Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Red Ackie, Spiny-tailed monitor

Varanus acanthuras, or the "ackie" as it is more commonly called, is also known as the ridge-tailed lizard and spiny-tailed lizard. This small monitor is a true dwarf and is an ideal captive with very straightforward care requirements. If you are looking for a pet monitor this lizard is for you!

Beautifully colored and with the look of little dragons, these active lizards are fun to watch and care for. Ackies can be held on a daily basis and usually tame very well. Ackies can be fed every other day and will accept a variety of foods including crickets and pinky mice.

Scientific name : Varanus acanthuras

Common name : Red Ackie, Spiny-tailed monitor

Housing Size : 55 gallon tank or equivalent

Housing Type : Rocky ranges and outcrops

Adult Size : 16-26 inches

Level Of Difficulty : Easy to Moderate

Life Span : Up to 10 years

Diet : Insectivores, small mammal (pinkie)


The spiny-tailed monitor, a medium-sized monitor lizard, can attain a total length of up to 70 cm. The tail is about 1,3-2,3 times longer than head and body. The upper side is a rich, dark brown and painted with bright yellowish to cream spots, which often enclose a few dark scales. Its tail is round in section and features very spinose scales. There are 70-115 scales around the middle of the body. The spiny-tailed monitor is distinguished from the similar-looking species V. baritji and V. primordius by the presence of pale longitudinal stripes on the neck.

Distribution and habitat

This arid-adapted lizard is found in northern Western Australia, in the Northern Territory and in the eastern and northeastern parts of Queensland. The spiny-tailed monitor inhabits arid areas, and is associated with rocky ranges and outcrops.


Bigger is always better when it comes to monitor enclosures. There are minimums that should be followed however. The enclosure should be twice as long as the monitors length and as wide as the monitor is long. So for adult Ackies the minimum size enclosure should be 4 feet long x 2 feet wide x 2 feet high. If you have room for a larger enclosure it will not go to waste. If you have the room you may go higher as Ackies are partly arboreal and will climb if given the opportunity. Ackies are very active and will put any available space to good use. Also the larger the enclosure the more available temperature and humidity gradients there will be for your Ackies to choose from. Remember that Ackies have a quick growth rate so plan for that large enclosure ahead of time.


Keep in mind that for monitors substrate is an important part of husbandry. No linoleum here. The best substrate to use is plain old dirt. Some Ackie owners mix in a bit of sand as well trying to create a sandy loam. The best soil to use is the type you dig up yourself. It should be extracted from an area that is free of pesticide and fertilizer use. Agriculture fields are not a good source. Other than that it may be purchased in bag form from a garden center. However the black soil tends to dry out rather quickly. Make sure here as well that it contains no growing additives, usually the cheaper the better. Maintaining a level of moisture in the substrate is important for holding burrows as well as for insuring complete sheds. Not doing this could cause loss of toes or tails from retained dead skin.


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.


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.

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