9 Monitor Lizard Species to Keep as Pets

If you’re a lizard lover, you need to dive into the world of the Varanus, the genus of the Komodo dragon that encompasses over 80 species of monitor lizards.

These are some of the largest and meanest lizards on Earth, but they’re not all as aggressive or deadly as the notorious Komodo.

So today, we will discuss the 9 most popular monitor lizards to keep as pets. What type of diet do they require, and what are their favorite environmental conditions? Let’s have a look!

1. Timor Monitor

This monitor lizard is long and sleek with an agile body and a long and flexible head. The lizard is mostly found in Indonesia on the island of Timor, which explains some things, doesn’t it?

This lizard enjoys strolls across the local savannas, forests, and rocky outcroppings that provide ample hunting opportunities.

The animal usually displays bland coloring, perfect for providing it with top-grade camouflaging abilities.

They mostly need them to protect themselves from predators, not necessarily to hunt. Lizards rely on their speed, agility, and jaw power to secure and kill their prey.

The animal’s diet in the wild consists of various animals like insects, small mammals, birds, and other lizards and snakes.

Their diet in captivity should aim at matching the reptile’s natural feeding tendencies from a nutritional standpoint.

Requirements in captivity:

  • Proper tank size of around 30-40 gallons for one adult lizard, given that adults can reach 30 inches in size with good care
  • Monitor lizards are used to arid conditions, so they need matching temperatures; aim for a temperature range of 75-85 F with a basking spot of up to 120 F and nighttime temperatures around 70-80 F
  • Humidity requirements are exceptionally high for a lizard, capping at 70-80%

Additional conditions: A water bowl with clean water for proper hydration and a soft and deep substrate for burrowing

The difficulty of care: Medium/Expert

These lizards demand more care and personalized, so it’s more fitting for an experienced keeper. Keep in mind that Timor monitors are rather grumpy when handled or petted too much.

They won’t hesitate to bite when stressed, and while not venomous, their biting isn’t easy on the skin either.

2. Ackie Dwarf Monitor

The Ackie dwarf monitor is not exactly small, despite its name. This lizard can reach 28-30 inches as a fully-grown adult, although most individuals will remain closer to 20-25.

This lizard is pretty handsome, despite its generic brown/yellow coloring. Most specimens are brown with yellow spots sprinkled all over their thin and athletic bodies.

The Ackie monitor is also an Australian resident, occupying deserts, rocky habitats, and savannas for a change. They are excellent climbers and diggers and use their agility to catch up with their prey and evade predation whenever necessary.

The lizard consumes a variety of prey, but it focuses on small creatures due to its reduced size. Reptiles, insects, small mammals, and smaller birds are all on the menu, as the Ackie isn’t particularly pretentious.

In terms of behavior and personality, the Ackie dwarf lizard is playful and friendly and can socialize with you quite well. However, it is also territorial and possessive when it comes to food, mating, or resources.

Requirements in captivity:

  • The ideal tank size should aim for at least 50-60 gallons of space with a general length of 2 times the lizard’s size
  • The temperature gradient should aim for values around 70-80 F for the cooler region and around 90-100 F for the basking spot
  • Keep humidity levels around 50-60%, depending on your monitor’s comfort levels
  • Have a substrate of at least 18-inch thickness to cater to the lizard’s digging tendencies

Additional conditions: A water dish, several climbing structures, and even toys are great for the Ackie dwarf monitor thanks to its playful demeanor and curiosity

The difficulty of Care: Expert

The Ackie monitor is quite a demanding lizard due to its precise housing conditions, dietary requirements, and sensitivity to improper parameters. Regular veterinary check-ups are necessary to keep the lizard in good health over the years.

3. Savannah Monitor

Now we’re starting to crawl our way into the big boy league. The savannah monitor can reach 2.5-4 feet as an adult and presents a stocky and powerful body with a thick neck and a pointy snout.

The lizard has a long and muscular tail and short legs that aren’t exactly fit for running. The animal’s overall anatomy transpires the idea of a heavy-moving beast, which is a fairly accurate assessment.

These lizards aren’t exactly the most handsome specimens, as they mostly come with bland coloring and a meh pattern. Most individuals are dirty brown, with some subtle spots covering the entire body.

This species is an African resident that wanders through the scorching desert and local savannas on a constant lookout for food and water. This lizard is quite an adept hunter that prefers to feed on numerous types of prey, including rodents, other small mammals, reptiles, birds, and insects.

Requirements in captivity:

  • Aim for a tank size of approximately 90-120 gallons, depending on the lizard’s size and activity level; it’s always better to have extra space with these reptiles
  • The standard temperature range sits between 70 and 85 F, with a basking area capped at 100 F
  • Humidity levels need to reach 40-50%, depending on the animal’s comfort level
  • The burrowing substrate is a must-have feature given that these are desertic reptiles, so you already know they like to dig around

Additional conditions: Always have sufficient hiding areas and enough open space for exploration. Climbing structures like branches and rocks are also necessary to meet the reptile’s demands.

The difficulty of Care: Expert

It’s quite difficult to find a beginner-friendly monitor due to these lizards’ pretentious nature. So, you should only get a savannah monitor if you know for sure you’re up to the task. The lizard can live a long and happy life in captivity, but only with sustained effort on your part.

4. Black-Throated Monitor

Now we’re moving deeper into the territory of some of the largest lizards on Earth. The black-throated monitor is a massive one, spanning over 7 feet as a full-grown adult, and comes with unique physical features.

The lizard showcases a massive and heavy body and an even more massive head. The neck is short, and the head’s width complements the even wider belly.

The lizard has notably long fingers equipped with flesh-ripping nails. This species is the most popular in Southeast Asia, where it inhabits various ecosystems like mangrove forests, rainforests, and swampy regions.

Despite its size and seemingly unfit body, the black-throated monitor is actually quite the climber, and it uses trees to chase prey and escape predators.

These lizards have a varied diet, consisting of a variety of prey, including mammals, birds, and reptiles, as well as anything that the lizard can catch and eat. This includes eggs, both laid in trees and in the ground.

Requirements in captivity:

  • This lizard takes the prize of the most space-demanding pet you can have. The ideal enclosure size should be at least 7-8 feet long in all directions, which can take you to a room-size habitat. For this reason, many monitor owners keep their lizards in their backyard or have a special room set up specifically for them
  • Aim for an ambient temperature of 80-90 F with a basking spot of around 100-110 F; the ideal nighttime temperature shouldn’t go lower than 78 F, as this is the bare minimum
  • Despite its heavily humid natural environment, the black-throated lizard isn’t as demanding as you might think; an average humidity level of 20-50% should be enough to ensure the reptile’s comfort

Additional conditions: Provide access to at least one hiding spot and have several climbing areas that your lizard can use for exploration and resting.

The difficulty of Care: Extreme

This is definitely not for the faint-hearted. The black-throated monitor demands too much space, and it is too pretentious about its natural conditions for you to manage it with minimal experience.

Only invest in the species if you’re confident in your resources, time, patience, and abilities to care for the monitor properly.

5. Asian Water Monitor

Now we’re finally getting big. The Asian water monitor is the closest you can get to owning your personal Komodo. This reptile is massive, peaking at a little over 10 feet and weighing an impressive 45 pounds.

The Asian monitor is imposing and comes with a muscular body, a rectangle-shaped head, and a matching mouth. The legs are short but extremely muscular and with black and curved claws.

Most specimens are black or dark brown with yellow underbellies.

As the name suggests, this species is fond of various bodies of water like swamps, lakes, and rivers, and can even be found in mangrove forests, provided a water source is nearby. The lizard consumes everything that swims and qualifies as a hypercarnivore (having a 100% carnivorous diet).

Some of the preferred meals include rats, lizards, amphibians, small crocodiles, eggs, and even tortoises, as their shells pose little difficulty to a determined Asian monitor.

Requirements in captivity:

  • There’s no point in discussing gallons because this monitor is too large to be kept in such a closed ecosystem. Aim for a minimum of 8x4x6 for a fully-grown adult, and keep in mind that most monitors demand more space than that.
  • The ideal temperature sits between 80 and 90 F with a basking area capped at 95-110 F; these values can vary slightly depending on the monitor’s requirements
  • Because this is a water-loving animal, you should aim for an environmental humidity level of around 60-70%

Additional conditions: A large water source should be available for drinking and soaking, as well as at least one hiding area and a flat basking spot for warming up.

The difficulty of Care: Expert

Asian water monitors are notoriously difficult to care for. One reason for that is the need for extra space and the lizard’s overall size and growth rate. These lizards can reach impressive sizes and weights and grow relatively fast.

So, you need to upgrade their enclosure constantly to make sure the animal doesn’t stress out due to improper housing.

6. White-Throated Monitor

This is another large lizard that has the potential to grow fast and grow big. Expect your white-throated monitor to reach 6 feet as an adult and get as heavy as 25-30 pounds, depending on the individual. White-throated monitors are native to Southern Africa and inhabit arid regions and savannas.

The white-throated monitor is impressively nimble for its size, as it comes with an agile and fit body, almost cylindrical in shape. The head is small and oval-shaped at the end of a long and powerful neck. The lizard is typically brown, with some yellow spots here and there and a yellow underbelly.

This is the ideal coloration for a desertic reptile that spends its time in dry and scorching natural habitats.

These lizards are fairly social and playful and won’t exhibit aggression, generally speaking.

Unless they’re hungry, in full mating season, annoyed or stressed by frequent handling, or when in a ‘gotta protect this territory’ mood.

Requirements in captivity:

  • A fully-grown white-throated monitor may require a room-sized enclosure by the time it reaches its maximum size
  • Keep the environmental temperature around 75-90 F with a basking spot going as high as 105 F
  • The ideal humidity range sits between 20 and 50%, but you should always adjust the humidity to your lizard’s needs

Additional conditions: The typical water bowl is necessary for when the reptile needs to drink, but I recommend getting a larger piece, big enough to facilitate bathing.

Provide at least one hiding area and throw in some rocks for diversity and exploration.

The difficulty of Care: Expert

This one is also for the experienced only. White-throated monitors are big, heavy, and demanding, and they require a lot of space and regular monitoring and assistance.

7. Green Tree Monitor

We’re backing up a bit this time to investigate a smaller specimen that isn’t as demanding as its previous counterparts. The green tree monitor is a curious entry because this lizard doesn’t exactly fit the profile of a standard monitor lizard.

On the one hand, this monitor lizard only grows up to 3 feet, but almost half of that is the tail.

The lizard is purely green and only comes with small variations in color intensity and pattern. The adult lizard also exhibits dark latitudinal stripes covering the dorsal area. This lizard is also known as the Green Tree python due to its long and prehensile tail and its predilection for an arboreal lifestyle.

The tail is used for balance and aids with climbing and moving through the branches with precision.

This lizard is perfectly adapted to an arboreal lifestyle, and you will rarely see it at a land level.

Requirements in captivity:

  • Fortunately, you can house this animal in a personalized terrarium, provided you invest in a larger one. The ideal tank should be at least 4x2x4, but bigger is always better
  • The temperature range is optimal between 78 and 85 for the main dwelling zone and up to 95-100 F for the basking spot
  • These lizards prefer humidity levels around 70%

Additional conditions: Soil or coconut coir for a comfy substrate, fit for exploration and basking.

The difficulty of Care: Expert

While the Green Tree monitor is more fitting for an expert keeper, you can have a go at it, provided you follow the maintenance instructions in the letter.

This lizard prefers a vertical living space with a lot of climbing opportunities, as well as some open areas.

8. Nile Monitor

This is another long, cute, and agile monitor that would make for a perfect pet. The typical Nile monitor inhabits the Nile throughout sub-Saharan Africa, so it prefers to live in a semi-aquatic ecosystem.

Nile monitors have a very recognizable presence, starting with their long, agile, and uprose bodies and their distinctive green and yellow coloring.

The lizard has long and agile limbs, which it uses to raise its body off the floor and boost its speed when necessary. The long and powerful tail also helps with balance and precision of movement.

The Nile monitor consumes everything that shares its habitat, including snakes, birds, other reptiles, mammals, fish, and even crocodile eggs and hatchlings.

Carrion is also on the table in case of need, as the lizard will never refuse a good protein source.

Requirements in captivity:

  • The lizard’s cage should be at least twice as long as the lizard’s body, so, a 6-foot monitor will require an enclosure of at least 12x6x6
  • The temperature is typically lower than in other monitors, with a standard range of 70-80 F on the cool side and 88-92 F in the basking region
  • Humidity should always sit between 50 and 75%, but feel free to adjust it according to your pet’s preferences

Additional conditions: Have a pool available for soaking and bathing, as the Nile monitor does a lot of that during the day. Some climbing elements wouldn’t hurt either and are as necessary as a thick substrate for burrowing is.

The difficulty of Care: Expert

All massive monitor lizards demand expert care and maintenance to thrive in captivity.

This is typically due to their need for a lot of space and special layout requirements, like a large bathing area and several climbing spots.

9. Mangrove Monitor

This is a cute little spotted monitor that’s bound to win you over. For the record, when I say ‘little,’ I actually mean 4 feet because that’s the adult’s maximum projected size. The lizard is very athletic, with a slim body and a long and uplifted head.

Most specimens are dark green or light black, with yellow spots sprinkled everywhere.

The mangrove lizard is mostly found in Australia and surrounding ecosystems, including New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and other nearby Pacific islands.

The lizard’s preferred habitats include mangrove forests (right?) and coastal regions that provide easy access to water and food.

As with any other monitor lizard, this one is also carnivorous, consuming prey like rodents, mollusks, birds, crabs, insects, other reptiles, fish, and even carrion.

This wide food palette showcases the reptile’s habitat versatility, as the mangrove monitor can hunt on land just as well as in water.

Requirements in captivity:

  • You’re looking at an enclosure of at least 6x4x4, but a full-grown monitor will most likely demand more space than that
  • The ideal temperature range is significantly higher than that of other monitor species; the main dwelling area should reach 82-90 F, with the basking spot jumping up to 95-100 F. Nighttime temperatures are acceptable in the 70-75 range
  • You need a humidity meter of at least 70-90%, which is preposterous when compared to other lizards; this one just likes to stay moist

Additional conditions: Hiding places are an absolute must due to this lizard’s more skittish nature. So is the presence of a pool for frequent bathing and soaking.

The difficulty of Care: Extreme

This is the second monitor on today’s list that ranks as extreme, and for good reasons. This species is extremely demanding in terms of temperature, humidity, diet, and overall habitat layout.

Also, keep in mind that mangrove lizards are not your friends. They tend to be extremely skittish and even aggressive when approaching them. Expect an aggressive demeanor and even biting if you don’t respect the animal’s boundaries.


There’s no denying that monitors are fascinating animals overall, as they are the closest you can get to a genuine dinosaur.

However, no matter how fascinating you might find them, keep in mind that these animals are by no means easy to keep.

They are actually some of the most demanding pets due to their enclosure size requirements and increased sensitivity to changing parameters and diet.

Robert from ReptileJam

Hey, I'm Robert, and I have a true passion for reptiles that began when I was just 10 years old. My parents bought me my first pet snake as a birthday present, which sparked my interest in learning more about them. read more...