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Dumeril's Monitor Print E-mail

Dumeril's Monitor Lizard (Varanus dumerilii)

First published in Reptilian Magazine

Dumeril's monitor is a large lizard from southeast Asia about which very little is known. Until a few years ago they were not uncommon in the pet trade in Europe and the U.S.A. but breeding success with the species was very limited and today they rarely appear on dealers' lists. Dumeril's monitor is completely protected in parts of its range, but nobody  knows if the species is really very rare or just extremely secretive. The impression given of this animal from the literature is of a large, heavily built lizard which shelters in trees and forages for crabs and other invertebrates in swamps and on seashores. Nothing is known of their breeding habits, but the eggs hatch to reveal flourescent-orange youngsters, which may spend most of their time buried in soft earth until they develop the much more inconspicuous colouration and pattern of the adults. There are very few published observations of this lizard in the wild; almost all of them date from more than 50 years ago and it is often difficult to be certain whether the lizards concerned really are Dumeril's monitors, because the species is often confused with others, even today. The purpose of this article is to summarize what is known about this mysterious creature both in the wild and in captivity.

Image
Varanus dumerilii
Varanus dumerilii shares its range with three other large lizards, all of which belong to the genus Varanus; the Asiatic water monitor (V.salvator), the Bengal monitor (V.bengalensis) and the enigmatic rough-necked monitor lizard (V.rudicollis -see my review of this species in Reptilian volume 1 number 9). Whilst water monitors and Bengal monitors are found in a wide range of habitats including human settlements, and are of great economic importance for their skins and flesh, both Dumeril's and the rough-necked monitors shun sites of human habitation and seem to frequent only undisturbed mangroves and forests. Their is no trade in their leather and the flesh of both species has an undeserved reputation for being poisonous. Outside the pet trade (where they fetch around ** - an albino specimen was recently offered for sale in the U.S.A. for $9000) they have no economic value. The fact that there have been so few sightings of such large animals suggests that they are very rare, and it seems certain that they have already been exterminated from a large part of their previous range and survive only in dwindling patches of undisturbed habitat. Very few attempts have been made to study these lizard in the wild and many of them (including my own) have been completely unsuccessful. Forest monitors are of great ecological importance because they are large carnivores with very few natural predators. Despite their size and their ability to swallow large prey items whole, most of their food consists of invertebrates, which they consume in enormous numbers. An understanding of their way of life is vital if they, and the forests they live in, are to be properly conserved.

Taxonomy

Varanus dumerilii was first described by Schlegel in 1839. In 1912 specimens from northern Borneo with unsusual scalation were described by Boulenger as V.heteropholis, later made the subspecies V.dumerilii heteropholis by Mertens 1942. The validity of this taxonomy has been questioned by Brandenberg (1983) and Sprackland (in press), and here they are treated as a single race.

Distribution

Location data are given in the appendix. Dumeril's monitor is known from southern Burma and Thailand ("south of the Isthmus of Kra" (Lekagul 1969)), peninsular Malaysia, Borneo, Sumatra and many smaller islands. They were recorded on Singapore early this century (, but are are certainly exinct there now. In Myanmar (then Burma) they were noted specially on the Mergui Archipelago and adjacent mainland and said to be plentiful on Kau-ye Kyun  island (formerly Sir Charles Forbes' Island - 11oN, 98.5oE) (Smith 1930). NUTPHAND (no date) claimed they were "frequently" found in the southern forests of Thailand, and occasionally found in the west around Kanchanaburi province. Lekagul (1969) considered it to be commoner than V.rudicollis in the dense jungle south of the Isthmus of Kra.


 
 

 

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butaan1.jpgButaan are so shy they frequently remain in a tree for more than a week after being frightened. A large male we rescued from a trap hid in a tree for 22 days before coming down!* . Most lizards do not appear traumatised by being caught and released by scientists, and resume normal activity very quickly. But we think that butaan, especially older individuals, may permanently alter their activity areas after such an encounter. Because the animals are so shy, and highly vulnerable to human disturbance, we have had to develop a range of techniques that allow us to learn about them with the absolute minimum of interference.

 

 

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