There are some pretty terrifying reptiles out there. I’m not really scared of snakes, though some of the more venomous ones would definitely be unpleasant to meet. Crocodiles and Komodo dragons are some I would avoid. And now I get to add another animal to the list: the Nile monitor.

Nile monitors are found along the Nile River, as well as in most areas in sub-Saharan Africa. They live in many different habitats, such as forests, swamps, savanna and scrubland. There are two important habitat features that Nile monitors need: proximity to water and an open area to bask in. Other than that, these guys are pretty adaptable, being excellent climbers and swimmers.

Nile monitors spend much of their time basking, which sounds like a nice way to make a living. Image by Charles James Sharp, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Nile monitors are big lizards, and are one of the biggest lizards in Africa. They can grow up to 2.4 m long, and weigh 20 kg, though most are smaller than that. They have well-muscled legs, strong jaws, giant sharp claws, and are just generally built to be badass. Nile monitors are usually dark brown or grey, with yellow and black patterns all over their bodies which can be quite varied.

They prey Nile monitors consume is varied and impressive. Their strong jaws can administer a powerful bite, and are capable of crushing mollusc shells and breaking the necks of small vertebrates. They will eat amphibians, birds, small mammals, lizards, turtles, crocodile eggs and young, and a wide variety of invertebrates. Nile monitors have been observed working together to raid crocodile nests, with one monitor distracting the mother crocodile and the other stealing the eggs.

The combination of a Nile monitor’s strength, size, and speed make them a formidable enemy for any animal. There are, however, some brave creatures that will take monitors on. Pythons are one of these, and it has been reported that a 4.5 m long python fought and ate a 1.4 m Nile monitor, which is pretty impressive. Crocodiles are another occasional predator of Nile monitors, probably because they are getting revenge for their eaten eggs.

Look how beefy that thing is! Image by Bluemoose, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The monitor reproductive season begins in June and runs through to October. During this time, the testes of male monitors enlarge, which prepares them for mating. Male Nile monitors are also quite violent, engaging in vicious tussles to prove themselves worthy to mate. Females either lay their eggs in holes they dig or in termite mounds. The eggs can take up to a year to hatch, and often have to wait until it rains so their nest is soft enough for them to burrow out. Occasionally the hatchlings’ mother will come back and dig them out of the nest, but other than that she offers her young no assistance.

Despite their size and ferocity (or perhaps because of it), Nile monitors are reasonably popular as pets. I certainly wouldn’t want one of these beasts in my house, and neither should you.

Cover image by Charles James Sharp, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons, cropped to fit