Water Monitor (Varanus Salvator) Basic Hatchling Care
Please watch the three videos at the end of this sheet for reference before asking questions. Also, please call me directly with complicated issues as email is a difficult way to convey complex solutions. These animals are an advanced species and should not be anyone’s first reptile. Below is simply what has worked for me in the long term. There are many ways to care for a water monitor in a healthy environment. These suggestions are meant to be a baseline for figuring out what works for you and your specific reptile. 619-549-1508 -Cory
- 4’L x 2’D x 2’H minimum enclosure (you will need large vents to keep the ambient down, a minimum of two 16” x 8” vents)
- Bag of Zoo Med Forest Floor Cypress Mulch (available at Petco/Pet Smart and most pet stores)
- 15-quart sized Tupperware container style water dish
- Two ceramic light fixtures with reflective “Domes”
- One 150-watt ceramic heat emitter
- One ExoTerra 26-watt UVB 100 Tropical UV bulb
- One ExoTerra Reptile Multi-Vitamin powder
- One Infrared Digital Temp Gun
- One timer for your UVB source
- One large basking stone (Home Depot sells single 12” x 12” x 2” natural stones)
- One spray bottle (if you want to save some time buy the “pump-up” version)
- Large Crickets (these should already be in the cage when you get your animal)
It is important to understand that a Captive Born and Bred (CBB) monitor spends the entire development stages of its life in an egg, in a controlled environment. Eggs incubate at high humidity and at about 86 degrees for 180-210 days. When they eventually hatch from the egg, it is extremely important to be able to recreate this condition, at least in some fashion, in their new home to avoid sending the monitor into shock and to minimize acclimation time. The two largest mistakes I see people make is putting their new hatchling in an enclosure that is either way too big or way too small and not using a 24-hour ceramic heat source. To maintain an ambient temperature that is close to the temperature that they incubate at, you will need to have a heat source running constantly with a separate, non-heat emitting, light source. Light sources should be on a timer set to a 14-hour daylight cycle with a 10-hour night cycle. Ceramic heat sources should be kept away from water sources and should stay on 24-7. This is where people run into issues. If you are using a 150-watt ceramic bulb in a small 20-40-gallon aquarium, you will not be able to maintain a basking area of 120-140 degrees without detrimentally effecting the ambient temperature. If the enclosure is too large, it may be difficult to build trust with your new animal without continuously putting it on the defensive. I recommend using an enclosure that is 4’ long by 2’ by 2’ as this will make it easy to dial in the ambient without having the heat source so close to the water that it gets too hot. A general rule of thumb here is; if your water tub is getting above 80 degrees on the cold side than you need to make some adjustments. Using a large stone under your heat source will decrease ambient temps and help maintain a hot spot, do not use floor tiles as they simply cannot hold enough heat energy efficiently. On the UV side, I always recommend using incandescent UVB Tropical light sources. You do not want to use a flood lamp or anything that produces extra heat as they will be basking under the ceramic bulbs and absorbing UVB while swimming most of the day. You should shoot for a linear temperature range of 75-80 degrees on the cold side which will include the water dish and UVB source, a center section with an ambient of 85-87 degrees, and a hot side with a ceramic bulb and stone spot temperature of 120-140 degrees at the stones surface. It is not important to create an excess of humidity for your water monitor as they spend most of their time in the water and the hot basking temps make this nearly impossible anyways. A simple spray down once a day is fine. Make sure your enclosure is located off the floor and has access to the front of the enclosure as you do not want to be reaching in for a baby from above and you don’t want your cat trying to attack the little guy all day. When it comes to cage height, water monitors are not huge climbers but if they have the space to climb, as hatchlings, they will do it. Top Tip: if you can put your water tub up off the floor, it will free up more usable space for your monitor and allow you to drain it from underneath.
These little guys are carnivores through and through so make sure not to offer a Tegu or Iguana diet. When it comes to hatchlings, they are excited by movement and this will help to reinforce their natural hunting and feeding instincts. What this means for you is crickets, crickets, crickets! What I do is I order crickets online in bulk and setup a cricket tub, feel free to check out the “How To” video on our YouTube channel. I keep crickets in the enclosure 24-7 and then supplement other foods a few days a week. Create a feeding zone like a dish that stays in the enclosure and don’t move it so the little one can get used to checking that area. I will often offer hardboiled eggs, pinkies, super worms and ground turkey. Top Tip: roll the turkey into a ball so you can tell if they have eaten any or not. If you are “gut loading” your crickets, then you do not need to dust the other foods with vitamins. Once you have your dinosaur eating other foods like pinkies from tweezers or out of your hand, you are welcome to stop feeding crickets as to not miss an opportunity to interact while feeding. Generally, I would like to see these little guys keep a high insect diet for at least the first three months after you get them. If you are going to dust your hatchlings food, please only use Exo Terra brand Reptile Multi-Vitamins and make sure to check the expiration dates on the bottles. I have tried other brands in the past and have noticed it having adverse effects on appetite as well as having it show up on X-Rays sitting in the stomach of animals long after it was given. Frequency of feeding depends on a few factors including activity level and development. Keeping crickets available throughout the day and supplementing with other foods, a few days a week, will keep your monitor healthy and happy. If your animal is active, it is nearly impossible to overfeed a healthy growing hatchling with a diverse diet.
Do not use coconut products or any wood that is aromatic, such as pine chips, in a monitor enclosure! Coconut media is meant as a substrate for an animal with extremely high humidity where the substrate is constantly wet. This is because the dust from this media is extremely harmful and sometimes fatal especially in the case of a small hatchling. Water Monitors do not have a sinus so what they breath in has the potential to make it strait into the lungs. Coconut fiber dust is extremely abrasive and small and has been known to cause lung development issues and ultimately, respiratory infections and suffocation. With the high basking temps of this species, it is impossible to keep all of the substrate soaked which leaves the animal basically in a confined space filled with hazardous debris. The same goes for aromatic woods like pine chips. When it becomes wet in a confined space, the aroma of the substrate can become toxic and cause respiratory issues. With that said, I highly recommend Zoo Med Forest Floor Natural Cypress Mulch. I have tried many substrates over the last 13 years of breeding these guys and this is by far the easiest to work with especially for a hatchling. When it comes to adult monitors you may want to incorporate bioactive soils etc. but for a hatchling that is probably being kept in your room or common area in your home, cypress mulch is by far the cleanest and least smelly solution. If you are set on using top soils in your enclosure, make sure to use only natural organic top soils or garden soils or “fill dirt” and you may want to create a digging area to keep the dirt out of the water. Anything in the cage will end up in the water, that’s just the way it is. If your hatchling is all settled in and you have no issues with temperament or defensiveness in the cage, then feel free to increase the depth of the substrate and allow them to dig. If you have the opposite condition, especially when you first receive your new dinosaur, do not make the substrate too deep. Simply put enough in to cover the floor of the enclosure, you can always add more later.
The rule of thumb here is to always have a large enough water source that it is not getting too hot by the end of the day and is at least as long as your monitor. You don’t need to go crazy here, these are not crocodiles. A Tupperware that is about 3-4-inches deep is fine. You will need to change water likely every day. A top tip here is to feed your monitor early in the day, so it can go poop, then change the water later in the day. Water Monitors are notorious for pooping in clean water and this may save you a trip. Using simple tap water has never proven to be harmful to monitors as chlorine is not a stable water additive. Chlorine can be neutralized by most UV sources in enclosures and will be neutralized as soon as the monitor starts swimming in the water which inevitably oxygenates it. If you are not comfortable with tap water, then by all means use a purer source like R. O. water or distilled but be aware that these filtering methods often remove valuable elements.
It is important to keep in mind that these can always be added later. I know a lot of us want to build an awesome realistic enclosure for our little ones to come home to, but this can be detrimental to building trust. This is not always the case, but it is an issue of risk versus reward. Allow your animal to get to know you as much as they can because a scared animal will always choose hiding over interaction. You do not want to create a condition where you are having to catch or find your monitor before every interaction, this will set you up for failure.
There is no hard rule for interacting with your new pet and there is absolutely no one technique that works on all animals. With that said, your enclosure setup and patience will only make things easier. It is not fair to yourself, or your new pet, to not give them or yourself the chance to gain trust in one another. It is important to realize that your animal was just taken from its home, from its brothers and sisters, thrown in a box and sent across the country to a stranger’s house with an entirely new environment. The moment that you get your animal is the most stressed it has ever been and, if you keep your animal for its lifetime, the most stressed it will ever be. It is going to take consistency and diligence to break its natural inclination to be defensive. That’s why its called trust “building” and not trust “having.” I recommend interacting with your new monitor once a day during water changes by simply moving it out of the water if it is swimming when its time to change it. This technique is simply used for you to be able to get to know your animal. If it is constantly trying to climb out of the enclosure onto your arm or is super curious and chill right out of the box, then feel free to advance out of this phase at your own pace. This is simply a basic starting point to gauge the personality of your particular animal. Every animal is different, and every situation is different. Setting up your enclosure like I do and following the above recommendations will simply make the animal less stressed upon arrival and will ultimately make for a better pet down the road. After your animal is settled in and trust has been established you are more than welcome to make changes as you see fit.
The word “stress” has lost its meaning in the reptile trade over the years because it has been used as an excuse for bad husbandry. Stress is a normal part of keeping any animal in captivity, but it does not need to be detrimental to your animals’ health. As a general rule of thumb, if your animal is eating then it is not “stressed” out enough to take serious note (assuming its environmental needs are being met). Many things can cause an animal to stop eating and more than likely it is enclosure setup or location. Putting the enclosure on the floor where it is constantly at the level of foot traffic and house pets will force your animal into a “fight or flight” reaction which will shut down its digestive system. On the flip side, if your enclosure is not setup similar to the way it was housed successfully before then you will have an animal that is going through an acclimation period which is also a form of shock. This is not at all unnatural, but it can be avoided. The biggest issues I see often are pet owners trying to do way too much to elevate “stress.” More often than not, the keeper is the one perceiving “stress” when in reality they are simply going through a natural transition. This turns south when you begin to make changes multiple times a month which actually ends up causing measurable stress and damage to the animals’ health. You do not want to be the one to stress out your new pet, I promise you they will be under a certain amount of discomfort when they arrive as is expected. This is why it is absolutely crucial that you get your cage and temps dialed in long before your animal gets there. As always, I am constantly making myself available for questions before making changes to your animals’ enclosure, so long as you have followed the guidelines above. All reptile breeders should stand behind their animals and freely give their knowledge to keep and care for them.
-Keep Feedin’ -Cory
Please watch these Videos and read the above text as it will answer most of your questions. If you still have any questions afterwards please feel free to call me.