Taxonomists are divided on how to classify the species and subspecies of this brown and striped giant from Tanzania in southern Africa. This lizard, commonly known as the black-throated monitor lizard, is a large reptile that is surprisingly gentle when kept as a pet. Like its relatives, the diphtheria and savanna monitor, they can have a fiery temperament in the wild, but when properly cared for, they are generally relatively benign in captivity. This lizard should only be kept by advanced reptile keepers, as these monitors require a very large enclosure; they can grow to over 60 pounds!
Common name: Black Throat Monitor, Black Throat Monitor, Ionides Monitor, Cloak Monitor
scientific name: monitor lizard, white-headed monitor lizard, White-striped monitor lizard
Adult size: Up to 7 feet long and weighing over 60 pounds
Life expectancy: 20+ years
Black Throat Monitor Behavior and Temperament
Blackthroat monitors are semi-arboreal, which means that in the wild they mainly live in trees, especially when young. Adults don’t climb as much as juveniles, but they can still clamber up branches when they need to avoid danger on the ground or forage in trees.
These diurnal (day-dwelling) lizards also like to spend a lot of time burrowing or hiding under rocks, but black-throated monitors are also playful creatures that need stimulation; otherwise, they get bored and restless, and may rage about it.
Most small lizards, such as geckos and chameleons, generally do not like being handled by humans. But the larger lizards in the monitor lizard family actually need interaction to adapt them to their owners. Some studies suggest that these lizards are smart enough to recognize their human keepers.
Captive blackthroat monitors can become aggressive if not regularly handled by humans. These large animals puff up their bodies and hiss when they feel threatened or stressed; they are even known to bite. Given the size of the animal, a bite can cause serious injury. If you see your monitor starting to swell, back off and leave the animal alone until it shows signs of calm.
Stress is very bad for reptiles because it can lead to a weakened immune system and a host of subsequent health problems. As with all pets, exercise is a great way to reduce stress. In warm weather, the Black Throat Monitor can walk outside using a harness and leash like a dog (albeit a little slower). This is great for your monitor in many ways; socializing, UVB rays and exercise are all good for its overall health.
Placing the Black Throat Monitor
Black-throated monitor lizards need a large, sturdy shell. Most homeowners end up building a permanent enclosure for their black throat out of wood or plexiglass. The enclosure must be large enough for your monitor to walk a few steps forward, turn around, and stretch.
Give your heavy reptile a variety of places to climb and bask in the sun. Shelves of different heights and sturdy climbing branches provide your pet with an area to explore and a place to bask near ceiling heating lights. Add extra ramps and assist ways to climb up and down.
Even if the monitor isn’t a strong swimmer, the lizard will love a hard plastic kids pool or a utility tub with ramps for easy entry and exit. Buy a tub with a drain for easy cleaning, as the water usually needs to be changed daily. You’ll also need a protected water heater to keep the temperature around 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Even large monitors need a place where they can feel safe, so a hiding area should be provided. Use plywood to build an upside-down wooden box as a hiding area. Make sure all furniture in the cage is securely bolted into place.
Monitor lizards are also excavators, so they need to have a soil floor (substrate). Add a deep layer of substrate to the shell; clean dirt mixed with sand will suffice. Vinyl or tile floors can also be used under the substrate as it is easy to clean. But digging claws can damage this layer of material.
Since these lizards come from Africa, they love high temperatures. Tanzania has a tropical climate, with temperatures above 68 degrees Fahrenheit year-round (except at higher altitudes). Provide your monitor lizard with a basking area that can reach a range of over 90 degrees during the day and stay above 75 degrees Fahrenheit at night.
Monitor lizards need about 12 hours of UVB light a day to stay healthy. Sunlight is the best source of UVB, but it’s not always available. Sunlight through windows is also not a source of UVB, as glass filters out these invisible rays.
Like other monitor lizards, Black Throat requires added UVB ray support. Reptile heat lamps and special UVB emitting bulbs can be used to provide your pet with the proper temperature and a day and night cycle that includes rays from the sun. Artificial UVB lighting is not required if you decide to place your blackthroat display outside year-round and have access to natural sunlight.
food and water
In the wild in Tanzania, black-throated monitor lizards are obligate carnivores, they are true carnivores and cannot digest plant matter. They eat small reptiles, birds and eggs, rodents, aquatic animals and insects. In captivity, they also need to eat many intact prey such as mice and birds. Rats and other rodents, as well as young chickens, are usually good meal choices. Crustaceans, fish, eggs, snakes, lizards, and even freshwater shellfish are fair game and provide a nice variation to the diet.
In addition to regularly feeding rodents and birds, you can also feed insects such as crickets, mealworms, and cockroaches to the monitor. If you do feed insects, dust them with calcium powder first and make sure the insects are gut loaded.
While wild-caught congeners may only want to eat live prey, captive monitors are willing to eat previously killed prey. Most monitor owners buy previously killed frozen mice in bulk online and thaw them as needed. There is some debate about whether these lizards need to be stalked or hunted before feeding, but if they were kept in captivity, this primordial instinct is likely suppressed.
If your pet becomes too thin or overweight, feed your monitor a few times a week and adjust meal schedules. Weigh your monitor monthly so you can adjust feedings as needed.
Use sturdy bowls for food and drinking water. Using a bowl that fits securely to the side of the cage is the best way to prevent spills. Even if your monitor has a wading pool, a fresh water bowl should still be provided.
Common Health and Behavioral Issues
If your black-throated lizard seems lethargic or unwell, don’t try to treat these symptoms yourself. Seek treatment from an exotic animal veterinarian who specializes in lizards.
Like other monitor lizards and many other pet reptiles, black-throated lizards are susceptible to metabolic bone disease, which is the result of a calcium-phosphorus imbalance that usually occurs when the lizard doesn’t get enough UVB light to make vitamin D.
An important health concern for any large lizard to be aware of is constipation due to impaction. Like other large lizards, black-throated monitor lizards have a very large appetite, which usually means they will eat something indigestible, such as sand or substrate in a cage.
Although they are known to infect parasites, black-throated lizards do not infect them as often as smaller lizards. The presence of parasites usually indicates inadequate rearing conditions and can be corrected by adjusting housing, but may require safe medical treatment by a veterinarian.
Choose Your Black Throat Monitor
For this reason, these large, strong reptiles can challenge pets. Make sure you have enough resources to feed and feed such a large animal. It’s also important to check local laws regarding possession of any exotic species you live in.
As with most exotic pets, it’s best to get them from a reputable breeder who will tell you its health history. Clear eyes, smooth skin, and general alertness are all signs of a black-throated monitor lizard’s health. If it looks lethargic or doesn’t eat easily when food is offered, it may be sick.
Species similar to blackthroat monitor
If you’re interested in keeping a monitor lizard as a pet, check out these similar species:
Otherwise, check out other types of reptiles and amphibians that can be your pets!