Ornate monitor lizard

Varanus ornatus

Ornate monitor lizards are generally found near water in the lowland rainforests of central Africa. Ornate monitors are carnivores. There are 31 species of monitor lizards in the world. 

Monitor lizard behavior and facts

  • Monitor lizards have a varied diet including crabs and other invertebrates, small mammals, birds eggs and sea turtle eggs as well as carrion. They use both their eyesight and long, forked tongues to sense prey.
  • They are semi-aquatic (active on land and in water). They are excellent swimmers and divers and can remain underwater up to one hour. They can also climb trees, to lie in branches overhanging rivers, or to escape danger.

From birth to death

  • Ornate monitors breed once each year, following the rainy season.
  • The female digs a hole in the ground or in an active termite nest. Over 2 to 3 days, she lays 20 to 60 eggs.
  • Incubation: up to 1 year
  • Hatchlings weigh less than 1 ounce. After hatching, they may need to wait for rain to soften the hard nest, or the female may return to open the nest to free them.
  • Once they leave the nest, hatchlings receive no maternal care.
  • Sexual maturity: 3 to 4 years
  • Lifespan: 10 to 20 years in captivity

Vital statistics

  • Length: up to 6 feet


Ornate monitors are listed under CITES, Appendix II. They are threatened by habitat loss and by hunting for their meat and skin.

Monitor lizards, the Oregon Zoo and you

The zoo's ornate monitor, named Merlin, lives in the Africa Rainforest. Its daily diet consists of small whole prey items several days a week including: chicks, rats, mice and quail.