Ornate monitor (Varanus ornatus)

Ornate monitor, head detail
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Ornate monitor fact file

Ornate monitor description

GenusVaranus (1)

Until 1997, the ornate monitor (Varanus ornatus) was considered a subspecies of the more ubiquitous and slightly larger Nile monitor (Varanus niloticus). The two closely related species are very similar in appearance, sharing many attributes such as a powerful stout body, an elongated snake-like head, sharp claws and a long compressed tail (2).

Although both monitors are reasonably alike in colouration, the more brightly coloured ornate monitor has darker olive to black skin, with fewer bands of yellow spots spaced from the shoulder to the base of the tail (2) (3).

Also known as
Ornate Nile monitor.
Varanus niloticus ornatus.
Max length: more than 2 m (2)

Ornate monitor biology

Since the relatively recent classification of the ornate monitor as a distinct species, very little research has been carried out to assess its specific biology and ecology. Like the Nile monitor, the ornate monitor is diurnal but, unlike its better known relative, it is active throughout the year. Although generally considered to be terrestrial, this dextrous lizard is both an excellent swimmer and climber (2) (4).

The specific dietary habits of the ornate monitor have received little attention from researchers, but in one study, crabs were found to form a considerable component of the diet of both juveniles and adults (2). It is also known to feed on slugs, small mammals, bird eggs and sea turtle eggs (4).

Although the breeding biology of the ornate monitor is not well known, parthenogenesis has been observed in captivity, which means that in some circumstances females may reproduce without the intervention of a male (5).


Ornate monitor range

The ornate monitor occurs form Sierra Leone, east to Chad and south as far as the Democratic Republic of Congo (1) (4).


Ornate monitor habitat

In contrast with the wide range of habitats occupied by the Nile monitor, the ornate monitor is generally found in the vicinity of watercourses in lowland rainforest (2).

However, this species may also be encountered in a number of other habitats, from beaches, mangroves and lowland rainforests, to plantations and suburban areas (4).


Ornate monitor status

The ornate monitor is listed on Appendix II of CITES (1).


Ornate monitor threats

The ornate monitor is threatened by habitat loss and is exploited for its meat and skin (3).


Ornate monitor conservation

There are no specific conservation measures in place for the ornate monitor, but it is listed on Appendix II of the Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) which makes it an offence to trade this species without a permit (1).

Fortunately, this species appears to adapt well to different habitats and is fairly tolerant of human disturbance to the natural environment (4).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

For further information on reptile conservation see:

  • International Reptile Conservation Foundation:


Authenticated (03/09/11) by Olivier S.G. Pauwels, Research Associate at the Royal Belgian Institute for Natural Sciences, Brussels, Belgium.



The production of viable eggs without fertilisation having occurred. The individuals that result are genetically identical to their mother.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.


  1. CITES (June, 2008)
  2. Pianka, E.R. and King, D.R. (2004) Varanoid lizards of the world. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indiana.
  3. Bronx Zoo (March, 2009)
  4. Pauwels, O.S.G. and Vande Weghe, J.P. (2008) Les reptiles du Gabon. Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.
  5. Hennessy, J. (2010) Parthenogenesis in an ornate Nile monitor, Varanus ornatus. Biawak, 4(1): 26-30. Available at:

Image credit

Ornate monitor, head detail  
Ornate monitor, head detail

© Rune Midtgaard

Rune Midtgaard


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