Savannah/Bosc monitors (Varanus exanthematicus) are 3-3.5’ long, diurnal, terrestrial lizards native to most of sub-saharan Africa. They prefer dry grasslands for habitat, but can also be found in other habitats such as woodland and rockland.
Savannah monitors are sturdily-built monitor lizards with a broad head, robust limbs, and relatively short neck and tail. They are typically gray- to yellow-brown in color, with pale spots on their backs and a ringed tail. Their scales are gently keeled.
Despite their low price point in pet stores, savannah monitors are far from being beginner-level pets. Their large size, expensive diet, and unique care requirements make them best suited for a dedicated keeper ready for an advanced-level pet reptile. However, with good care, they can live up to 10-12 years.
Minimum enclosure size for savannah monitors
The absolute minimum enclosure size for a single savannah monitor is 8’L x 4’W x 4’H. This may seem huge, but keep in mind that these are large lizards that need access to an appropriate temperature gradient and enough room to accommodate their active lifestyle.
Of course, if you can manage it, larger is always better! Regular supervised free-roaming opportunities are also recommended.
Housing multiple savannah monitors in the same enclosure is not advised.
Do savannah monitors need UVB?
Yes! Although they have been proven to survive and breed without access to UVB, using UVB light in captivity is still best practice. UVB lighting helps provide a clear day/night cycle, supplies all of the vitamin D that your pet needs, strengthens the immune system, facilitates better digestion, and provides other benefits.
Here are the best UVB bulbs for savannah monitors housed in a 8’x4’x4’ enclosure:
For best results, house the UVB bulbs in a reflective fixture like the Arcadia ProT5. Position the lamp on the same side of the terrarium as the heat lamp. The UVB lamp should be mounted inside the enclosure, with the basking platform placed so the lizard’s back will be 14-16” below the lamp.
Savannah monitors are also likely to benefit from plant grow lights as part of their environment as well. Add a ~6500K LED or T5 HO fluorescent grow lamp to provide extra illumination, as well as help any live plants in the enclosure to thrive.
Lights should be on for 11 hours/day during winter and 13 hours/day during summer to simulate seasonal changes in day length. All lamps should be turned off at night.
Best temperature for savannah monitors
Savannah monitors should have a basking surface temperature of 140-150°F, as measured by an infrared thermometer. Juvenile monitors may prefer cooler basking temperatures. To provide an optimal selection of temperatures for the lizard to choose from, use a Retes Stack for the basking surface.
The cool side should be between 75-85°F, as measured by a digital probe thermometer.
Provide heat for your savannah monitor with a cluster of halogen heat bulbs placed above the basking platform. You will need enough lamps to evenly heat an area at least the size of the monitor’s body. Halogen bulbs are the best way to imitate the warmth of sunlight indoors, and considered to be a superior form of reptile heating by experts. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective.
Heating should be turned off at night.
Best humidity levels for savannah monitors
Savannah monitors prefer a moderate-humidity environment with free access to a humid burrow. Air humidity should be around 50%, and measured by a digital hygrometer on the wall of the enclosure. Humidity in the burrow should be much higher, and measured via digital probe hygrometer, with the probe placed inside the burrow.
Pouring water directly into the substrate can be very helpful for maintaining both aspects of humidity.
Best substrate for savannah monitors
Providing a layer of naturalistic substrate (“bedding”) in the enclosure will help maintain correct humidity, cushion your savannah monitor’s body, provide a digging medium, and also help make your enclosure more attractive!
We recommend the following substrates for savannah monitors:
Substrate should be at least 12” deep (absolute minimum) and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with any contaminated substrate.
How to decorate a savannah monitor enclosure
An empty enclosure makes for a bored lizard, reducing its quality of life. Keep your pet entertained and engaged with its environment with the strategic use of décor items that encourage it to exercise natural behaviors!
Here are some ideas to get your started:
- sturdy branches
- large hollow logs
- live or artificial foliage (ex: grasses)
Training and designing enrichment activities are also good ways to help keep your monitor engaged, as well as provide a nice opportunity for bonding!
What to feed to a savannah monitor
Although large and heavy-bodied, savannah monitors are actually insectivores, which means that they need to eat a diet of mostly insects in order to get the nutrition that their bodies need. Both juveniles and adults should be fed as many insects as they will eat daily. However, adults should be allowed to fast for half of the year (4-6 months), as this is a natural cycle that is likely to help them maintain optimum health.
Feeder insects for savannah monitors: crickets, dubia roaches, red runner roaches, black soldier fly larvae, mealworms, superworms, darkling beetles, hornworms, silkworms, snails, grasshoppers, scorpions, centipedes, tarantulas
Vertebrate prey (mice, young rats, fish, quail, chicks, etc.) should be offered as a rare treat.
Obesity is extremely common in savannah monitors, so if your pet starts to look a bit round, reduce the amount of food offered, check basking temps, and increase exercise.
You will also need calcium and vitamin supplements to prevent your lizard from developing a deficiency. Repashy Calcium Plus LoD, lightly dusted on all insects. It’s okay to occasionally skip a dusting.
You will also need a large water bowl to help keep your savannah monitor hydrated. Change the water at least twice a week and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly, or whenever it becomes soiled.
How to handle your savannah monitor
Reptiles generally don’t appreciate petting and handling in the same way that dogs and cats do. Savannah monitors range in their tolerance of humans and how tame they can become. Some become tame enough that their owners describe them as being like housecats, while others prefer to be left alone.
If you want to build a trusting relationship with your pet savannah monitor, you will need to develop a firm foundation of positive interactions. Offering food from feeding tweezers works well as an initial bribe, and it’s best to get the lizard to come to you rather than simply grabbing it.
Here are some more tips for success:
- Don’t grab the lizard from above. Instead, scoop from below.
- Support as much of its body as possible.
- Start with short handling sessions at first, then gradually make them longer.
- Put the lizard back in its enclosure only when it’s calm.
*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please further your research with high-quality sources. The more you know, the better you will be able to care for your pet!