A World of Discovery - Great Lakes Zoological Society Conservation Center and Rescue - A Great Family Destination!

Pet Care

Check out our reptile care sheets:

Bearded Dragon
Red-eared Slider
Ball Python
Uromastyx
Savannah Monitor
Green Iguana
Bearded Dragon


To more fully understand the world of monitor lizards, visit the Biawak website. Biawak is the official peer-reviewed journal of the International Varanid Interest Group.

We at the GLZS do not endorse most monitor lizards at pets. They are very large, can be dangerous and require special diets, special care, and room sized enclosures. There are many smaller, better choices of reptile pets.

Reptiles have very specific housing and environmental needs. Temperature, humidity, UVB light, and diet. Here are a few general guidelines to reptile care, though each species has its own unique needs; an arid region animal will have different care requirements than a tropical one. Check into the the species you are caring for when setting up its enclosure.

  1. Temperature: For digestion of food and maintaining a healthy immune system
    1. For many reptiles a proper ambient, or cool area, temperature is 78-82 deg F.
    2. Many reptiles need a basking spot ranging from 90 to 110 deg F depending on the reptile species. Some species require a higher temperature.
    3. To maintain a basking spot, yet maintain proper ambient temperatures, a large enclosure is necessary
  2. Humidity: To minimize dehydration, gout, uric acid, and chronic kidney disease
    1. Many exotic reptiles are from the tropics and require 80-100% relative humidity
    2. Even when a reptile is not from the tropics, 50-70% relative humidity is likely its normal requirement
    3. Even reptiles from arid environments often live in burrows which have much higher humidity than the surface humidity
  3. UVB (Ultraviolet B): UVB light is necessary for vitamin D3 production which is needed to metabolize calcium which is needed for proper bone growth, especially in juvenile reptiles
    1. Without proper amounts of UVB and Calcium, juvenile reptiles will develop metabolic bone disease.
    2. For reptiles requiring basking lights, mercury vapor lights are most effective at providing UVB.
    3. UVB lights need to be checked for output and changed as UVB output drops.
    4. UVB meters can be purchased at http://www.solarmeter.com/
    5. Download Exo Terra's lighting guide here: http://exo-terra.com/download/lighting_guides/Exo_Terra_Lighting_Guide_EN.pdf
  4. Diet: Proper nutrition allows for healthy growth, organs, bones, and skin
    1. All species of monitor lizard (Varanus) do not eat the same diet: Not all monitor lizards eat rodents, for example:
      • E.g. Varanus albigularis (rock monitor) will die young of heart disease and lipidosis if fed rodents. This animal eats invertebrates in the wild and should be fed a diet high in insects, snails, and crayfish, with some eggs.
      • V. prasinus group (tree monitors) are insectivores and should only be fed gut loaded insects.
      • V. rudicollis (rough neck monitor) eats primarily crabs in the wild and this should be considered in captivity. Crayfish is a good substitute for crabs.
    2. All tortoises do not eat the same diet
      • Redfoot tortoises can be fed a high nutritious diet of collard, dandelion, and mustard greens with other vegetables like squash, sweat potato, and beets added.
      • However, Sulcata tortoises, from the African savanna, feed on high fiber grasses. In captivity, sulcatas can free feed on Timothy hay with supplemental lettuce, squash, sweet potato, and carrots for hydration.
      • We feed our pancake tortoises 70% high fiber/moisture and 30% high nutrition salad
  5. Supplements: Calcium for proper bone growth and vitamins for proper health
    1. There are no hard and fast rules on how to measure supplements for your reptiles; however, too little and too much is unhealthy.
    2. Without proper amounts of UVB and Calcium, juvenile reptiles will develop metabolic bone disease.
    3. UVB helps to regulate vitamin D3 which helps to minimize over production of vitamin D3 and excess calcium build-up in the organs and muscles.
    4. A multivitamin may be offered about once to twice a week for most reptiles

Some reptiles should not be kept as pets. This list includes giant snakes such as the Burmese python, reticulated python, rock pythons, anacondas, scrub pythons, and crocodilians, venomous snakes and lizards, and most monitor lizards. All of these animals are too large and/or dangerous for most individuals to house and to handle. Please leave it up to zoos and experts to properly house and handle these reptiles.

Before buying a pet animal read a book! There are lots of good books and websites on captive care of exotic pets.