enclosure (natural sunlight would be good as well) should be prepared.

A large water area where the monitor can swim around should also be prepared. Shelters such as doghouses or large carriers with enough space where they can curl their entire body should be provided.

Most Monitors will use their shelter for sleep while others prefer snoozing on tree branches or in their water containers.

Flat rocks should be placed for nail wear. Some recommend placing rocks alongside the water container. These will wear the lizard’s nails as they enter and exit the water.

Clean enclosure regularly and check at least once or twice a day for cleanliness. And, clean/pick up feces and urate straight away when you see them.

These monitors tend to use the water to go toilet as well. So replace water when it becomes dirty and scrub the dish clean.


African small-grain lizard (Nile Monitor)
African small-grain lizard (Nile Monitor)

Most keepers and sources agree that dirt is the best substrate. About 3 feet of dirt is suggested. It should be enough to allow the Monitor to construct tunnels and burrow naturally.

Dirt also helps with regulating humidity and temperature. Choose a type of dirt that holds a burrow and humidity, drains well, and does not get slimy when wet.

Make sure the substrate remains moist underneath. Add buckets of water to the enclosure if necessary, to keep the substrate slightly damp.

Decorate enclosure with a variety of rocks, tree limbs, driftwood, hollow logs, and secure branches.


The Nile Monitor enclosure should have a cool side and hot side with a basking spot . Like most reptiles, they are dependent on thermoregulation to control their body temperature.

The cool side of the enclosure should be kept between 80° and 90° F, while the hot end with basking spots (basking spot should be the length of the lizard’s body) should be maintained between 100° to 130° F.


Humidity levels should be maintained between 50-75%.


Opinions on UVB lighting being a necessity for the Nile Monitor, is varied, though many experienced keepers and sources still recommend using UVB since it is beneficial for a growing monitor.

UVB helps synthesize vitamin D3, and aids the metabolic processing of calcium. Mercury vapors provide both heat and UVB in one. If you are keeping it outside and the climate is correct than additional UVB isn’t needed.

Nile Monitor Feeding

These carnivorous predators will eat just about anything it can get its chompers on and fit in its mouth. They usually will feed on fish, rodents, birds, insects, small mammals, reptile eggs, and even other reptiles such as snakes and young crocodiles.

The diet for pet Nile Monitors should vary as well. It should be nutritionally balanced to ensure they get a wide array of vitamins and minerals. This will reduce chances of the Monitor getting tired of a repetitive diet.

Suggested foods for a pet Nile Monitor are a variety of live bugs/insects (Dubia roaches, crickets, mealworms, etc..) lean ground turkey, rodents (live or frozen/thawed) seafood (fish, shrimp), eggs, and chicken organ meats.

Young, growing Nile Monitors should be fed every day. Some say adults need to only be fed every two days.

But these creatures are almost always hungry and in search for a quick snack. So some experienced keepers suggest feeding them measured portions once daily. But be wary of overfeeding your Monitor since obesity could be an issue.

Calcium supplements are vital for a growing juvenile, so be sure to dust food items such as bugs, insects, and non-living meat items. Give an adult some dusted meals once or twice a week. The Zoo Med Calcium D3 Supplement is a product that often gets recommendations.


These intelligent monitors are known to be quite aggressive and not always the friendliest choice for a pet. Even with patient attempts at handling and taming, most of these lizards will maintain their aggressive nature and temperament.

Most individuals never learn to fully trust humans. They tend to hiss, lash their tails, and bite if grabbed.

While some very tamable Nile Monitors do exist, one must always be wary of these creatures and make sure they don’t get aggravated. Captive-bred Nile Monitors can sometimes be successfully tamed with careful and patient care.

These lizards are quite personable so be aware of catering to your monitor’s individual personality when attempting to tame them. Overnight results are not to be expected, taming these large lizards will take some time.


In captivity, these lizards are known to live between 10-20 years when taken care of and fed properly and carefully.

Common Health Concerns (Issues/Solutions)

Nile Monitors are susceptible to respiratory infections and metabolic bone disease. Metabolic bone disease could result from a lack of calcium and also sunlight/UVB lighting.

Constipation due to impaction could also be an issue, since they eat a lot and could possibly ingest sand or other things they can’t digest.

If your Nile Monitor starts having issues, seek treatment from a veterinarian immediately.

Pricing and Availability

Nile Monitors are fairly inexpensive lizards, aside from the cost of everything else when caring for them. Prices usually range from $25 to $70. These lizards can be found in most major websites, reptile expos, and most reptile-specializing pet traders.


This species is in no particular threatening danger. They are currently listed as of “Least Concern”.


The Nile Monitor is a highly intelligent, fascinating and personable creature, but these large lizards are not recommended for a beginner. One should be experienced when considering taking care of one of these powerful lizards.

Though some have been successfully tamed, one shouldn’t expect to be able to handle these creatures so easily. More often, these monitors make for a fascinating pet better observed from a distance, because of their interesting natures and daily activities.

For more on finding a good pet monitor, check our guide for the best pet monitor lizards.

Any experience or questions about these large, cool lizards? Let us know in the comments below.

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