In my upcoming novel, Profusion, Samuel collects a two-foot-long lizard which he plans to use for an experiment. It turns out this lizard is a blue-tailed monitor (Varanus doreanus).
By the way, Samuel's experiment with the monitor lizard goes very, very badly. But you'll have to read Profusion when it comes out (by the end of the summer) to find out just how badly!
There are about 80 species of monitor lizards, living mainly in Africa, Asia, Australia, and New Guinea. Perhaps the most famous monitor is the Komodo monitor (often called the Komodo Dragon), which is the largest species of lizard living today (up to 10 feet long and 150 pounds!). But I chose the blue-tailed monitor for today's awesome animal, because I am fascinated by the smaller monitor lizards, particularly those with unusual colors.
Amazing facts about blue-tailed monitors:
The blue-tailed monitor is somewhat of a celebrity in Papua New Guinea and has been featured on one of their postage stamps:
This lizard is at home in the trees, on the ground, and in the water. They are excellent swimmers and climbers, but as they grow larger and heavier, they tend to hang out on the ground more than in the trees. Here's a short video that shows how they use their tail to swim.
Blue-tailed monitors are exported as pets to the U.S. and Europe. But since they often grow to four or five feet, require large, spacious cages, and live 10 to 15 years, they are only suitable for the most dedicated pet enthusiasts.
Interesting story about how monitor lizards got their name, as told by an Egyptologist: Long ago, Egyptian villages were found along the Nile River, their main source of water. But the Nile was full of crocodiles. How could they know when it was safe to enter the water? As the story goes, they would catch a large monitor lizard and chain it to a boulder on the edge of the river. If the lizard was lying peacefully, sunning itself, the Egyptians knew it was safe to enter the water. If, however, it was struggling to get away, they knew danger was lurking nearby. A crocodile was in the area. So the lizards got their name because they "monitored" the crocodiles' movements.
The blue-tailed monitor is not the only brightly-colored monitor lizard. Below is the blue-spotted tree monitor, which lives only on the small island of Batanta, off the west coast of New Guinea.
What I'd like to know, is why are these lizards blue in the first place? After digging for answers a bit, I'm not sure there is a clear-cut answer to this. It seems unlikely these bright colors are used by the males to attract mates (as with many birds), because both males and females have the same colors. If anyone has a good hypothesis, email me and let me know.
So, the blue-tailed monitor deserves a place in the G.A.H.O.F. (Gallows Animal Hall of Fame).
FUN FACT: Gallows originally meant "fit for the gallows," meaning, deserving to be hanged. But by 1789, it had become a slang adjective meaning awesome, in the same way that wicked and bad have come to mean their opposite. How gallows is that?
Monitor photo #1 - Reptile Fact
Papua Stamp - Mark O'Shea
Pet Monitor - Snakes at Sunset
Blue-spotted Tree Monitor - Australian Geographic