Living in Cold Blood – Mistaken Identities #1

May 16, 2009 at 11:01 pm | Posted in itchy mouth | 4 Comments
Tags: , ,

A name, is like an identity to a person, a place or an object. Itchyfingers always feel very irritated whenever people get our names misspelt or mispronounced despite numerous rounds of clarification. We dun have very complicated or tough-to-pronounce names, and they are also kinda common chinese names. But somehow some people seemed to have problems with them. I even had a colleague, after months of working together, mispronounced my name to clients. 

If animals have a voice and we could understand it, I think some of the animals found locally must be equally irritated by their frequently mistaken identities. They must be wondering how can human call them by so many other names when they all look so different. Some of them don’t even live here!

One of those frequently mistaken animals is this large greyish reptile found very commonly in habitats near water like the mangroves and parks in Singapore.

Did I hear someone say “crocodile”? Yes! Unbelievable but this is the commonly
mistaken identity for this reptile, one of the largest lizards in the world. 
This is actually the Malayan Water Monitor Lizard (Varanus salvator)

Adult Malayan Water Monitor Lizards can grow to over 2m long. Their diet varies from tiny insects to crabs, molluscs, snakes, fish, birds, rodents and other smaller animals, and they are particularly fond of carrion. They are great swimmers and climbers, and are capable of running at fast speed too. Like all cold-blooded reptiles, they like to bask under the hot sun. They can give a nasty bite and a strong whip with their powerful tail but usually they are more wary of human, so many times when we see them, they would quickly run and hide themselves. 

A juvenile Malayan Water Monitor Lizard sunbathing

If you look at the Monitor Lizard, you will notice they have the habit of sticking out their blue forked tongue, just like a snake. Now, just since when did you see that happening to a crocodile?!? If you have not seen a real crocodile, surely you have seen many of them appearing as logos? Like the one selling colourful light-weight shoes and the two apparel companies from different parts of the world using a crocodile as logo but facing different directions. None has a tongue sticking out but they have the crocodile opening the mouth big to show the row of sharp teeth and they also have bony scutes on the back.

I guess many people mistook the Malayan Water Monitor Lizard for the Crocodile for a couple of reasons. Firstly, they see these warning signs around places like Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserves so they presume that whatever they see that look remotely like what they see on the sign, ah..that would be it – a Crocodile!

Watch it! Cros around! See…no tongue sticking out… :p

Itchyfingers only spotted wild Estuarine Crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus)
twice. This guy was lying motionlessly and you would easily dismiss it as
a large piece of log in the water… 

But look closer…

Even for the crocodiles, there are other similiar looking ones to confuse you…
this friendly sign at the zoo shows the difference lie in the snout…so for the
crocodile, you will need to look out for a fourth tooth on each side of the
lower jaw when the mouth is shut…er…a bit tough hor…hahahah

The second reason could be people may not have heard of the Water Monitor Lizard before. Afterall, lizards to most people should be as small as those found in our besides calling the monitor lizards as crocodiles, many people also proudly pointed to their friends or children their rare sighting of the Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis)…. :O

A Komodo Dragon from the zoo…It is the largest lizard in the world, growing
to an average length of 2 to 3 metres and weighing around 70 kilograms 

What they should have known before exclaiming that is this: Komodos are only found in the Indonesian islands of Komodo, Rintja, Padar and Flores. The only Komodos we have are from the zoo. 

Then there are also other people who mistook the monitor lizard for yet another more famous reptile – the Iguana. But like the Komodos, Iguanas are not native. Instead, they are from Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean. No doubt there was sighting of escapee iguana from the illegal pet trade, but it is very very rare and of course, an iguana certainly looks completely different from a monitor lizard!

An Iguana from the zoo. Iguanas have a row of spines running down their
back to their tail, and a third “eye” on their head. This eye is known as the 
parietal eye, visible as a pale scale on the top of the head. Behind their neck 
are small scales which resemble spikes, known as tuberculate scales.
They also have a large round scale on their cheek known as a subtympanic shield

I think if you mistook the Malayan Water Monitor Lizard for this other lizard, it is more excusable cos they look more similiar…

This is the Clouded Monitor Lizard (Varanus bengalensis nebulosus).
It is a medium-sized lizard. Size of up to 1.5m is rare. The most distinctive
difference between the two lizard is the position of the nostril. In the
Clouded Monitor Lizard, the nostril lies mid way between the eye and the snout 

The Clouded Monitor Lizard’s colouration comprises yellow spots on a brown-grey base

Now compare to that of the Malayan Water Monitor Lizard. Notice the nostril
is positioned further towards the snout, making it easier for breathing when
it is swimming

So next time when you see a large swimming reptile in your canal or a tongue-sticking reptile doing sunbathing, don’t be too quick to call it names. Look carefully first! 😀 And for a cute and fun account of the Crocodile’s mistaken identity, do see here. :p

Also see related posts
> Snake Tales 



RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

  1. Another reptilian post. Hurray!

    I am so envious of your snake and crocodile sightings. I have no luck with these reptiles! Hmmph.

    This particular post reminds me a lot of an old post I wrote about the many misconceptions about the Malayan water monitor. Indeed, it really irritates me that people don’t even know the basic facts about such a common, even iconic creature.

    • Hi hi… 😀 Hmmm…actually it is not difficult to see the monitor lizard…it is almost a guaranteed find at Sungei Buloh. The croc was tough and we were really lucky. Thanks for the link to your post. Had wanted to write about this topic long ago but don’t have all the pic i needed until now. Part 2 is coming up soon…another mistaken id…do look out for it! 😀

  2. er… it has a sliver tongue

    • Hi Rani,

      I supposed you are talking about the monitor lizard? No, it has a blue forked tongue :p

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at
Entries and comments feeds.

%d bloggers like this: