The desert sand monitor is a widespread, mid sized monitor from Australia's arid lands. These lizards are active diggers and burrowers. In nature, they seem to find much of their food by smelling it and digging it up. Their natural diet consists largely of insects and reptiles, although they are not squemish about what they eat and will consume nearly any living thing they can cram into their mouths. Desert sand monitors are highly adapted to life in hot dry areas, and are capable of wistanding higher temperatures than most other monitors. Like all monitors, they use their burrows to regulate their temperature and as a humid retreat to kep from drying out too much.
Desert sand monitors are part of the Varanus gouldi group of monitors, a closely related set of species that also includes the argus monitor., Gould's monitor, and heath monitor. In australia, any member of this group can be called a sand goanna. The desert sand monitors are currently considered a subspecies of the Gould's monitor, Varanus gouldi flavirufus although they may eventually be upgraded to full species status Varanus flavirufus. Their subspecies name leads to these lizards often being called "flavies" in the herpetoculture hobby.
Here, Ulysses (my male desert sand monitor) is resting towards the back, while Calypso (the female) comes forward to see what is going on.
Desert sand monitors have a typical monitor appearance, with powerful limbs, large talons, a long neck, a pointed triangular head, a long thick tail, and a long forked tonge that flicks about while the lizard is in motion. The markings of the desert sand monitor are beautiful complex dark reticulations over a yellow background. Their skin is fairly rough to the touch.
In my experience, desert sand monitors have had the sweetest dispositions of any monitor I have ever kept captive. They are docile, active, interactive, and inquisitive. Although closely related to the argus monitor, they lack that species unnerving intensity and attitude. Like argus monitors, they are eager feeders, but lack the unrestrained feeding frenzy-like behavior of the arguses. While I love the arguses for what they are, I can really feel comfortable and relaxed around my desert sand monitors.
The captive requirements of desert sand monitors is practically identical to that of the argus monitors. Like arguses, desert sand monitors are earth movers by nature, and should be provided with a deep substrate that holds burrows. I use mason sand, kept slightly damp by the occasional bucket of water or two in order to allow it to maintain a burrow. Because of their smaller size, desert sand monitors are easier to house than arguses. I use an 8 foot x 3.5 foot galvanized steel stock tank as the entirety of their enclosure. The lid is made of plywood, hinged to allow access, and equipped with racks of lights to heat the enclosure and allow basking (although I plan on converting to a lid using a number of plexiglas windows so that I can view my pets on a regular basis).
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