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What Is a Nile Monitor Lizard?

Nile monitor lizards are mostly found on the continent of Africa.
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  • Written By: Christina Edwards
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 16 August 2014
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The Nile monitor lizard is a large lizard that is part of the monitor lizard family. It is native to parts of Africa, particularly areas with moist climates. These monitor lizards are seemingly at home in the water as well as on land. Nile monitor lizards were once a popular pet in some parts of the world, but due to their size and disposition, many pet owners got rid of them. In recent years, some countries have begun to have trouble with Nile monitors as an invasive non-native species.

Known scientifically as Varanus niloticus, the Nile monitor lizard is a member of the Varinadae, or monitor lizard, family. It is actually an ancestor of the Mosasaur, a sea dinosaur that lived millions of years ago. Another one of its close relatives includes the Komodo dragon, which is considered to be the largest lizard alive today. This lizard is also sometimes referred to as a water or river leguaan.

Nile monitor lizards are mostly found on the continent of Africa. They tend to stay away from dry areas, and they are not usually found in the northwestern part of the continent. Instead, they can be found in and around Africa's bodies of waters. They are especially abundant around the Nile River, which is in the northeastern part of the continent.

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The Nile monitor lizard is seemingly most comfortable in the water, but it is not unusual to find these creatures roaming around on the land as well. Their nostrils are located high on their snouts to help it breathe while under the water, and it is not uncommon for these large lizards to stay underwater for up to an hour. Also, although they have short legs, Nile monitors can also move very well on the ground. On land, they can reach speeds of up to 15 miles per hour (24 kilometers per hour).

These lizards are also proficient climbers. Their sharp claws, which can also be used for digging and self-defense, are used for this. A young Nile monitor lizard also has very sharp teeth for catching and eating prey. As the lizard ages, however, these teeth become duller.

The Nile monitor lizard is often considered to be the biggest lizard in Africa. Some of these lizards can grow to be around 0 feet (2.7 meters) long. They are usually dark brown or black, with very pale yellow bands and spots on its back.

As a pet, the Nile monitor lizard is typically considered difficult to care for. Due to its large size and less than sunny disposition, many pet owners may quickly find that they are no longer able to keep one of these lizards as a pet. In the past, some Nile monitor lizard owners have even freed their pets in non-native regions. When this happens, these lizards will often become an invasive species. In fact, scientists believe that this is exactly what happened in the state of Florida, where this once foreign giant lizard is now becoming a more common sight.

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