The karyotypes have been determined of 16 of the 32 species of the genus Varanus, including animals from Africa, Israel, Malaya and Australia. A constant chromosome number of 2n = 40 was observed. The karyotype is divided into eight pairs of large chromosomes and 12 paris of microchromosomes. A series of chromosomal rearrangements have become established in both size groups of the karyotype and are restricted to centromers shifts, probably caused by pericentric inversion. Species could be placed in one of six distinct karyotype groups which are differentiated by these rearrangements and whose grouping does not always correspond with the current taxonomy. An unusual sex chromosome system of the ZZ/ZW type was present in a number of the species examined. The evolutionary significance of these chromosomal rearrangements, their origin and their mode of establishment are discussed and related to the current taxonomic groupings. The most likely phylogenetic model based on chromosome morphology, fossil evidence and the current distribution of the genus Varanus is presented.