English Name : Common Indian Monitor
Scientific Name :Varanus bengalensis
Family : Varanidae
Tamil name : udumbu
Description:The adult is olive, grey or brownish above with sparse black spots, yellowish below, uniform or flecked with black. The young are brightly colored in head with lighter colored spots. Distinguished from the Desert monitor( Varanus griesus) and from the the water monitor (Varanus Salvator) and yellow monitor (Varanus flavescens) by variation in scalation,colouration and distribution.
Distribution and Status: The common Indian Monitor is widely distributed and lives in all biotopes from the evergreen forests to the fringes of the deserts. This is the commonest of the four species of monitors that are found in the Indian subcontinent.
Habitat: In Madhya Pradesh it is reported to live in cracks and crevices. It is also found to occupy the space between the roof and ceilings of the less frequented forests rest houses. Normally it is a burrow dweller; often going head first into its bolt holes and remaining in that position till needs to come out again
Habits:A diurnal lizard, though most active in the mornings and evenings. Once wedged in a rock crevice in this manner it is exceedingly difficult to extricate a monitor as it inflates its body, thereby giving itself better purchase. The stories of monitors being used to scale walls of forts could be true, as a large monitor, once it is wedged in a hole, can very well support a person of light weight for a short time. When out foraging, it moves slowly along the forest floor with the tongue flicking in and out of the mouth like a snakes tongue. When necessary, they can run at good speed and they are also agile climbers. They can swim well and can remain submerged for a considerable time. When alarmed, the monitor usually tries to escape notice by lying absolute still. A cornered monitor will demonstrate by raising on its foreleg, hissing and lashing its tail. A captive animal if handled carelessly can inflict a painful bite with its teeth difficult to dislodge.
Food: It is carnivores and eats anything it can overcome. Recorded food items include small mammals, birds, bird’s eggs, eggs of crocodiles and small reptiles such as skinks, garden lizards, small turtle and snakes, fish, crabs and prawns, insects, arachnids, and carrion. It probably seeks prey by both smell and sight. The juveniles are said to be completely insectivores.
Life cycle: The male during the breeding season has a territory as combats similar to `combat dance’ of snakes have been recorded. Though vocalization is normally limited to hissing, it is reported that the lizard gives out a hollow, moaning bellow during the breeding season. Eggs have been observed from mid April to October, The clutch size varies from 8 to 30 depending on the size of the animal. Eggs are white, oval and soft shelled. It is reported to lay eggs in termite mounds and young are seen during the beginning of the monsoon. It is consumed by the tribal population thinking it an aphrodisiac with medicinal properties. Because of this it has become endangered and finds mention in Wildlife protection act.
Role in the Environment: It is a top predator and scavenger keeping the environment clean. It keeps a check on the rat population which destroys crops.
Photo source: Dr. J. Subramanean