Creature Feature: Water Monitor Lizard

Water Monitor Lizard

Varanus salvator

Splash the Water Monitor Lizard

Splash the Water Monitor Lizard

Reptiles Alive Name: “Splash”

Hissstory: Splash was either an abandoned or escaped pet.  He was found hiding in a drain pipe in the city of Alexandria, VA.  An animal control officer was able to capture him and then called us.  We received him in July 2006 and he has been just a ton of fun ever since!

RA Diet: We feed Splash a varied diet including: roaches, crickets, super worms, cooked chicken eggs, and his favorite:  dead mice.

Natural Diet: Monitors eat carrion, fish, shellfish, small reptiles (including baby crocodiles!) and mammals, eggs of all kinds, and insects.  Pretty much, they will eat anything except their vegetables!

Range: Water monitors are found in southern Asia, from Bengal in the west to the Philippines and the Indo-Australian islands.

Habitat: Water monitors like to live anywhere  near water, including swamps, woodlands, and riverbanks.

Size: Water monitors are one of the biggest species of lizards on Earth.  They can grow almost 10 feet long and weigh up to 75 pounds.  Whew – that is BIG!

Lifespan: Monitor lizards can live for over 20 years.

Reproduction: Water monitors  will take advantage of termite mounds as well as rotting logs or stumps to lay their eggs.  Females lay 20-50 eggs which take about 6 months to hatch.

Conservation: Water monitors are listed as CITES Appendix II, meaning they are becoming endangered.  Their biggest threats come from habitat loss, the skin trade, and the pet trade.

Cool Facts: The largest living lizard in the world is a monitor lizard commonly known as the “Komodo dragon.”  Water monitors are very closely related to the the Komodo dragon, and just like the dragon, the water monitor is very intelligent.  Some scientists believe monitor lizards may be the most intelligent groups of lizards.  After working with monitors, I would say I agree.  They are fast learners and they are VERY curious.  There really is something going on behind those dragon eyes!

Pocomoke City Discovers Reptiles Alive!


Last Saturday morning, March 20th, I packed up the Reptiles Alive van full of great animals including Sunshine the python, Logan the Nile monitor lizard, and B.A. the alligator.  We  drove across the Chesapeake Bay down to Pocomoke City, MD – home to the Delmarva Discovery Center.

Pocomoke is a historic Eastern Shore town located right on the Pocomoke River. Last year, the awesome new Delmarva Discovery Center (DDC) opened to the public. The DDC features exhibits that tell the story of the Delmarva’s natural and cultural history.
As we set up and got ready, we had a huge crowd excitedly waiting to see the first show.
We started each of the three shows that day with a couple of animals native to the Eastern Shore: Lucky our black rat snake and T Rex the snapping turtle.100_1325

Then we featured an animal from the other side of our planet: the Australian blue tongue skink, Mystique. Next, we learned why we should all be really grateful there are no mommy pizzas when we met Logan the Nile monitor lizard.
The alligator B.A. (which stands for “Bad Attitude” helped us learn alligator love songs. Last but definitely not least, we met Sunshine, our albino Burmese python. The audience, as usual, went wild for Sunshine.

Big thanks go to the Delmarva Discovery Center for hosting this fun reptile festival. We are hoping to make this an annual event, so start planning your trip to Pocomoke City for next year.

Reptiles Alive visits the National Zoo

Had a great time visiting with some old friends and colleagues at the National Zoological Park (NZP) in Washington DC.


First, we went to see the legendary Janis Gerrits, Senior Keeper at the Reptile Discovery Center (RDC).  Janis is a former Reptiles Alive keeper who left us in 2003 to join the NZP team.   The Zoo is very lucky to have Janis – she is a top notch reptile keeper.  She has an amazing ability to know an animal’s needs.

Here she is demonstrating target training with a monitor lizard.

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Why bother training a monitor lizard at a zoo?

Monitors are very intelligent animals that need something to do.  By training an animal at the zoo, it makes their life more comfortable and interesting.  The monitor in this video has become at pro at target training thanks to Janis’s expertise in training reptiles.

Speaking of monitor lizards, we couldn’t visit the zoo without saying hello to Murphy the Komodo Dragon! What a handsome lizard he is, and big!  I was amazed as how calm he was around Janis.  (You can see Murphy’s head behind the glass of this picture of  Janis.)


We were very impressed with what Janis has accomplished at the National Zoo.  The animals were all healthy and their enclosures were super clean and well designed.  The enclosures had real live plants in them and very cool rock work.  The animals all had nice comfy places to hide while allowing the public to still see them.


After spending the morning hanging out with Janis and all the awesome animals at the RDC, we headed down to the Bird House to meet up with the renowned former Reptiles Alive Wildlife Educator and Keeper – Reade Harbitter.


Reade left Reptiles Alive to become a full time Bird Keeper at NZP about 2 years ago.  Although we specialize in reptiles, both me and Jen love birds too.  She introduced us to some of her favorite feathered friends, including a toucan, some rheas, and lots of other exotic and strange birds.

As we were leaving the zoo, a car pulling out of the parking lot started honking.  I looked over and saw my friend and colleague Debbie Grupenhoff!  Debbie and I used to work together at the Reston Animal Park way, way back.  I had not seen her in years and I was so surprised!  Debbie said she is now working at the zoo’s commissary.  That is so cool – a professional chef for the animals!

What a fantastic day we had.  Thank you Janis and Reade for the tours.

The zoo is a great way to get close to nature in the big city.  Tell us about your trip to the zoo!

Super September Adventure – Reno, NV


Truckee Meadows/Reno Area – Nevada

Posting by Caroline Seitz

Even though I live and work in the Washington DC area, I consider my other home to be in Reno NV.  I love the desert, the Sierra Nevadas, the Jeffery pine trees, the open views, the awesome weather, and my Dad – who happens to live there too.  I am so lucky because I get to go out to Reno a couple of times a year to visit Dad and have tons of fun.

This visit was, as usual, a total blast!  We visited the old cemetery in Virginia City.  I took a ton of pictures, and I did not find any ghosts, but I did find a couple of nice Western Fence Lizards hanging around the old graves.


In the Nevada desert, the air is so dry that lumber does not rot for a very long time.  So, even after 100 years, the old wooden bed frames that people used to mark graves in the past were still there.  Nevada is the driest state in the country – the humidity level can be around 5%. Here in Virginia, we can have humidity levels of 70% or more – the difference is remarkable when you are in the desert.

But Nevada is not all about the desert.  In addition to being the driest state, Nevada is also the most mountainous state.  The highest mountains in the lower 48 states are the Sierra Nevadas, which lie on the California/Nevada border.  The Sierras are home to many rivers that on the east coast we might call creeks because they seem so small.  Most of the rivers on the eastern side of the Sierras never make it to the ocean – they simply “die” out in the Great Basin.  The Truckee River runs from Lake Tahoe east to Pyramid Lake, where the water simply evaporates into the dry desert air.

Different fish species live in the rivers and lakes.  Our luck trying to catch them, however, was not the greatest.  No grilled trout for breakfast on this trip!


Since we were unsuccessful in our efforts to catch fish, we decided to go out for some  sushi that night.  We went to Oceania at the Peppermill – WOW – what a place!  Sharks, leatherback sea turtles – they had it all.




Leatherback Sea Turtle in Nevada?

It was a great trip – thanks Dad!