Before I started working in the Jungle Lodges & Resorts camp in Bhadra, I used to work in the camp at Nagarahole National Park as a naturalist. That is where I first saw a Bengal Monitor Lizard (Varanus bengalensis). After moving to Bhadra, I got many opportunities to see this lizard. There seems to be a good population of monitor lizards here in Bhadra Tiger Reserve (BTR) and that makes it one of the best places to see them. I have been able to spot and observe monitor lizards very regularly in various seasons.
The tail of a monitor lizard is long and powerful, usually about twice the length of the body. The body itself is strong and massive, with sharp claws on their feet that help them run and climb trees at a good speed. Certain individuals in BTR are rather big – 3 to 3.5 feet in length, including the tail, and probably weighing about 8 to 9 kilos.
During the summer and winter season, monitor lizards are often seen on the ground and on trees as well. They are mostly solitary and live in burrows on top or at the base of a tree. The next time you see a burrow or a hole in a tree, remember that it could be the home of a monitor lizard. The young ones are colourful – olive, grey and brown with bright yellow bands on their body. Some adults too sport white spots on their body that stay on through their lives.
Birds and mammals are homoeothermic (warm-blooded) – they have a constant and relatively high body temperature; hence their body insulation and cooling mechanism are poor. Monitor lizards are poikilothermic (cold-blooded) – their body temperature varies with the ambient temperature. They lack sweat glands but have an incredible ability to regulate their body temperature with the help of the surrounding environment. For example, depending on the temperature variations, one can find monitor lizards either basking in the sun or absorbing heat from water in warm streams. The warmth helps their muscles work more efficiently and easily.
During the monsoon season, it is difficult to spot monitor lizards. However, once the rain stops, one can spot these giant lizards come out of their burrows to take a sunbath.
They are very active predators and hunt during the day. They are primarily insectivorous, but they also feed on rodents, eggs and small birds as well. They are aggressive animals and their bite can be very painful to humans. They can swim and walk in the water; they use their tongue to smell and sense threats and prey even underwater.
They are preyed upon too. While eagles pose a major threat, snakes and wild cats also hunt them. They have a good defense mechanism, which mainly involves camouflage and running away from predators. They can hide in plain sight when they use their camouflage to blend in with the surroundings, and it is often difficult to spot them unless they move. They can also run at high speeds for short distances and they are good tree climbers. People hunt them for their meat, eggs and skin. Deforestation has also affected them; their natural habitat is shrinking by the day.
The next time you visit Bhadra Tiger Reserve, look out for these beautiful, fascinating reptiles.