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Varanus indicus Print E-mail

The clutch size of this species is probably smaller than would be expected of a medium sized monitor lizard, on account of the very small size of the females. A specimen from Guam laid 22 eggs over 3 years in clutches of between 1 and 4 (typically 2) eggs (Groves, pers. comm.). Luxmoore et al (1988) record a clutch of five eggs. McCoid (1993) reports that captive females from Guam lay up to  four eggs in a one week period and a 38cm SVL road killed female contained ten shelled eggs. Kukol (1993) reports that a female of unknown origin and unreported size laid 30 (infertile) eggs between September and January in clutches of up to nine eggs. Wesiak (1993a&b) reports that a captive female laid 25 eggs in five clutches over 26 months, with an average of 88 days between the last four clutches. Each clutch contained 4-6 eggs. Such observations indicate that when food is abundant mangrove monitors may attempt to reproduce continuously, producing large number of relatively small clutches. In this way a small bodied female can maximise her reproductive output.

Mankind appears to have introduced the mangrove monitor to a number of Pacific Islands in the last few decades. According to Uchida (1967) they have been present of Ifaluk in the western Caroline Islands only since the Second World War. Dryden (1965) reports that the Japanese may have introduced the lizards to Japtan in the Marshall Islands before the war. The lizards flourished and soon began to raid the local chicken houses. When the Americans arrived the locals asked them for help in getting rid of the monitor lizards. They responded by introducing the dreaded marine toad (Bufo marinus) which proved toxic to the lizards. As the lizard population dropped, however, the rat population began to rise. The Americans were asked for help once again, this time to get rid of the toads, but unfortunately there appears to be no record of their response (Owen in Dryden 1965). Gressit (1952) notes that marine toads were introduced to the Palau Islands for a similar reason, and suggests that the demise of the monitor lizards may have led to an increase in numbers of beetles known to be coconut pests. McCoid et al (1994) note that numbers have declined on Guam in the Marianas Islands.

The mangrove monitor has a beautiful skin and as a result it is hunted in many places for its leather, which is used for drum heads and other purposes. It seems strange that international trade in this species is so small. Mertens (1942) referred to it as one of the most heavily exploited monitor lizards. In 1980 trade in over 13,000 skins was declared but since then numbers seem to have been minimal (Luxmoore et al 1988). The species is said to be protected in Indonesia and so it seems likely that they are referred to as V.salvator in CITES documentation. In many places they are used as a food source but may also be persecuted because of their reputation for preying on domestic animals.

In captivity the mangrove monitor can be a very timid and nervous animal. They need to be provided with a spacious enclosure that allows them to climb, and provided with plenty of hiding places. Mangrove monitors will bask at temperatures up to 50oC. A large pool of water is essential for these animals' wellbeing. Because males tend to be much larger than females courtship and mating can be violent (Polleck 1979; McCoid & Hensley 1991). The first report of captive breeding comes from the Philadelphia Zoo, where a pair were housed in a 1.5m2 enclosure. Many clutches of eggs were produced and finally two hatched after 198-199 days at 28-29oC (Groves, pers.comm.). Wesiak (1993a&b) housed three adults together in a 3.4m2 enclosure with a large pool of water and records an incubation period of 174 days at 26.5oC. Kok (1995) records eggs hatching after 152-182 days at an unspecified temperature. Hatchlings weigh about 25g, measure 27cm TL and will immediately accept baby mice and insects. Because females produce huge amounts of eggs particular attention needs to be given to their nutritional needs. Suitable diet should include large insects, fish, birds, eggs and mammals. It seems likely that many of the animals sold under the name V.indicus are actually V.doreanus.

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