Referred to locally as goshaap or guishaap, the Bengal monitor is a large lizard found throughout Bangladesh. Some folk tales have led to the belief that the bite of a Bengal monitor is venomous, and indeed some monitor species are venomous, but the Bengal monitor is not one of them. They are relatively harmless and will only bite in self-defense against a real or perceived threat. Young Bengal monitors are fair game for animal predators, but once fully grown and measuring approximately 175cm from snout to tail-tip, their main predators are humans who hunt them for food and extract their body fat for folk remedies. Despite loss of habitat and being hunted, Bengal monitors have a conservation status with the IUCN of ‘least concern’.
Bengal monitors are predatory reptiles, hunting for young ground birds and eggs, and even catching fish in streams. Males are usually larger than females and can weigh more than 7 kg. Young monitor lizards are quite colorful, with dark bars across their necks, back and throats, spotted with grey or yellow, but as they mature these distinctive markings fade and blend into one another giving the reptile a speckled appearance. The slit-like nostrils of the Bengal monitor can be closed to keep out debris and water, and they flick their forked tongues in and out in much the same manner as snakes do.
As mentioned before, some species of monitor have venomous secretions at the base of their teeth, but the Bengal monitor does not. Their teeth are fused to the inside of their jaw bones, with each functional tooth accompanied by replacement teeth behind and between them. As the functional teeth fall out, the replacement teeth move into position.
As solitary non-territorial creatures, they dig burrows to shelter in, or take shelter in rocky crevices. During the colder winter months they may slow down their metabolic rate to hibernate, while in summer they will be seen basking in the sun. The main breeding season for Bengal monitors is between June and September. At this time males may become combative with one another depending on the availability of females. Females prepare a nesting hole by burrowing into a river bank or termite mound, and they also prepare false nests nearby to confuse predators. About twenty eggs are laid and up to 80% hatch between 168 and 254 days later. Be sure to look out for these fascinating reptiles when exploring Bangladesh.