Wildlife TV channels often highlight the dramatic stories of the Komodo dragon which belongs to the same genus as the monitor lizards found in India; the water monitor lizard found in Sunderbans is bigger than the Komodo dragon. But yet we know less about monitor lizards and often discuss the komodo dragon.
In some parts of India, it is commonly believed that monitor lizard is a venomous species, which is untrue. The biggest reason for the myth is its bifurcated tongue, which resembles a snake and so it is killed many a times.
There are more than 70 different monitor lizard species in the world, of which four species — Bengal monitor lizard, Desert monitor lizard, Yellow monitor lizard and the Water monitor lizard — are found in India. Last year a 6 ft long new colourful species was discovered in Phillipines. None of the four different species of monitor lizards found in India are venomous. All the monitor lizards are very shy and harmless; in fact, they have more peril from us rather than the opposite. The lizard is smuggled many times for various reasons. Its skin is used for shoes, bags, belts and other fashion accessories. At the same times, there are many communities in India that eat the monitor lizard.
The most common one found in India is the Bengal monitor lizard, which you might have also seen around many a times.
The other three are species found only in some specific areas. The biggest lizard found in India is the Water monitor lizard, which is more than 10 ft long. It is found in Sundarban, Bhitarkanika, Andaman and Nicobar islands. Records say that thousands of tonne of skins of this lizard have been shipped to Europe, Japan and America. Of late, not many such reports have been out as all these four monitor lizard are listed in Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act under, which suggests maximum penalty to the offender. It is the same status as of tiger protection laws.
Desert monitor lizard is found in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana and Punjab. This species lives in dry desert habitats and to suit the environment their structures have also evolved. Its nostrils are located far back on the head region so that the warmth of the ground and the sand does not enter its nostrils.
There is very less data available for the yellow monitor lizard but it is believed that it is distributed all across Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Bihar, Punjab and even in Bengal and Bangladesh. The IUCN has given it the status of endangered species.
Monitor lizard usually have a varied diet, which includes insects, rodents, frogs, eggs, insects and snakes. Sometimes they also do scavenging. Some are just fruit eaters but these are not found in India. Monitor lizard lays eggs that take an incredible six to eight months to hatch. There is a popular story in our history where Shivaji Maharaj’s general Tanaji Malusaray used a monitor lizard to attach a rope for climbing a fort wall in the Battle of Singhgarh.
The claws and muscular power are its strength. Apart from the desert monitor lizard, all the other three species are amazing swimmers and can stay inside water for a more than 15 minutes. Though these lizards are non-venomous but the saliva and bacteria composition in the mouth of these lizards especially the yellow monitor lizard can be dangerous and can cause infection.
Right information about our native species will help in their conservation efforts and increase our understanding about the animal.