An Afternoon with a Giant Lizard

In December 2017, we visited Thattekad and Munnar (in Kerala), Topslip and Valparai (in Tamil Nadu). One lazy afternoon, after an intense bird watching session in the morning, Ashwin and I lazed around in the balcony of our home stay, Jungle Bird Home Stay.

I sat browsing through the pages of my bird field guide. My eyes were almost drooping but I was determined to stay up. Why waste precious day time in sleeping when you are in such a beautiful place, I thought to myself. From the balcony, I could see some coconut trees between me and the stream which was no more than 50 metres away. As I stared out at the quaint scenery from the balcony, I thought I saw some movement near one of the trees. I walked up to the edge of the balcony to get a better look and squinted my eyes to concentrate my view near the foliage surrounding a particular coconut tree. After a few minutes, I thought that perhaps my eyes had played a trick on me. I went back to where I was sitting.

A couple of minutes later, I saw movement again. But this time, the movement was on the tree itself. I got my binoculars out and there I saw it: a gigantic Monitor Lizard making its way up the tree.

The red arrow indicates where I saw the movement. If you zoom enough, you can notice that the lizard is merged with the tree bark!

The body colour of the Monitor Lizard merged well with the tree-bark. I watched as the lizard made its way up the tree. Was there something it spotted? Did it sense a prey? Then it went around the bark and I lost sight of it, but I could see its sharp claws from the rounded sides of the bark. For a long time, it remained frozen in one position. I watched every minute of its time on the tree, not knowing what would happen next. It was like a story unfolding in front of me. Would it leap suddenly and catch something? Will a bird attack it mid way? Anything could happen. My sleepy mind was now wide awake and imagining possible situations that I could witness. The best part was that I was very far and the lizard had no clue it was being watched.

The skin was leathery. All the four limbs had yellow dots and the number of dots increased as one moved from the main body towards the end of the limb. The four appendages culminated with sharp, long and curved claws. The tail had beautiful bands on it, each band perfectly running parallel to the next one.

Leathery skin, sharp claws and other features could be seen
up-close using the binoculars

Monitor Lizards are huge lizards, native to many parts of Asia, Africa and Oceania. Some members of this family can grow upto 3 metres. But the ones found in India do not reach that size. However, if you see them for the first time, you can mistake it for a baby crocodile! Monitor lizards are mostly carnivores, and maintain territories where they actively hunt for their prey. I was rather hoping to catch some prey-predator action on this lazy afternoon but it looks like Lizzy had other plans. I remained glued to the edge of the balcony. The lizard had now made a complete U-turn and was faced head down!

The Indian Monitor Lizard now making its way towards the ground.

Now the attention of the Lizard seemed directed downwards. Perhaps it had spotted something on the ground? After spending a good ten minutes scanning the ground, the lizard finally made its way almost to the bottom. It touched the ground and was constantly flicking it tongue to get a sense of its surroundings.

Moving on the ground, before finally making its way to the water

It then reached the foliage that would now give it cover and I would lose my visual. By the movement of the leaves and foliage, I could make out that the lizard was moving towards the stream. And before I knew it, it slipped into the water without a splash and swam away! This was indeed an interesting afternoon! What I thought would be a lazy afternoon turned out to be a fun live documentary, which I would title “A day in the Monitor Lizard’s life”!

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My name is Adithi Muralidhar. I am a nature enthusiast based in Mumbai, India.

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