Ackie Monitor (Varanus acanthurus / brachyurus) Care Sheet
(Varanus acanthurus brachyurus)
- acanthurus brachyurus
(Varanus acanthurus brachyurus)
(Varanus acanthurus acanthurus)
- acanthurus acanthurus
(Varanus acanthurus acanthurus)
Ackies Dwarf Monitor
Dwarf monitors are some of the most interesting captive reptiles. Ackies are often compared to a Komodo Dragon in a small package. They are very inquisitive, active, and have great colors and patterns. They are certainly a great joy to keep for beginner monitor keepers and experienced ones alike. They are not a reptile that enjoys being held as perhaps Leopard Geckos and Bearded Dragons do. If it is a pet that you desire to have a lot of daily interaction with, then a monitor is not for you. This is not to say that they cannot be handled. Most of the captive Ackies can easily be tamed and will tolerate handling. Most of the joy to be had is in fact watching Ackies interact with each other in their environment.
Monitor husbandry is a little unique, unlike many other reptiles, where following certain guidelines is the answer to correct husbandry techniques. This care guide will certainly offer guidelines and direction to your Ackies setup and care, but each enclosure is definitely unique. You need to observe your monitor and make corrections as needed. Nearly all Ackies that you encounter will be captive bred. Australia's strict export laws prevent many Ackies from leaving the country.
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The varanus acanthurus is a medium sized member of the subgenera Odatria. They are also known as Ridge Tail or Spiney Tail Goannas. The Red Ackie (acanthurus acanthurus) can reach lengths of 24 to 30 inches. It usually has a longer tail and is a reddish brown color. While the Yellow (acanthurus brachyurus) is usually 15 to 24 inches in length, is a yellowish brown color and has a more slender body compared to the Reds. They are found in dry areas throughout Western Australia, Northern Territory, and parts of Queensland. Living near rocky outcroppings, they will retreat into crevices and puff up their bodies to wedge themselves between the rocks when frightened. They live in humid burrows which are dug deep to escape the midday heat and control their hydration and temperature levels.
There are many avenues to purchasing an Ackie. It depends on your intended purpose of the monitor. If you are looking to breed, then your best avenue would be to find a reputable breeder. Many Ackies that you will find in the classifieds could contain breeders stock that they are selling off because they are past their prime for breeding purposes. These specimens will still make a great pet. They would not be a good investment for breeding purposes however. Pet stores may also be a good avenue for your purchase, but these reptiles need to be checked over well. Unfortunately, there are many pet stores that keep their animals in less than favorable conditions.
Usually the cost will reflect the quality of the monitor. A cheap buy may often end up costing more down the road because of unexpected vet bills. The enclosure should be fully set up and functioning before any purchase is made. Digital thermometers or Temp Guns should be used to accurately check temperatures.
There are two ways to ensure your Ackies are hydrated properly. One is to soak them weekly in warm water. The depth should be no higher than the shoulder, so their heads can be held above the water. This should not be done with babies. Rather put them in a container with soaking wet paper towels.
Another way which is probably more natural is a heavy misting a few times a week.
Regularly hydrating your Ackie will greatly aid in ridding the toes of those stuck sheds.
Perhaps the best thing you can do for any reptile is to provide as many different temperature gradients as possible. This will enable your monitor to be able to pick the exact temperature they require. A good range of gradients is 75-80 F on the cool side with a basking site of 130-150 F. Keep it a little lower for hatchlings around 120F. The basking site is only about the size of the Ackies body. Too small of an area can lead to burns from the monitor not being able to use the heat properly. Too large of an area will keep the enclosure too hot, resulting in death. As stated before in basking sites the Retes stack is an excellent way to provide temperature gradients. Position a halogen or flood light above it directing the beam straight down. The halogens are probably the best source for heating. They operate more efficiently and are cheaper than special reptile heat lamps or ceramic heat emitters purchased from retail reptile stores. They also usually last much longer as well. Ideally the bulb should be between 45 and 75 watts depending on the height it is to be suspended from the basking site. Move them closer or farther away to achieve the recommended basking temperature. Another way would be to wire the bulbs into a dimmer and simply adjust the dimmer to the recommended temps.
Do not simply throw in a 250 watt bulb thinking this will solve all your heat requirements. It will quickly dry out the air in the enclosure. You should be able to regulate the temperature in your monitors enclosure with just the one basking light and some vents.
The length of time you keep the lights on for your Ackies doesn't not have the same importance it might with other reptiles. The most common light period being used is 12hrs on and 12hrs off. Others are keeping them on 24/7. This brings us back to the importance of proper hide areas and substrate that they can burrow. If these are provided light is not as big of an issue. They will return to their burrows or hides around the same time regardless of the lights being on or not. If you notice your Ackies are sleeping outside of a hide or burrow and you have the lights on 24/7. It would be better to switch to a 12/12 photo period to reduce stress. I have found for hatchlings that the 12/12 photoperiod works better.
The temps should remain the same with the lights off. This will allow the monitors to regulate temps even at night.
There is no conclusive evidence whether it is detrimental to use UV light for monitors.
They have been raised by breeders who do use it and those who don't with no documented differences. If you want to use UV light you may but it's not necessary.
In short, crickets, pinkie mice, superworms, mealworms, silkworms and ground turkey.
There are some that feed canned dog food but this usually leads to loose stools.
Whole prey is a much better choice. Crickets should make up the bulk of the diet especially for hatchlings. Mice and ground turkey should only be offered once a week. I suggest feeding pre-killed mice. There is a certain thrill I guess to be had by watching your Ackie kill, but live appropriately sized mice for Ackies is usually hard to find. Once they like live they might not want anything else. So don't make things hard on yourself. Other exotic foods are often offered as well. Like crustaceans, goldfish and other hard to get insects. These have the same problem as feeding live mice. What are you going to do when your Ackie gets hooked on a specialty food source and you can't get it out of season? Keep it simple with the previously mentioned diet and your Ackie will have all the nutrition they need.
Meals should be supplemented with a vitamin D3 enriched mineral supplement nearly every feeding.
A hatchling Ackie has a huge appetite and should be fed as much as they want until they lose interest. They grow quickly and need a lot of food so as not to stunt their growth. Ackies should not be fed meat until they are sub-adults. As Ackies increase with age their the amount of food they require subsides. This doesn't mean they won't keep eating. Some never lose their massive appetite. But as an adult they have stopped growing and their appetites should be curbed. It is often not necessary to feed every day. You want your Ackie to be healthy.
You should have the habitat created and functioning before buying any reptile. The temperatures should be set and checked as well to ensure everything is ready. Owning a infrared temp gun or a digital thermometer with a probe is great for monitoring temps to insure they are proper.
The enclosure is a very important part of monitor husbandry. It must be able to maintain levels of heat and humidity. It is best to plan out your enclosure on paper to make sure all necessary components will fit, such as adequate furnishings and basking areas. The enclosure must be large enough as well to provide adequate temperature gradients. It also must be able to facilitate a substrate that will enable the monitor to burrow.
For Ackies the enclosure could be one you build yourself. However many breeders use metal stock tanks that can be purchased at farm supply stores. The average Ackie keeper won't find these "very pretty" to use in a home where they want to be able to view their monitor.
Aquariums are not the best enclosure to use for Ackies. They do not hold heat and humidity very well. As well the glass is not strong enough to hold 8-12 inches of substrate. They may be used for hatchlings but do not use the available screen lids. Replace them with plexi-glass. The screen will let all the humidity out thus endangering the life of your monitor. It also inhibits the Ackies to shed properly. Many Ackies have lost toes and even died due to dried out enclosures.
Do not use the collapsible screen enclosures. They will quickly rip apart the screening and it is very difficult to keep heat and humidity in these as well. The enclosure should be kept as clean as possible. Any feces should be removed when found. The top layer of the substrate can be removed every week or so.
Learn more about housing your ackie dwarf monitor on our housing page, located here: Housing Ackie Monitors
Author: Mike Donkersgoed
All Images © Mike Donkersgoed