Basic Information Sheet: Savannah Monitor

Savannah Monitor (Varanus exanthematicus)

Juvenile savannah monitor

Juvenile savannah monitor. Photo from General Exotics.

Natural history

The Savannah monitor is native to the savannahs of eastern and southern Africa. In the wild these monitors are scavengers covering large distances as they search for small prey items.

Savannah monitors in the pet trade are either wild-caught or captive-raised.



Class: Reptilia

Order: Squamata

Family: Varanidae– monitors

Color and size

Savannah monitors are tan to gray with a lighter pattern on the back, sides, and anterior tail.

Adult size can be quite variable. Some individuals reach 2.5 ft (0.8 m) while others exceed 4.5 ft (1.4 m) and can even reach 6 ft (1.8 m) or more.


Much controversy surrounds the feeding of Savannah and other grassland monitors in captivity, and clients often bring questions about appropriate foods for their pet.

  • The Savannah monitor is a carnivore. Offer gut-loaded insects such as large crickets, superworms, king mealworms, silkworms, grasshoppers, cockroaches, as well as crayfish and other low-fat foods like cooked egg whites or Egg beaters®. Mice or rats may be offered, but only occasionally to reduce the risk of obesity.
  • Dust the non-breeding adult’s diet with a calcium carbonate or calcium gluconate supplement once weekly. Calcium supplements should be devoid or low in phosphorus with a minimum Ca:P ratio of 2:1. Avoid products containing Vitamin D as this can lead to toxicity. A general vitamin/mineral supplement may also be offered once weekly.
  • Adults may be fed two to three times weekly.
  • For more information, download the client handout: Feeding Insect Eating Reptiles.


Temperature Strive for 85-90°F (29-32°C) with a basking area that reaches 94-100°F (34-38°C). Temperature should drop to 74-78°F (23-26°C) at night.
Humidity/water Provide fresh drinking water daily as well as access to a larger soaking tub at least one to two times weekly for several hours.
Strive for 40-50% relative humidity, which may be achieved by light misting of the cage. Also offer a moist hide area.
Cage size and design Savannah monitors are active lizards. Adults require very large enclosures (i.e. 6 x 3 x 6 feet or 1.8 x 0.9 x 1.8 m) so custom built cages are often needed. Provide a minimum of 100 square ft (30 sq m) floor space.
Cage furniture/supplies Provide full-spectrum lighting for optimal absorption of dietary calcium as well as hide boxes at both ends of the temperature gradient.
Social structure House adults singly.


5-10+ years

Anatomy/ physiology

Dermatologic: Unlike snakes, lizards normally exhibit a patchy shed or “ecdysis”.
Fat stores: Fat pads are present with the caudoventral coelom.
Urogenital: Monitors possess a thin-walled bladder.
Sexual dimorphism: Adult males are larger and more robust with prominent femoral pores and a hemipenal bulge. The hemipenis is the copulatory organ of the male. The hemipenis will appear as radiodense opacities in some individuals. Femoral pores are the opening through which glands produce a thick, waxy secretion. This secretion plays a role in scent marking and other pheromone-based communication.

Savannahs are the most mild mannered of the monitors, however all monitor lizards are capable of delivering a painful bite. Monitors also have strong talons.


Ventral tail (coccygeal) vein
Ventral abdominal vein

Preventive medicine

Regular physical examination
Fecal parasite testing

Important medical conditions

  • Coelomic neoplasia
  • Egg yolk coelomitis
  • Hepatic lipidosis
  • Nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism or metabolic bone disease (Download the client handout: Metabolic Bone Disease in Reptiles and Amphibians ).
  • Obesity (rodent-based diet)
  • Starvation (poor husbandry, parasitism, cold temperatures, under-feeding)

**Login to view references**



Bartlett RD, Bartlett PP. Monitors and Tegus, 2nd ed. Barron’s Educ Ser. 2006.

Bartlett RD, Bartlett P, and Griswold B. Reptiles, Amphibians, and Invertebrates:  An Identification and Care Guide, 2nd ed. Hauppage, NY: Barron’s Educational Series; 2010.

De Vosjoli P. The Lizard Keeper’s Handbook. 2007, 2nd ed. Adv Viv Sys, Vista CA.

Weber N. Savannah monitor lizard (Varanus exanthematicus) and white-throated monitor lizard (Varanus albigularis albigularis). Exotic DVM 10(4):24-25, 2008.

To cite this page:

Pollock C. Basic information sheet: Savannah monitor. June 26, 2012. LafeberVet Web site. Available at