Nile Monitor

Nile Monitor, Zambia

One of the creatures we don’t hear about much on African safaris is the Nile Monitor. They don’t catch the eye of people seeking the more illustrious lions, hippos, or elephants. But what an interesting and unique animal they are.


No higher than your knee and often quietly hidden in the background, Nile Monitors can be found in sub-Saharan woodlands, rivers, and a variety of habitats. Usually they’re hunting, sometimes basking. They are not picky about what they eat, consuming bird or crocodile eggs, fish, snails, frogs, snakes, birds, insects, small mammals, and carrion.


Named after the Nile River, you can see from the range map (below) that they still inhabit there.


There are Nile Monitors outside of Africa, moved from their native land to satisfy the whims of humans. Wikipedia info. 


Crocodile and Egyptian Goose.

As part of a large family known as monitor lizards, the Nile Monitor is one of 79 different species. Monitor lizards in general exist natively in tropical parts of the world: Africa, Asia, and Oceania. The largest monitor in the world is the Komodo Dragon, found in the Indonesian Islands.


The word “monitor” derives from the Arabic for dragon.


Fortunately there was no water under this precarious bridge we crossed

While in Zambia and Botswana, we saw Nile Monitors almost every day, usually around water.  Varanus niloticus have developed nostrils high on their snouts to accommodate their aquatic nature. In addition, as you can see in the first photo, the tail is shaped with a dorsal keel to propel the lizard in water.


They vary in color and size, and although they were often around water, we also saw them in various habitats like the forest floor, and scrambling up trees. On the average, they measured about two feet long (.60 m) without the tail.


Nile Monitor, Botswana. You can see here how they bend their body when two legs are close together

When they walk, it looks like a swagger because of the opposite-foot gait, characteristic of reptiles. The long tail dragging behind the lizard’s body sometimes etched tracks in the sand.


Our guide with an adult Nile Monitor, for size comparison


In spring, the female monitor breaks into a termite mound and lays her eggs, where they can incubate in a warm and protected space. Nile monitors have large clutches of up to 60 eggs.


A lizard that can co-exist with elephants, swim among hippos, and escape up a tree when an angry crocodile has just found its eggs devoured.


I like to think the Nile Monitor is the real Queen of the Nile.


Photo credit: Athena Alexander



Nile Monitor with cormorants, Chobe River, Botswana


Chobe River, zebra crossing from Botswana into Namibia

Nile monitor (varanus niloticus) distribution map.png

Native range of the Nile Monitor



70 thoughts on “Nile Monitor

  1. I know lizards can climb trees, but it would be quite something to see one this large scurrying up one. 🙂 Thanks for the morning safari, Jet, and all before I have to go to work!

    Have a lovely weekend,


  2. Lizard co-exist with elephants, swim among hippos, very interesting. Thank you so much for sharing this fascinating adventure with us, Jet. 🙂

  3. The more ‘popular’ animals of Africa definitely overshadow the Nile monitor. I frankly had never heard of it but my eyes perked after seeing all the monitor lizards in Thailand. Also I didn’t know the word monitor means dragon. The Nile monitor clearly an adaptable creature to co-habitate with so many and to basically eat everything under the sun. Watch where you put your picnic lunch!

    • Glad you enjoyed the Nile Monitor today, Sue. We saw monitors in Australia too. I can imagine you did see many in Thailand, I like knowing this, thank you. And as always, thanks for your visit today, and you and Dave have yourselves a wonderful weekend.

    • The Nile Monitors do have beautiful markings. Your artistic eyes picked this right out. And of course I’m delighted you’re frolicking with Anne in the streets of San Francisco — have fun! Warmest thanks–

  4. I love watching them, Jet. They have a tendency to hit an enemy with a tremendous whack of the tail. We once saw how a young inquisitive lion got hit by one. It was hilarious. He jumped about two metres into the air and nearly made a backward summersault!

  5. Pingback: NILE MONITORS… |

  6. Thanks for bringing us this unsung, unfussy eating reptile – what a character! They seem to be getting by just fine, coexisting with all manner of other species, and sneaking a meal or two along the way. Probably quite happy letting the big game steal the limelight, but you’ve highlighted a fascinating creature.
    Thanks again, Jet, and have a wonderful weekend!

    • Yes, the Nile Monitors seem to get along just fine. Glad you enjoyed the post, PC, and always a delight to have a Friday exchange with you. I enjoyed that brisk walk on the northern coast at your site today. Cheers!

  7. Though I don’t agree with them as pets, I can see their attraction – they are beautiful creatures. I’m glad you included the shot of the monitor with your guide as up to that point I was getting the impression from the other great photos that it was bigger than that. The Egyptian Goose looks a lot skinnier than other species of goose I am more familiar with.
    It’s good to see something of Botswana too – my sister lived there for a couple of years but I never got a lot of info about her experience of it.

    • No, the pet trade is a bad one for Nile Monitors. They do best in their native environment, and so does the whole ecosystem. Glad you enjoyed the Nile Monitors and the photos of Zambia and Botswana, Alastair. I really liked both those countries. We saw more elephants and hippos in Zambia/Botswana, and lots more water. Also, less tourists here than in Kenya or Tanzania. But the latter two countries definitely have their highlights too. Always a joy, my friend, thanks very much.

  8. I’m sure that they are descendants of very, very old family, Their resemble the dinosaurs very much. I’ve never paid attention to monitors it would be kind of redundant… Monitoring the Monitors. Don’t you think?. Very good post my friend. 🙂

    • Loved that natural history joke, HJ, monitoring the monitors. Gave me a little chuckle. I, too, like how prehistoric the monitors are, and send you a big smile and thanks for your fun visit and comment.

    • How lovely to “see” you, David. I always enjoy your poetry and crafty words, and am glad you found wonder in the Nile Monitors. My warm thanks for your visit.

  9. I think the Nile Monitor is interesting but I vote for the Hippo as the Queen of the Nile for their royal attitude and mannerisms 🙂

  10. I have to admit prior to your interesting post, if I was on a safari I most likely would have been looking for the lions, hippos, elephants and zebras, but now I would also be looking for the Nile Monitor. I’m always surprised at some of the animals birds choose to hang around with. Wonderful selection of photos by Athena and I enjoyed seeing the shots of traveling with the guides and glad to read there was not water under that bridge.🙂

    • A true joy to receive your comment, ACI, and undivided attention. We all had quite a fright while passing over that bridge, until we learned there was no water to fall into. The only trouble with safaris is there is SO much to look at, including the Nile Monitors. I’m delighted to have you along on safari today, thank you ACI.

  11. Good Morning, Jet! I’d never heard of the Nile Monitor!!! Cool little guy. Wow! African Safari is on my list, very near the top! Must be soooo beyond magical! Thank You and Cheers!!!! 🙂

    • Really fun to introduce you to the Nile Monitor, Katy, thanks for stopping by. I once put the African Safari at the top of my list, and nothing was ever the same after we went. Just kept saving up, then going back, saving up, then going back. Enjoy!

  12. An interesting post with an unexpected subject, Jet. I admit that I’m not a reptile fan, but I always thought that monitors had a cool swagger. I’m glad you used that word — it’s a perfect description. Hugs.

    • The big reptiles don’t dart around as fast as the small ones, so they are a pleasure to watch in their swagger. Thanks for taking a look at the Nile Monitor, Teagan — and my warmest smiles to you. I hope you are enjoying productive writing–

  13. I’m not sure it’s correct that “The word ‘monitor’ derives from the Arabic for dragon.” Note this definition in the online Oxford Dictionaries: ‘A large tropical Old World lizard with a long neck, narrow head, forked tongue, strong claws, and a short body. Monitors were formerly believed to give warning of crocodiles.’ That last sentence provides a rationale for the name monitor. Regardless of the name’s origin, you clearly enjoyed seeing those Egyptian ones.

  14. Fascinating. The Nile Monitor is not something you see in safari brochures, but advertising often neglects the smaller creatures. It’s the diversity of wildlife that makes Africa so interesting, but the Big 4 can’t be missed either. Thanks for this virtual tour. I hope to go there one day.

    • Yes, you’re right, Draco, the beauty of the African world is the diversity…as it goes for just about all the places in this lively and picturesque world. I’m happy you stopped by for a visit to sub-Saharan Africa. I sure enjoyed my visit to the diversities of CDMX on your site.

  15. Going on safai with you means I get to see first hand and up close the native wildlife of Africa. You
    provided us with fabulous closeups and great coverage of the Monitor Lizard. When your guide
    was holding him, I couldn’t believe how small he actually was. Then seeing hippos and elephants
    and zebras, it was almost like being there, something I’ve dreamt about doing since childhood.
    a wonderful post Jet, keep on keeping on

    • You brought a big smile to my face, Eddie, with your warm and happy comment, thank you. And what a joy to have you join me on safari. Sending smiles to you for a wonderful week–

    • I agree, Sylvia, laying 60 eggs is amazing! I don’t know how many survive, but the odds are favorable, especially when they are tucked inside a termite mound. My warm thanks for your visits this morning.

  16. Interesting! Always amazes me the amount of variety in the same species. The scariest photo in this post was that bridge! yikes.

    • Yes, I was nervous crossing that bridge. The guide had to take it slow, because it was so rickety, and in Africa all kinds of things can go awry…but fortunately we made it across. Thanks so much for your visit, Nan, I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  17. Even its name is interesting,Jet.Compelling details and gorgeous photos of this adaptable reptile.Stunned to read that it can coexist with certain mammals and also that it did not decide to “migrate” by itself.At survived to its new homeland(s) … 🙂
    Btw,I’ve just answered your beautiful comment on my Spring – Easter post … ,just have a look to see that I never ever forget you.Thank you my good friend Jet.Best to you & Athena :)))

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the Nile monitor, Doda. I find reptiles so beautiful, a sentiment I did not have for many decades on earth. Remarkable creatures. Thank you for your visits today, I have absolutely no doubts of your friendship, and so appreciate your kind and generous comments and visits. Sending a big smile your way….:D

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