Ms. Liz, or Mr....Our Resident Monitor Lizard
Ms. Liz, the water monitor lizard that has taken up residence around the Elephant Plains waterhole, has been seen several times in the last couple of weeks. Rumor has it she might have a nest in the little area that looks like an island in the water hole. Its secluded and very well protected from most predators. But some of us aren’t quite convinced of it, as this goes against the norm for a water monitor. The females, shortly after the summer rains begin, find an active termite mound, dig a hole into the side and lay 20-60 eggs. The termites discover the destroyed side and busy themselves repairing their home. This seals the eggs in a warm, safe place where they incubate and develop for the next 10-12 months, until they dig their way out during the next rainy season. Their little bodies are brightly colored as they emerge and run for cover. Like all monitors, they have a long, flexible neck and a tail that is at least as long as their body. They are the only lizard that has a retractile tongue, like a snake's. Adult coloration is olive-brown with 6-11 yellow bands or spots laterally on the body and 10 or more pale cross bands on the tail.
They are especially fond of eggs, and are often found raiding terrapin nests, or laying in wait for the female crocodiles to move away from their nests, allowing the water monitor time to steal her eggs as well. Their diet also includes birds, fish, crabs and frogs. The water monitors teeth are rounded much like pegs, making them perfect for crushing the shells of eggs and crustaceans. They will even try to figure out how to get the eggs out of a bee-eaters nest that has been built into the vertical sandy banks along the river.
The water monitor lizard, like most reptiles, needs the warmth of the sun to get it up to speed. We have been lucky enough to see Ms. Liz sunning herself on the banks or in the short grasses next to the waterhole. If she gets startled, she runs like a bullet into the water, her tail serving not only as a strong weapon, but as a rudder and propeller to get her into a safe place in the reeds. If confronted, she will defend herself by biting and using her heavy tail to whip around and hit the predator. Now just what animal would take her on? Her natural predators are the crocodile and pythons...gee, do you think it might be because she steals the crocodile eggs and has stolen the tongue of a snake?
We’ll watch as Ms. Liz hopefully continues to show herself around the Elephant Plains water hole. She is an amazing specimen as she moves stealthily through the water to reach the warm sun. And whether there are eggs nearby or not, she alone is worth the time we spend starring at the water hole waiting for a ripple to reveal her whereabouts.