Friday, January 23, 2015

Bengal Monitor

The Bengal monitor (Varanus bengalensis) is a common, medium sized monitor lizard found in the Indian Subcontinent.  It is rated as " Least Concern" by the IUCN but its population is decreasing due to habitat fragmentation and hunting.

Physical Features
Brightly colored juvenile
The length of a bengal monitor can range from 1 meter to 1.8 meters. Males are larger than females. These monitors can weigh up to 7 kilograms.  Its head is relatively small as compared to the body but its snout is more rounded than the water monitor, which is a main distinction other than the size.  It has a thick and stocky head and short limbs. Adults' dorsal side can be olive, gray, black or brownish in color with sparse black spots. The ventral side is generally yellowish. Juveniles are brightly colored with series of dark bars on the neck and back which are sometimes accompanied by spots.  Bengal monitors have external nostril openings known as nares which they can close on will to prevent the entering of water or any other particulate matter.

Distribution and Habitat
The bengal monitor is the most common monitor in the Indian Subcontinent.   They are also found in Iran, Malysia, Java and Sumatra.  They are absent in the Andaman Islands. They can be found in rainforests, swamps and arid regions.  They are often found in agricultural and cultivated land.  They can be found in burrows, tree hollows and termite mounds.

They eat insects, small mammals, amphibians and other lizards.  It basically eats anything it can overpower.  They may even scale trees to stalk bats.  Juveniles are almost completely insectivorous.  It is a common sight to see them stealing eggs from nests, be it a bird's or crocodile's.  It senses its prey by both smell and sight.

Habits and Behavior
Bengal monitors are diurnal creatures.  They often dwell in trees or burrows.  Just like snakes, they flick their tongues out to "taste the air".  They can run at high speeds and are very able climbers.  They are also good swimmers.  They are generally very docile creatures.  When alarmed or threatened, it tries lies still to remain unseen or escape notice. When cornered, it may even stand on forelegs and lash its tail repeatedly on the ground. Bites from these monitors are quite painful and once the jaw is embedded into the flesh, it is difficult to remove due to its curved teeth.  They lead a solitary life and have a keen eyesight.

Life Cycle and Breeding
Bengal monitor in Bannerghatta National Park, Karnataka, India.
Bengal monitors are known to survive for 20 years in captivity, though it is generally lesser in the wild.  Males become territorial during the mating season (which they are generally not). Males battles each other for mates by standing up on their hindlegs. Sounds made during the mating season are generally restricted to hissing though bellowing has been recorded.  About 1 to 3 clutches of eggs are laid by the females with each containing about 20-30 eggs.  The female digs a pit to place the eggs and covers it with soil.  She may build a few false pits around it to mislead predators.  The eggs hatch after and incubation period of 6-9 months.

Conservation Status
The bengal monitor is rated as "Least Concern" by the IUCN.  It is the most widespread monitor in the Indian subcontinent, which consists of most of its range.  Its population is decreasing in certain parts of its range due to hunting for skin.  Illegal pet trade is also a contributing factor.  It is now a protected species by many governments. 

Source of pic 2    

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