Nile Monitor Care Sheet

Nile Monitors are very impressive monitors and one of the more commonly imported monitors in the pet trade today. They are also one of the most misunderstood and this leads to many people believing them to be simply very aggressive. They are not actually aggressive, this is the wrong way of wording it, they will stand there ground and attack if cornered. They are more dangerous than a similarly sized crocodilian if cornered, however, as long as they can escape and are not cornered, they make a beautiful and very rewarding monitor to have in captivity. There are two types of Nile available, excluding the few pattern morphs and the albinos. These are the Ornate Nile and the common Nile. The Ornate Nile is generally smaller and has been noted to be the less aggressive of the two. I have only seen Ornate Nile’s that have been tolerant and know of no common Nile’s that could be considered tolerant, however, there are sure to be some somewhere. When young it is more difficult to tell the difference between the two, the signs, however, are the numbers of ocelli along the back, these are dots in rows across the back. The Ornate Nile typically has four or fewer rows between the front and back legs and the common has seven or more rows. The other characteristic is the color of the tongue. The Ornate has a pink tongue and the common a black/blue tongue. When adults the common Nile is also longer and more slender, with the Ornate being more bulky and shorter with a more box-like head. The larger specimens that you see are therefore typically common Nile’s.

Common Misconceptions

“The Nile will only grow as large as the tank” – The Nile will grow to its full potential, as long as you give it the right “ingredients”. The size of the tank will have little bearing upon this, however you may cripple your Nile in too small a tank. “It will calm down when it’s in its new home and being handled often” Most will not calm down, they will likely only get bigger and thus more dangerous. “I’ve seen this internet site with a really tame Nile on it, so it is possible as long as you do it right” We have all heard of the Tame(?) Nile, however they are very few and far between and there are thousands upon thousands of them imported and bred each year. How many are Tame? I would guess around 0.1% so unless you have a whole garden of four leaf clovers, I would not buy one on this assumption.

Who Buys a Nile Monitor?

Unfortunately, this is all too often, somebody who believes they will tame the beast. However, the Nile monitor is the least likely candidate to use the term tame upon. They are extremely intelligent, extremely powerful and lethal hunters. They will defend themselves to the death. Often when they bite, they will not let go for some time and their claws are extremely sharp. They will rarely be the type of monitor to allow themselves to be picked up or to even tolerate you too close up. So if you want a monitor to pick up and pet, then I suggest you find another monitor. People often buy Nile monitors, being told they will only grow as large as their tank and that they will settle down with handling, however this is very rarely, if ever, the case. They can grow to be around 6ft total length, typically being around 4.5 ft, and will probably be just as intolerant of you as an adult, as that cute little hatchling you bought that wouldn’t stay still and kept trying to bite, tail whip and scratch you with all its heart.

I Can Handle A Nile So How Do I Keep It?

Are you sure? You have made your mind up, well you will need to give as much thought into this aspect of the purchase, as you have to deciding this scary little beast is for you. The size of the vivarium for a hatchling of about 12-16 inches would need to be around 4ft long, at least 1ft deep, and ideally 2-3 ft high. When young, Nile’s love to climb up into the branches that overhang the riverbanks. Therefore every attempt should be made to give your Nile, as close as is possible, its natural environment. There should be a large water dish that the monitor can completely submerse in, as they love to bathe and swim and when you have seen them swim you will want to see it again and again because they go like bullets. Along with this, you should give them a deep enough substrate that allows them to dig around a bit, because they love to burrow, about 8-12 inches is good. If you cannot do this then place a container in one end, filled with substrate to allow them somewhere to burrow. A suitable heat source is an active UV bulb, these bulbs produce huge amounts of heat and lots of UV both of which your Nile loves. Hatching should not be exposed to temperatures over 110-120°F in the basking areas. However, adults and juveniles will often love soaking up heat at temperatures up to 140-150°F. It should be pointed out, that these are ground temperatures, taken directly under the warmest area of the basking site, a background temperature of 85-90°F dropping down to 80°F in the cool end are good temperatures for the rest of the vivarium. It should also be noted that high amounts of ventilation are as important to monitors, as is enough heat. Think how stale and horrible the air is, when you open your car after it’s been sat in the car park on a hot day. I use mesh for the doors on my monitor vivariums, not glass, this allows high basking temperatures and good ventilation. This is also key in keeping the smell down in a monitor’s vivarium, as they often pass solids in their water source, which after a few minutes in a hot non-ventilated vivarium, really smells. Hides are also an important part of making your Nile feel happy and secure, thus more comfortable, and more likely to become calmer. Hides can be anything from a box, to an upturned dog basket. It should simply provide a nice dark secure place to retire to, when the need is felt.

Nile Monitor Diet

Niles will eat almost anything they can get hold of, however this will often lead to the most common side effect that any monitor in captivity gets, that is obesity. They will accept rodents along with insects, snails, fish and raw meat. I tend not to offer raw chicken but I feed raw red meat once a week. I feed Beef heart every so often and every other day I offer a suitably sized rodent. They will also accept scrambled eggs, fertilised whole eggs, ground turkey and many other forms of fish and meat, however be careful, as what goes in may not be very nice when it comes out the other end. In my experience, deviating too much from the whole item diet, leads to some very smelly cleaning jobs. It is important to keep an eye on your monitor’s weight. They are supposed to be long slender animals, not big, slow, obese animals. Thus it is down to you, the keeper, to keep this in the balance. Supplementing the diet is also necessary, this should be done with a good quality vitamin powder and a good quality calcium supplement. I will dust every feed with calcium and twice a week with vitamins. One very good item to offer any monitor is cockroaches. Many monitor keepers breed their own, to supply there monitors. This can work out well in both terms of ensuring you have them available, when unable to source them elsewhere, and also being able to make sure they are correctly fed. They have a good nutritional content, they also have the advantage of being available in many shapes and sizes. Many of which are big enough for any monitor to feed upon. In the future, I will, when my breeding of these has taken off, be feeding a more insect-based diet to my Niles. I will feed as many as I can, up to around 40% of its diet, as I believe this will be much more healthy, in both exercise and in causing the Nile to search for food more, thus keeping it mentally alert. However, you should be aware that while some African monitors can be kept purely on an insect based diet, it would be wrong to do so with a Nile, as they are known to eat large amounts of meat in one form or another in the wild.

Handling A Nile Monitor

You may want to try to calm your monitor down, and there are a few ways to do this. One way of doing this, is frequent handling, and some do calm down with this. However most don’t! Some people try again and again. Many’s the time, I’ve heard the story’s of the Nile hanging off a finger or hand for 15-20 minutes at a time, until it eventually lets go. If you are going to try to pick up a Nile, then I would suggest that you make sure you pick it up in a safe and secure manner. This can be achieved the following way. Approach the Nile slowly, sudden movements will only scare it and make it either flee or fight. Once you are within range, place your hand on top of its neck (it should be noted that trying to handle any large monitor without wearing thick gloves, is very ill advised, particularly a Nile). With your hand on top of its neck, slide your fingers either side of its neck so that it cuts down the movement in its neck. Then slide your other arm under the Nile, you can then slide your hand from the top of its neck to under its neck thus supporting its body totally. Allowing the Nile to feel more secure in your grip and allowing it a degree of movement, while still having adequate restraint on it. In my experience no Nile likes to be picked up and will continue to struggle, with the exception of the occasional more accommodating female Ornate’s. I prefer to minimize deliberate handling and allow the monitor to have as much space as possible and just sitting there and let it choose to come to me. Which they often do. You may not be able to pick them up and handle them a huge amount but this normally means you are accepted as not being a threat and are thus tolerated, which is very useful when trying to clean out or feed a large and intelligent monitor such as this. However, you have to be prepared for the fact that some never clam down and are flighty and scared when young. When older and near 5-6ft in total length a tail whip from a Nile is a very painful thing and you should always be on guard. These monitors are the most unsuitable monitors to keep in captivity, often being very aggressive very defensive and they have extremely strong jaws, that they often use to crush crabs and other shellfish in their natural habitat. There should be every expectation that you will end up with a very flighty, shy and defensive monitor when young. Moreover, all but the slightest of mellowing, as it grows to be an adult, anything else is a bonus. A few Nile’s out there, have proven to be very tolerant. There is an Ornate Nile in America that shares its owner’s home with cats and other animals without any problems, however this is the exception, of which there are very few. It should also be noted that while a tame? Nile is all well and good anyone with a tame monitor will tell you that you are still at risk from monitor talk and monitors talk to cage mates generally by biting no malice is involved its just how they talk to each other from time to time.

Should I Use UV Light For My Nile Monitor?

There are many views out there on whether you need to use UV or not. Many have been kept with and without, both have been successful to the point of long life breeding etc. I believe its more about diet and the correct use of supplements, than UV light. There has been a lot of talk of the benefit of mercury vapour lamps and this is mainly, in my opinion, due to them providing a good bright light source and the heat that such bulbs provide. When using a mercury vapour lamp care should be used when using vitamin supplements because this can lead to overdoses. I prefer to use halogen lights to get the desired level of light and the correct localised basking temperature, as well as the correct hue of light to achieve the desired effect on behaviour and activity. These lights are also much cheaper than mercury vapour lamps and with the right supplementation give great results. However there is nothing wrong with using mercury vapour lamps, as long as you are aware of the risks involved with doing so. With any method of artificial light there are pros and cons, just be sure that you are aware of what the choice you make involves in its entirety and then do your best with that choice.

Body Language Of A Nile Monitor

When you are observing your monitor, it will be constantly telling you things, it is your job as the keeper to learn how to recognize what it is telling you and act upon this. If your Nile is constantly darting around its vivarium, tail whipping and hissing, then it is unlikely that it feels very safe or secure. So you must act upon this, many monitors will happily lounge around in the open. However, Nile’s tend to be much more shy and as such like there spaces to hide. While you may wish to see your monitor, you may have to make a compromise and settle for only seeing your monitor when it chooses to allow you to and not stress it out by having an open plan vivarium, with little area to hide. These animals are very quick and very intelligent, they will always search for ways of escape and always explore new areas. Because of this intelligence, you must provide them with a good “mental work out”, as well as a good diet and the right temperatures. I have observed many newly imported Nile’s, only want to feed when they see you are not observing them. I have tried, in the past, to entice them to feed in view, due to my desire to see them feed, however I have learnt that until it wants to be seen, it is best to allow it to remain hidden and have a much calmer much more tolerant Nile. You may also notice your Nile dislikes the temperatures on offer. By either constantly basking, in which case the temperatures are likely to be too low (most monitors will only bask for a small portion of their day) or by not basking at all, which combined with a constantly panting monitor should lead you to realize your temperatures are too high. Temperatures given in books or this article should only be taken as a guide, you should see how your monitor reacts to those temperatures before deciding that they are correct. There are so many things your monitor will tell you with its behavior, it is down to you to realize you are being spoken to the only way they know how and as such pick up on this and react to it.

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