Black Roughneck Monitor Care Sheet

Below is a Black Roughneck monitor care sheet I wrote based on my fairly extensive experience with this amazing monitor lizard. I have consistently found the demeanor of this species to be amongst the most gentle of all reptiles.

Black Roughneck Monitor
Varanus Rudicollis

Black Roughneck monitors (Varanus rudicollis) are one of my absolute favorite monitors. Their gentle and curious temperament, coupled with their unique appearance, makes them a fascinating captive lizard.

Range: Southern Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Sumatra, Borneo, and several peripheral islands.

Physical Description: Baby and juvenile Black Roughneck monitors are primarily black in color, with a peppering of bright yellow, and sometimes even blue, spots and bands. As they mature, the stark colors gradually disappear. Adults are almost entirely black, with some greyish coloring reminiscent of their juvenile patterning. Black Roughneck monitors have two very unique physical traits: 1.) the pointed, pyramid-esque scales on the back of their necks (therein lies the origin of their common name) and 2.) their very bird-like heads.

Size: Black Roughneck monitors can attain a total length of approximately 60 inches (five feet), although this size is rarely seen. Lengths of four to four-and-a-half feet is much more common. They are not heavy-bodied monitor lizards, but are actually fairly slender in physique when compared to something massive like a Black throat monitor. Hatchlings are approximately 10 inches in total length.

Behavior: No Black Roughneck monitor care sheet would be complete without an apt description of their unique behavior. These are generally not aggressive monitor lizards. I've kept a number of them over the years, and have never witnessed a bite attempt, or even a tail-whip. The most aggression I've ever witnessed in a Black Roughneck was with one freshly imported 24" juvenile. He puffed-up whenever I had to move him, but still no biting or tail-whipping. Their main defense mechanism seems to be running away, or going "cryptic," which means they shut their eyes and essentially hope you don't see them. If you're curious, read my article on how to tame a lizard.

I've also found that they are very inquisitive lizards. Here's an example: I had a fantastic blue-mottled juvenile that, if I placed my hand in front of him, would climb up my arm to my shoulder. I would then put my other hand in front of him, he would climb on it, and I'd place him on top of his large wooden cage top. He would then walk back across the cage top to my hand, crawl up my arm to my shoulder again, and I'd use my other hand to place him back on the cage top once more. And repeat. I discovered that he would do this for as long as I would engage him. My newest Black Roughneck monitor, a hatchling, does essentially the same thing.

Enclosure: These are arboreal monitor lizards, which means they enjoy climbing. Sure, they spend some time on the ground, but more often than not, you'll find them perched on a branch or traversing other climbable surfaces. I have one wall inside the cage entirely covered with flat cork bark, and I'd estimate that my current "rudi" spends nearly 75% of his time on it. He even chooses to sleep vertically once in a while (albeit rarely).

There is no calculation for determining minimum cage dimensions for
any lizard, so just use common sense. Give them enough room to walk and climb freely, which means a fairly large cage as they approach adult size. Vertical space tends to be more important to them than floor space. I've discovered that Black Roughneck monitors will actually burrow underneath the substrate at night if given the option. One of mine created a permanent tunnel under the dirt and moss flooring.

Heating & Humidity: A basking spot reaching graduated highs of 130F to 150F should give these lizards the temperature they need to efficiently digest their food and maintain a strong immune system. Use a temp gun to make sure. Make sure the cage has a gradient of temperatures, giving the monitor an opportunity to choose whether it wants to bask in hot temperatures, or cool itself down. Basically, this is a must for all lizards and will pay dividends.

Indonesia has an average relative humidity of between 72% and 86%. This gives you a general idea of how humid it can be within their natural habitat. Misting the cage regularly, along with a fairly substantial water bowl (and no full screen top), should get you into their preferred humidity range. I've found that even 60% humidity isn't quite enough for Black Roughneck monitors (note: if you see them soaking in their water dish, your cage is not humid enough). Substantial air flow is your enemy, as it dries out the enclosure. Tip: using a dirt substrate with some depth helps
greatly in maintaining humidity. Adding some leaf litter to the top of the substrate will help maintain its moisture.

Lighting: 45W halogen basking bulbs. UV lighting is not, in my experience, necessary for these meat-eating lizards. But, if you're so inclined, feel free to utilize UV lighting as well.

Feeding: Black Roughneck monitors are not ruthless killing machines like the Argus monitor or bottomless pits like the Savannah monitor. If properly cared for, and given enough heat, they will have strong appetites, but not insatiable ones. Let them eat until they are full. They tend to use their front claws to tear apart food items, especially when the prey is too large to swallow whole. I personally think this also makes digestion somewhat easier.

As babies, they feast upon crickets and small roaches, but don't seem to appreciate superworms and waxworms with quite as much gusto. As they grow, they will readily accept mice, and eventually even chicks. Try to keep their diet somewhat varied, rather than an entirely rodent-based menu. If nothing else, it probably keeps things a little more interesting for the lizard
. Large roaches are relished, as are crayfish. While not recommended due to the potential transfer of internal parasites, they will absolutely devour small lizards. One of mine essentially inhaled two live House geckos that I put into the cage.

Breeding: Rarely observed in captivity, but mainly because so few hobbyists keep this species of monitor lizard.

Price Range: $90 to $225. Almost all are wild-caught import babies (we're talking 99.9%), as captive-bred specimens are extraordinarily rare. You can buy a Black Roughneck monitor for sale on our main website.

Species Notes: This species was once known as the Red-headed monitor.

Summary: Hailing from Southeastern Asia, Black Roughneck monitors are generally docile lizards who rarely show signs of aggression (when it comes to fight or flight, they choose the latter). They attain a moderate adult length (four to five feet), and are not overly massive in stature. These lizards are more outgoing than the Dumeril's monitor, as they do not spend nearly as much time hiding.

Copyright 2011 -

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