The Komodo dragon is the world’s largest lizard growing to lengths of up to 3m (9.8ft) with males being larger than females.
They are carnivores and will feed on a range of animals including deer and lizards as adults or insects as juveniles. Prey is subdued using their venomous bite. While prey may not succumb immediately they will follow the animal until it does.
Females deposit their young as eggs. Upon hatching the young are responsible for their own care as soon as they are born.
Threats to the Komodo Dragon include habitat loss and collection for zoos or the pet trade in some areas of their range.
Read on to learn more about these remarkable reptiles.
What does the Komodo Dragon look like?
The Komodo dragon is the world’s largest living lizard. They grows to 3 metres (9.8ft), on average for males and 2 metres (6.6ft) for females. Most Komodo dragons weigh in the region of 70kg (154lbs). The largest Komodo ever to have been recorded was 166kg (366lbs) and measured 3.1m (10.8ft) long.
In some parts of their range they are noticeably smaller. It is thought this is a result or the reduced availability of large prey in their range.
The Komodo dragon has skin which contains armored scales. These scales contain osteoderms which are small pieces of bone. The osteoderms function as a sort of natural chain mail.
The Komodo’s tongue is yellow and has a large fork in its end. Across their body the scales have a grey through to a clay coloring.
What does the Komodo Dragon eat?
Komodo dragons are entirely carnivorous. Komodo’s are opportunistic feeders finding carrion to eat where possible. Adult Komodo’s can take down prey as large as a deer or a boar.
They will eat one of these large prey items once a month and then supplement their diet with smaller animals (i.e. Rats). Smaller prey items are swallowed whole. These animals can achieve this thanks to their ability to loosen their jaw and having an expandable stomach. During a single meal they may eat as much as 80%.
Digestion takes 26 hours if the body is maintained at its optimal body temperature. It may last up to 5 days though if it is a cold part of the year.
Hatchlings will eat exclusively invertebrates such as beetles and grasshoppers. When they grow up into small Komodo dragons they begin to eat smaller lizards, some birds and eggs as well as insects. A medium Komodo will expand its diet to include geckoes, small snakes, skinks and rodents such as shrews and rats.
They are one of the few species of lizard which has a venomous bite. This is used to subdue their prey. While prey may not immediately suffer from their wound the lizard will follow it until it is able to capture the item. This allows them to consume large prey such as deer or buffalo.
Prey is detected using their long, forked tongue.
Where can you find the Komodo Dragon?
Asia is the native home of the Komodo dragon. Here they are restricted to just a few islands in the Lesser Sunda group.
A population previously existed on the island of Padar but has not been sighted there since the 1970s.
What kind of environment does the Komodo Dragon live in?
The Komodo dragon prefers to live in savannas, open grasslands and also tropical rainforests. They favor hot and dry habitats.
How does the Komodo Dragon produce its young?
Mating will usually take place between May and October but has been observed as early as January in some zoos and in the wild.
Komodo’s have no territories and mating will usually take place near carrion. Their eggs are laid in nests which they dig themselves or steal off mound building birds (megapodes). 1-30 eggs will be laid in one clutch around July to September. Eggs can incubate for anywhere from 2.5-8 months. Incubation in captivity usually lasts 220 days. In the wild the length of this process can depend on temperature and soil conditions. The young are born in April and May and hatch weighing 80 grams (2.8oz) or so.
Komodo dragons reach sexual maturity between 5 and 7 years. Females stop reproducing around 30 years of age.
Most females lay a clutch each year but some will only complete this every second year.
Komodo dragons have also been found to be cable of parthenogenesis. This means the females can lay fertile eggs without the presence of a male. These eggs will all hatch to be males though. It is believed that this would allow Komodo’s to establish on new islands.
What does the Komodo Dragon do with its day?
The Komodo dragon spends the first few years of its life in the trees. This protects them from being eaten by other predator’s especially cannibalistic adult Komodo’s.
They need to spend the morning basking as they are ectotherms. This means that they cannot regulate their own body temperature. They hide during the warmest portions during the day and enjoy hunting in the late afternoon. Their nights are spent sleeping in burrows which they dig.
Like most monitor species they are very effective swimmers and can use this as an efficient means of escape from predation. The longest known distance swum by a Komodo dragon was ¼ mile( 450m).
They will spend on average 26 days on the hunt of a prey item in between feeds. After this they rest for 5-6 days while digestion takes place.
They use vocalizations including a hiss. This is used as a defensive signal and is also emitted during feeding, attacks and by females when mating.
Predators and Threats
What is impacting the survival of the Komodo Dragon?
The population of Komodo dragons is reported to be stable. Their total population is currently estimated at 1,383 mature individuals. Some subpopulations are incredibly small and at increased risk. Little gene flow is present within the populations and means genetic divergence is high.
Much of the population is found within Komodo National Park where they are afforded protection and face few threats.
In some areas they are affected through habitat loss and collection to supply the pet trade or zoos. This trade is almost entirely illegal with the species afforded protection across its range.
The Komodo dragon is also known as the Komodo monitor and is known as buaya darat (land crocodile) and also biawak raksasa (giant monitor) by the locals of Komodo Island.
The Komodo dragon was first described for modern science in 1910.
They may also be known as the Komodo monitor.
Jessop, T., Ariefiandy, A., Azmi, M., Ciofi, C., Imansyah, J. & Purwandana, D. 2021. Varanus komodoensis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2021: e.T22884A123633058. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2021-2.RLTS.T22884A123633058.en. Accessed on 30 December 2021.
Adelaide Zoo. 2021. Komodo Dragon – Adelaide Zoo. [online] Available at: <https://www.adelaidezoo.com.au/animals/komodo-dragon/> [Accessed 30 December 2021].
Smithsonian’s National Zoo. 2021. Komodo dragon. [online] Available at: <https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/komodo-dragon> [Accessed 30 December 2021].
Animals.sandiegozoo.org. 2021. Komodo Dragon | San Diego Zoo Animals & Plants. [online] Available at: <https://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/komodo-dragon> [Accessed 30 December 2021].
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