I'm an avid herpetoculturist. I hope to pursue a career in herpetology and eventually start my own online reptile business.
This article is a quick guideline on which monitor species are best suited for captive life and make the best "pets." No monitor should be considered "puppy-dog tame" or treated as a normal domesticated pet. They are wild animals, and though they can become trusting and docile, they have the ability to cause severe injuries.
Monitor species are not beginner's pets. They are not for anyone who is just looking for a big lizard to impress people. It is recommended that you have a few years of experience with reptiles, especially large lizards. It would be even better if you could work with monitor species before purchasing your own. Do as much research as you can from different sources, join forums, and ask questions. You can never be too prepared!
Top 5 Types of Monitor Lizards
- The Ackie (Varanus acanthurus)
- Blackthroat Monitors (Ionides Monitors)
- Whitethroat Monitors & Peachthroat Monitors
- Water Monitors (Varanus salvator)
- Savannah Monitors
1. The Ackie (Varanus acanthurus)
The Ackie is by far the best monitor species to be kept as a pet. Ackies are a relatively small (by monitor standards) species that has many advantages over the other monitors. They average 2–3 ft as adults and come in both red and yellow coloration. There really is no difference between reds and yellows besides price. They are still rarely seen in common pet trade but are quickly becoming popular. They have excellent temperaments and care requirements.
2. Blackthroat Monitors (Ionides Monitors)
Though Blackthroats are significantly larger than Ackies, temperament-wise they make excellent pets for the monitor savvy. Blackthroats can reach lengths of 6 ft and certainly aren't suited for anyone that is short on space. They can become quite trusting with their owners, and many are treasured pets. Blackthroats are one of the most docile and easily cared for monitor species. They do command respect as they are such a large animal.
3. Whitethroat Monitors & Peachthroat Monitors
Both of these species are very similar to Blackthroats in attitude and care. They are slightly shyer and may take some more time to tame down. They are nonetheless rewarding and do make very nice pets.
Care for these two species is 99.9% identical to Blackthroat care.
4. Water Monitors (Varanus salvator)
Water Monitors are huge! They are one of the biggest species you can own. They can reach lengths of 7–8 ft and weigh 60–70 lbs. While they are massive monitors, they are surprisingly good candidates as pets for those that have the space and have done copious amounts of research. They have amazing intelligence, inquisitive, and quite interactive with their owners.
Water monitors tame down quite well and can be surprisingly docile and gentle for such a large reptile. If you have the space, money (for care, enclosures, feeding) and the time, consider this species.
5. Savannah Monitors
Savannah Monitors are another very popular pet store species. They are smaller than some of the giants (only around 4 ft) but are known to be aggressive when young. Some specimens will carry that aggression over to adulthood, though it is rare.
The majority of Savannah Monitors who are cared for properly, and treated kindly, become quite friendly. Care for Savs is very similar to any type of monitor care. Though they are a common monitor in the pet trade, they should be treated with respect just like any other monitor.
Monitor Lizards Are Very Special
Monitors are a very special niche of lizard species. They are by far much more intelligent than any other reptile and even some mammals. The ability to work with such an inquisitive, intelligent, and personable reptile is an amazing experience that many do not regret. The phrase "puppy dog tame" is understandable (though not very smart) since many monitors seem to seek out human affection and attention.
Do your homework before purchasing a monitor species. If you have the knowledge, space, money, and time, you likely won't regret bringing one of these amazing animals into your life.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2011 misspeachesx
Gecko Man on April 06, 2020:
I had a Savanah monitor .they do not make good pets bit me had to go to hospital
David Williford on March 02, 2020:
what about green tree monitors!!!!! Apparently they can become very friendly and can form bonds. I'm quite surprised you forgot☹️ and they are like friendly easier chameleons in the monitor form. They are not that hard to care for!
Kelli Danielle on January 09, 2020:
I'd highly recommend taking the Savannah Monitor off this list. While they may intelligent, they make horrible pets. Proper husbandry for them is always questionable resulting in them having shorter life spans. They are extremely difficult to tame down, and are very aggressive as juveniles and adults. Most don't tame down at all. I pet-sitted a juvenile for 3 months while a friend traveled for college. Complete nightmare. No matter how gentle, or kind my demeanor..I was constantly bitten, hissed at, and pottied on. I had to result to wearing leather gloves just to remove her to clean her enclosure. Juvenile bites are painful, and can only imagine the horrific damage an adult bite can do. They are the cheaper monitor in the pet trade, and 100% of people I know that ever purchased one has totally regretted it. They are many other species of montiors that are intelligent, and have much better dispositions.
Kevin brown on June 02, 2019:
I've had both save and njle . Found both of them completely different attitude. Nile was a whole lot nicer. Had no problem being handled. Sav always aggressive. I was very surprised at this. Noth were around 8 months old
OwO what’s this? on January 13, 2019:
I once impulse bought a tree monitor... one of the worst decisions I ever made
Micky Witt on June 27, 2018:
Savannah monitors are actually really bad animals for most people. Only experts should work with them, as only 0.03% are truly captive bred with no casualties. They are one of the most abused animals in the pet trade and there’s not enough none about them. Many people, including hobbyists and competent keepers can’t keep them alive past 7-10 years when there’s a possibility of their life span achieving 20+ like other varanids. These animals are severely underestimated, and they’re as difficult to keep well fed, well maintained, and well heated and I recommend you take them off the list. Properly cared for savs are extremely territorial and have a nasty temper and will want nothing to do with you. Males can actually exceed to a little over five feet in length and if kept well they will need an enclosure ten times their size.