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Learn to recycle, reduce, reuse and revere with Environmental Resources from Gale

Desert Monitor

Varanus griseus

Status: Endangered, FWS
Status: Not Evaluated, IUCN
Listed by FWS: June 14, 1976
Family: Varanidae (Monitor lizard)
Description: Grows to 59.1 in (150 cm) in length; grayish-brown to yellow-brown above, with crossbars on the back and tail; two to three longitudinal lines on the neck; underparts are dotted with yellowish spots; snout is depressed; nostril is closer to the eye than the tip of the snout; head scales are larger than the nuchal scales.
Habitat: Sandy desert, sometimes with rocky hills, with sparse vegetation.
Food: Small rodents, lizards, snakes, scorpions, and insects.
Reproduction: Lays 10-20 eggs in sand; incubation period up to 300 days.
Threats: Conversion of habitat for agricultural use.
Range: Africa (north), Asia (central), India (northwest)

Description

There are three subspecies of Varanus griseus, V. g. griseus (western desert monitor), V. g. caspius (eastern desert monitor), and V. g. koniecznyi (Thar desert monitor). V. g. griseus, which grows to 59.1 in (150 cm) in length, is grayish-brown to yellow-brown above, with crossbars on the back and tail. There are two to three longitudinal lines on the neck. The underparts are dotted with yellowish spots. The snout is depressed and the nostril is closer to the eye than the tip of the snout. The head scales are larger than the nuchal scales. V. g. caspius is similar in appearance except that the juvenile dorsal spots are more yellow than brown and the overall length is only 52.2 in (132.5 cm). V. g. koniecznyi is yellow to light gray with three to five bodybands. The head is gray to black and the tail has eight to 15 dark bands. A dark stripe runs from the canthus through the ear to the neck. The length on the Thar desert monitor is about half of V. g. griseus.

Behavior

V. griseus often adopts abandoned burrows which provides shelter from heat, but if burrows are not available it will dig its own. The desert monitors feed on small rodents, lizards, snakes, scorpions, and insects. V. g. griseus feeds almost entirely on lizards while V. g. koniecznyi feeds mostly on insects, especially beetles. V. g. griseus lays 10-20 eggs in sand or at the end of burrows. The incubation period is the longest of the varanus species, 300 days. V. g. koniecznyi lays eggs in September and the young are hatched 270-300 days later. The lifespan of captive animals is up to 10 years.

Habitat

The desert monitor inhabits sandy desert, sometimes with rocky hills, with sparse vegetation.

Distribution

V. g. griseus is the most widely distributed of the desert monitors. It occurs in the Western Sahara east to The Sudan and Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and the Arabian Peninsula. V. g. caspius occurs in Iran, Afghanistan, northern Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tadzhikistan. V. g. koniecznyi occurs in western Pakistan and northwest India.

Threats

According to Harold DeLisle , V. griseus is widespread and not threatened throughout most of its range. The habitat of V. g. caspius has been widely converted to agricultural use and it is the most threatened of the desert monitors. However, it is still apparently common in Turkmenistan. The skin trade for this species, estimated at 17,000 per year, is low compared to other monitors.

Conservation and Recovery

International trade in the skins of the desert monitor is prohibited by CITES. The species is not, however, protected in the countries of North Africa, Central Asia, and northwestern India where it occurs, and it is still hunted commercially. It is also often killed by local people, many of whom fear the lizard and often falsely believe it to be poisonous. Key to the conservation of the desert monitor is public education about the benefits it provides by eating injurious insects and poisonous snakes. It must also be protected from commercial hunting, particularly in regions where it is relatively scarce.

Source: Beacham's Guide to International Endangered Species, Gale Group. 2001.

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