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Species Spotlight: Malayan Monitor Lizard Behaviour


The Malayan Monitor Lizard, a fascinating and misunderstood creature, is the focus of this species spotlight. This impressive reptile exhibits a range of behaviours that make them an interesting subject for anyone passionate about wildlife. Let’s delve into their world and explore the variety of behaviours they exhibit.

Foraging Behaviour

Malayan Monitor Lizards, a fascinating species of reptile, are classified as opportunistic feeders in the animal kingdom. This means that they do not restrict their diet to a specific type of food, but rather, they consume a variety of food sources based on availability. These lizards exhibit an interesting behaviour of foraging for food, which they carry out both on the ground and up in the trees. With their long, forked tongues, they use a unique and efficient method to locate their prey. Their tongues are an integral part of their hunting strategy, allowing them to sense the presence of potential food sources. The diet of Malayan Monitor Lizards is impressively diverse, consisting of a wide array of food items. They are known to devour various types of insects, small mammals such as rodents, and different species of birds. They also eat bird eggs, providing them with a rich source of protein. Furthermore, they are not averse to feeding on carrion, often scavenging on the remains of dead animals. This demonstrates their adaptability and their significant role in the ecosystem as decomposers.

Resting Postures

Resting is an essential part of the daily routine of the Monitor Lizard. This activity is crucial for their health and wellbeing. They adopt a sitting position during their rest periods. This position not only allows them to spring into action if threatened but also enables them to conserve energy. Their resting locations are carefully selected, with a preference for shady spots or spaces hidden amongst vegetation. This choice of resting location is a strategic one that serves a dual purpose. First, it helps them avoid the harsh midday sun and maintain their body temperature. Second, it provides them with a form of camouflage that helps evade predators, ensuring their survival in the wild.

Grooming Habits

Monitor lizards spend a fair amount of time grooming their bodies. They pay particular attention to grooming their heads and limbs, using their hind legs and tongues. This behaviour helps them remove parasites and maintain their scales.

Social Interactions

Monitor lizards tend to lead solitary lives. However, during mating season, they do interact with each other, often involving displays of dominance and courtship rituals.

Aggressive Behaviour

Aggression in Monitor Lizards is commonly observed during periods of territorial disputes or during the mating season, when competition among individuals of the same species intensifies. The aggressive behaviours they exhibit can range from biting, which is often a direct form of attack to assert physical dominance, to tail whipping which serves as both a defensive mechanism and a show of strength. Chasing, another common display of aggression, is often used as a means to drive away intruders or rivals. These behaviours, while seemingly violent, serve a crucial role in the social structure of Monitor Lizards. Aggressive behaviour enables them to establish a clear hierarchy of dominance and secure mating rights, which is vital for the continuation of their species.


While Monitor lizards aren’t known for their vocalizations, they can make a variety of sounds. Their vocal repertoire includes hisses, growls, and even roars when threatened or during aggressive interactions.


Monitor lizards are remarkable creatures with excellent abilities in climbing and swimming. They are adept at navigating through various terrains, be it on trees or in water. When on land, these fascinating reptiles exhibit a unique way of moving, known as their distinctive gait. They rely on their muscular legs and robust tail to provide the necessary force to propel themselves forward. It’s a sight to behold, watching them traverse their habitat with such agility and strength.

Reproductive Behaviour

During the breeding season, which is a particularly fascinating time in the life cycle of Monitor lizards. The males engage in a variety of intriguing courtship displays designed to attract the attention and interest of females. Their repertoire of displays encompasses a range of behaviours. These include persistent head bobbing, intricate circling movements, and distinctive tongue flicking. The purpose of this behaviour is to signal their availability and suitability as mates to potential female partners. Once a pair has mated, following these complex courtship rituals, the next phase begins. This involves the female laying her eggs, a process which requires a suitable location. The female Monitor lizard will seek out and select an appropriate spot. They often choose to lay their eggs in the secluded safety of a burrow or the sheltered hollow of a tree trunk.

Home Range and Territorial Behaviour

Monitor lizards are distinct creatures that display territorial behaviour. They establish and maintain control over a specific geographic area, referred to as their home range. They defend their territory from intrusions by other monitor lizards. This territoriality is a significant aspect of their behaviour. To further assert their dominance and mark their territory, they use scent glands that are located in their cloaca. These glands produce a unique scent that is used as a territorial marker. Scent marking contributes to their ability to maintain their space and ward off potential competitors.

Nest Building

Finally, an essential aspect of the reproductive process of the Malayan Monitor Lizard is the construction of nests. Nest building is crucial as it serves many purposes in ensuring the successful reproduction of this species. Females exhibit remarkable behaviour during this phase. They are known to dig deep holes in the ground, demonstrating their strength and perseverance. These holes serve as a safe haven for their precious eggs, protecting them from potential predators that could pose a threat to their offspring. An alternative nest-building strategy employed by these lizards involves the use of termite mounds. They take advantage of these existing structures, turning them into ideal spots for egg-laying. The choice of such nesting sites is not arbitrary. It is a carefully considered decision, ensuring that the eggs are placed in an environment that provides the ideal temperature and humidity conditions for incubation. Through these nest building tactics, the Malayan Monitor Lizard increases the chances of survival for its offspring.
These creatures have a knack for utilizing the structures that already exist in their environment for their nesting and shelter needs. Rather than making their own, they often find refuge in hollows of trees, which provide a safe and enclosed space. Burrows, dug by other animals, also serve as excellent hideouts for them. They also seek shelter in the crevices of rocks, which provide a natural and secure hideaway from predators and harsh weather conditions.


The Malayan Monitor Lizard, with its vast richness and variety of behaviours, is indeed an intriguing creature to study. Their actions, movements, and mannerisms provide a captivating look into their unique world. Understanding these behaviours in depth not only allows us to appreciate these lizards on a greater level but also sheds light on their needs and habits. With this knowledge, we can develop more effective conservation strategies, ensuring their survival for future generations. Thus, studying these lizards does not only satisfy our curiosity but also plays a crucial role in their preservation.

Photos of Malayan Monitor Lizard Behaviour

Water Monitor Lizard, Singapore

Monitor lizards use the same mangrove tree cavity as a nest for several years until riverbank erosion saw the tree collapse into the river.

Young monitor lizard emerges from a mangrove tree cavity.

Malayan Water Monitor Lizard, Singapore by Tim Plowden

Malayan monitor lizard climbing a mangrove tree in Singapore.

Monitor sleeping on a mangrove tree.

Monitor descends a mangrove tree and dips it nose into the river water.

Monitor lizard swims through a school of fish in a mangrove river.

Malayan Water Monitor Lizard, Singapore by Tim Plowden

Malayan Water Monitor Lizard swimming in a pond Singapore.

Monitor tastes pond water with its forked tongue.

Adult monitor patrols its mangrove river territory.

Two monitors wrestle in a mangrove river.

Courtship interaction between two monitor lizards in an urban canal.

An adult monitor returns to the water of an urban canal.

Monitor lizard walking on a nature reserve footpath.

A young monitor fights back against a changeable hawk-eagle (dark morph) that tried to prey on it.

A tense stand-off between an adult monitor lizard and an otter on a mangrove beach. Most interactions between otters and monitors are peaceful, some are aggressive and only rarely are they fatal.

A juvenile monitor lizard basks on a mangrove tree stilt root while a fledgling hornbill forages nearby. Although hornbills eat lizards, the young monitor is larger than their average prey.

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