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Are monitor lizards dangerous?

Monitor lizards are large, intelligent reptiles that can grow up to 10 feet in size and some of the most threatening animals out there: almost all species are carnivores, venomous, and equipped with sharp claws and bone-crushing teeth. Yet, they are not generally considered dangerous to humans and surprisingly common as house pets.

Komodo dragon, the most dangerous monitor lizard

The largest and most famous species of monitor lizard is perhaps the Komodo dragon, an endangered species that lives in a few islands in Indonesia, which also happens to be extremely dangerous.

The Komodo dragon regularly feasts on large animals such as deers and buffalos as well as small rodents and snakes and anything in between. As long as it is alive, or used to be, the Komodo dragon will eat it. To hunt, they use their shark-like teeth and inject a potent venom when they bite.

Adults even prey on their babies and juvenile Komodos spend most of the time climbing trees to escape from their own kind. Komodo dragons seldom attack humans, but they have killed and eaten people in the past, including an 8 year old child.

Nile Monitor (Varanus niloticus), one of the most aggressive species of monitor lizards, can be kept as pet. Photo courtesy of Charles James Sharp.

Can pet monitor lizards kill a human?

Komodo dragons cannot be kept as pets (for obvious reasons), but other species can. Monitor lizards found in the pet trade are usually no longer than 5-6 feet, about half the size of a Komodo dragon, and they are not considered dangerous to humans despite being venomous. This is because with consistent handling and by keeping them happy, they are relatively docile, and intelligent enough to recognize their owners as caregivers and not “prey”.

That said, there was at least one known case of a man who was killed by its pet monitors, which he left roaming around the house. The man allegedly died from an infection as a result of a lizard bite, then his seven Nile monitor lizards started feeding on him.

Whether the lizards ate him while he was still alive or after he perished has never been established, but it should be noticed that a monitor lizard bite can usually be treated with antibiotics and the venom is not fatal to humans.

If the man died because of an infection or underlying health condition, then it is possible the lizards fed on him only after he was already dead, and did not kill him intentionally. Dogs are known to eat their owners if they die suddenly and they run out of food, too.

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