Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Varanus salvator (Laurenti, 1768)

Species:V. salvator
Common Names:Malayan Water Monitor


One of the largest lizards in the world, the Malayan Water Monitor can measure up to 3 m in total length. Adults have large robust bodies, while juveniles are relatively slender. Adults are greyish-brown on the dorsal surface while juveniles are black with rows of bright yellow spots forming bands along the back and the tail. Both adults and juveniles have whitish undersides, although in juveniles, the whitish ventral extends to their sides forming inverted 'V'-shapes.

This species may be confused with the Clouded Monitor. They can be distinguished by the position of the nostrils: the Malayan Water Monitor has a long slender snout with the nostril positioned close to the tip, while the Clouded Monitor has the nostril positioned midway along the nostril.

Read more about the Squamata order.
Read more about the Varanidae family.


This species ranges from India, Sri Lanka, southern China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra to Borneo, Java, Bali, and the Lesser Sundas.


Admiralty Park, Central Catchment Nature Reserve, Chek Jawa, Khatib Bongsu, Lim Chu Kang, Lorong Halus, Pasir Ris Park, Pulau Semakau, Pulau Ubin, Pulau Tekong, Sentosa, Singapore Botanic Gardens, St John's Island, Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve

Locality Map

General Biology

The Malayan Water Monitor is diurnal and mostly terrestrial. It frequents mangroves, rivers, forests, and can even be found in canals, monsoon drains, and reservoirs in the urban area.

It is a capable climber and strong swimmer. It is usually seen basking by the banks of rivers and reservoirs, or resting on tree branches, where it commonly spends the night.

Adult males can sometimes be observed 'wrestling', where they will stand on their hind limbs with their fore limbs around their opponent’s back, each trying to push off the other. It is thus common to spot adult males with scars and scratches on their backs, especially around the shoulders.

The Malayan Water Monitor is non-venomous, but if bitten, its saliva contains bacteria that could cause severe wound infections. Although it can grow to quite a large size, it is usually not dangerous to man, preferring to flee when approached or threatened.


It feeds on small animals such as fish, crabs, birds and their eggs, as well as scavenge on carrion.

Life Cycle

Oviparous; each clutch comprise of 5–30 eggs which are incubated for 180–327 days.

Other Resources

Ecology Asia. 2012. Malayan Water Monitor. http://www.ecologyasia.com/verts/lizards/malayan_water_monitor.htm. (Accessed September 2012).

Uetz, P. (editor). The Reptile Database: Varanus salvator. http://reptile-database.reptarium.cz/species?genus=Varanus&species=Salvator. (Accessed September 2012).


Baker, N. & K.K.P. Lim, 2008. Wild Animals of Singapore. A Photographic Guide to Mammals, Reptiles, Amphibians and Freshwater Fishes. Draco Publishing and Distribution Pte Ltd and Nature Society (Singapore). 180 pp.

Das, I., 2010. A Field Guide to the Reptiles of South-East Asia. New Holland Publishers (UK) Ltd. 376 pp.

Lim, K.K.P. & F.L.K. Lim, 2002. A Guide to the Amphibians & Reptiles of Singapore. Singapore Science Centre. 160 pp.

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