Asian Reptiles
Comments 7

Water Monitor – Portrait of a Dragon

Water Monitor Varanus salvator Kinabatangan Sabah Borneo Malaysia

The Water Monitor (Varanus salvator) is the second-heaviest lizard in the world after the Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis) – a fearsome looking animal with a muscular body, split tongue and sharp claws. Scanning their surroundings by walking upright, defending themselves with infection causing bites and feeding on carrion, birds, eggs and young crocodiles, this aquatic and arboreal carnivore is one of Borneo’s apex predators. Although the water monitor is a common inhabitant of the island’s riparian zones and rivers, we were fortunate to watch this dragon up-close on several occasions. Note the sheer size of the claws in the photograph below – and compare it to the innocent look of the juvenile above…

Water Monitor Varanus salvator Kimabatangang Sabah Borneo Malaysia


  1. It always interests me that the young monitors are so vividly coloured compared to the adults. We see it with the two types that occur here in South Africa as well. It seems to go against the conventional wisdom that the small ones should be cryptically coloured to hide away while the adults should be colourful to attract a mate?

  2. Its is a very interesting question indeed Dries. The fading colouring of adult lizards is a poorly understood phenomenon. One theory is that young lizards forage more actively and are therefore more prone to predation – they would need to be better camouflaged than adult lizards. Other studies have linked fading colours with physiological, psychosocial or environmental stress, although most the precise mechanisms remain largely unknown. I guess we need to ask a dragon expert to shed a bit more light on this don’t we?

  3. Girl Gone Expat says

    Water Monitor is a interesting name for the lizard, is it because it likes spending time in water? I really like your close up shot, very nice!

    • They do live around rivers and are good swimmers indeed. But they are very agile climbers and fast runners too – they don’t rely on ambush but just outrun their prey.

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