The Walking Monitor

Even though we usually think of a monitor being associated with a computer, in the depths of the Australia, this “monitor” is actually the name of a ancestor to the Komodo dragon: an Argus monitor. Females can grow up to three feet, but the males appear more dominant, reaching five to six feet in length. The Argus monitor is commonly referred to as a goanna or a “yellow-spotted” monitor, since its legs are yellow and its body appears a darker brown-like color. Scientifically, we know the animal by Varanus panoptes. This monitor normally likes to find its home in the Australian outback or parts of the island of New Guinea. There are two known species found in Australia: the Varanus panoptes rubidus and the Varanus panoptes panoptes. On the other hand, in New Guinea, the only known specie is Varanus panoptes horni.

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This map shows a population abundance of the Argus monitor lizard at the tip of Australia. Image taken from abc.net.au/news

Unlike most reptiles, the Argus monitor is not your ordinary terrestrial lizard. Being one of the larger monitors, it uses its strong legs to move around and when it gets bored, it easily has no trouble using its claws to dig into the ground or to climb a low tree branch. Further yet, the males are also said to have larger front legs, using them when battling another male for a female monitor. When finding the perfect female, the male mates with her to produce ten to twelve inch long baby monitors. These young monitors immediately appear brilliantly colored and more patterned than the adults.

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After 175 to 185 days incubating at roughly 85 degress Fahrenheit, a perfect little clone of the adults emerges, ready to face the world.

Screen Shot 2016-10-20 at 10.53.28 PM.png Besides the powerful legs of the Argus monitor, it also has another defensive weapon. When feeling threatened, the animal can use its long tail as a whip to stray off predators. However, that is not all this fascinating “whip” can do. If the monitor wants to get a glimpse of another animal approaching, it can simply stand on its hind legs and use its tail in a tripod-like fashion for balance, making it seem ready to do a ballroom dance. Additionally, these monitors also have another advantage to their “dance-like” behavior- they can move very fast, being able to reach 100 yards/meter.

While using its hind legs to look out for predators, this technique can also be useful while trying to spot its prey. The monitor eats various animals, ranging from critters, toads, and rodents, to even smaller versions of its own kind, such as the spiny-tailed goannas. When bored, they even like to chase the prey, since it provides them with a sense of excitement. How may the animal devour another monitor so efficiently and easily one may ask? The Argus monitor has a forked tongue and a vomeronasal organ in the roof of its mouth, which is another reason for their keen sense of smell while hunting down prey.

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The vomeronasal organ , also known as the Jacobson’s organ, is an auxillary olfactory sense organ found in many animals.

 

Alongside its skills for capturing prey, the animal also enjoys bathing in the warm sun, being able to withstand hot temperatures of up to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Surprisingly, the monitor does not think 85 degrees is hot enough, so it likes its basking temperatures to range from about 120-130 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition, like most animals who live in a humid-like climate, water is a key component for everyday life. Argus monitors can occasionally be spotted near watering areas, but for them, soaking in the water is not crucial for their survival.

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Image taken from panoptesv.com

However, these remarkable animals are also kept captive, sometimes even as pets. If not taken care of properly, the Argus monitor is not afraid to use its sharp teeth and claws to attack any human that may pose a threat. If kept as a pet, the monitor should also be let out of its cage for daily exercise, so it does not get bored of the closed enclosure it is placed in. Nevertheless, these animals are actually very intelligent, even learning to recognize their owners.

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Image taken from cantoadwebsiteevaluation.weebly.com

On a larger scale, monitors are bred while being held captive, since scientists are afraid that the their population will continually decline if cane toads  do not stop infesting the habitats of the lizards. As of January 2016, scientists in Australia have done trials and attempted to teach Argus monitors how to stay away and recognize when a cane toad is in proximity. They have done this by exposing the monitors to telescopic fishing poles that have smaller and less toxic toads attached to them. Once they tasted the amphibians, the lizards managed to stay away from the toads thereon after. Cane toads have been in Australia for eight years now, and the Argus monitors’ population has declined by 90% because of these toxic, jumping creatures. The toads can cause much harm to the monitor, killing it about thirty seconds after it places the amphibian into its mouth. Additionally, the study found that the monitors that were not trained died quickly, but those that were trained tended to stay alive, avoiding the toads for the whole experiment.

Screen Shot 2016-10-20 at 11.27.50 PM.png  Image taken from bbc.com/news/science

In conclusion, this new research can give hope to scientists because it effectively proved the monitors’ capabilities to remember what they were taught. In the near future, researchers will be thanking these animals for their intelligence. Due to this new teaching technique and the many efforts put into this experiment, it can eventually be used to train other animals to stay away from threatening predators, but only if their actions prove to be just as wise as those of the Argus monitors.

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