Komodo dragon

Facts about Komodo dragon

We found 13 facts about Komodo dragon

The world’s largest lizard

The Komodo dragon is an endemic reptile that belongs to the family Varanidae and can be found on the Lesser Sunda Islands. It is the only modern species of Varanus that is a large-sized predator.

Its discovery awakened the fascination and respect of scientists and nature lovers worldwide. Thanks to its impressive size, it has become one of the largest reptiles on our planet. Its distinctive scaly skin, sharp claws, and extraordinary skill to hunt different species of animals make it the real predator of Komodo Island.

The Komodo dragon is not just a mighty body and menacing jaws, equally fascinating is its behavior. It not only amazes scientists, but attracts tourists from all over the world, eager to see this extraordinary specimen up close, explore its history, biology, and behavior, and learn about the challenges associated with its survival.

Komodo dragon
The Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) is the largest modern living lizard.

It belongs to the family Varanidae, a group of carnivorous (Varanus olivaceus) and frugivorous (Varanus bitatawa) lizards, that includes the living genus Varanus and a number of extinct genera.

Varanus differs from other lizards by the structure of their tongues, which consists of two parts: the fleshy thick base, and the long, thin tactile part which splits at the end, the so-called Jacobson’s organ.

They live in various ecological environments; some are exclusively on trees, some are terrestrial, some are great swimmers and divers, and the Varanus griseus live in the desert. Among reptiles stand out for their intelligence–they can distinguish their caretakers from other people, and understand simple commands.

It was discovered in 1910.

First, rumors of a "terrestrial crocodile" reached Lieutenant Steyn van Hensbroek from the Dutch colonial administration (the Dutch East Indies was a Dutch colony consisting of areas of present-day Indonesia).

The lizard was first described in 1912 by the then-director of the Zoological Museum in Bogor, Java, Pieter Ouwens, who received photos and skin samples of an adult specimen from van Hensbroek, and two other specimens from a collector.

The first two live specimens came from Komodo to Europe to a zoo in London in 1927. Some of the earliest observations of these animals in captivity were made, and the findings were presented at the Symposium of the Zoological Society of London in 1928.

In 1926, an American naturalist and filmmaker William Douglas Burden visited Komodo Island in search of the Komodo dragon.

Along with his first wife, Catherine, Burden set out to find the dragon from Komodo, which was labeled by the New York Times as “a fierce direct descendant of the dinosaur.” With the use of traps stuffed with bison meat, Burden managed to catch a few gigantic specimens that weighed about 159 kilograms and measured about 3 meters.

Two out of three captured Komodo dragons were sent to Bronx Zoo, where they died soon after and were donated to the American Museum of Natural History after they underwent taxidermy.

In 1927, Burden released a book about his journey to Komodo Island called “The Dragon Lizards of Komodo.” His expedition inspired the creators of 1933’s “King Kong.” It is thanks to Burden that this Varanus species was colloquially called the Komodo dragon.

The Dutch administration of Komodo Island, realizing the limited number of Varanus individuals in the wild, has prohibited hunting and severely limited the number of individuals taken for scientific research.

The outbreak of World War II temporarily put scientific expeditions on hold; they were resumed in the 1950s and 1960s to study their feeding and breeding behaviors.

The expedition of Walter Auffenberg in 1969 aimed at studying Komodo dragons in terms of captive breeding.

The Komodo dragon’s range is limited to certain Lesser Sunda Islands in Indonesia.

It is endemically found on the islands: of Komodo, Rinca, Flores, Gili Motang, and Gili Dasami, where about 6000 individuals live.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) placed the Komodo dragon on the Red List of Threatened Species in 2019 as a species at risk of extinction. The main risks they currently face are the fragmentation or loss of their habitat, and a drastic drop in the population of their main food source–Javan rusa, wild boars, and water buffalos. They also suffer from poaching, fires, and deforestation.

To protect the Komodo dragon, a Komodo National Park was established in 1980.

The Wae Wuul Reserve in the west of Flores and the Wolo Tado Reserve in the north of the island have also been established. Komodo dragons are under strict protection in Indonesia. The Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, in the case of Komodo dragons, states that any trade in live specimens or their body parts (such as skins) is prohibited without special permits.

Captive breeding can also serve to protect the species. The first Komodo dragon's offspring placed in human care outside of Indonesia took place in 1992 at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park (located north of Washington, D.C., and is one of the oldest zoos in the United States).

In 2004, a zoo in Gran Canaria succeeded in breeding the first European offspring of a Komodo dragon.

Komodo dragons are apex predators.

Because of their size, they do not have natural predators. Komodo dragons living in the wild typically weigh 70 kilograms and measure 2,5-3 meters. Specimens kept in captivity usually weigh more.

The largest verified specimen kept in captivity was 3,13 meters long and weighed 166 kilograms (including the undigested food). The largest individual measured in the wild was 3,04 meters long and weighed 81,5 kilograms (without stomach content).

Its tail is half the size of its body length.

It has a large, wide head, thick and bulky neck, barrel-shaped torso, and long tail. Its skin is covered with enforced scales, containing tiny bone-like structures called osteoderms, which act as a kind of natural collar. Osteoderms are absent only around the eyes, nostrils, edges of the mouth, and parietal eye (third eye).

It has a hearing range of 400 to 2000 Hz. In the past, Komodo dragons were considered deaf, but researchers questioned that claim. Its eyesight is poor at night, but it can spot objects from a 300-meter distance. It can also distinguish colors but does not react to stationary objects.

Similar to other reptiles, Komodo dragons use the Jacobson’s organ to detect, taste, and smell. Thanks to its waving its head left to right while walking, the Komodo dragon can locate carrion from a distance of 4-9,5 kilometers.

This lizard has about 60 frequently replaced, serrated teeth that can measure up to 2,5 centimeters.

Its saliva can often be tinged with blood, as the teeth are almost completely covered by gum tissue, which is naturally damaged during meals. The abundance of saliva makes it easier for them to swallow food.

They are carnivorous.

However, it is claimed that they mostly feed on carrion, and they often attack living prey. They charge at high speed and hit the throat or underbelly, killing their prey within seconds, then ripping it apart and swallowing in a few big bites. If the prey is small, like a goat, they can devour it whole within 15 to 20 minutes. Sometimes they press their prey to the tree to speed up ingestion, which may end with the tree collapsing.

A small tube located under the tongue allows them to breathe while swallowing food.

Their diet is nuanced.

It includes invertebrates, other reptiles (including smaller Komodo dragons), birds and their eggs, small mammals, monkeys, boars, goats, Bawean deers, horses, and water buffalos.

Although they avoid confrontation with humans, they can attack. When cornered, they react aggressively – they open their mouths, hiss, and position their tail warningly, ready to strike.

There are reports of individual cases of attacking, killing, and devouring people, however, it is presumed that such events can only be attributed to a few abnormal individuals who have lost their fear of humans and have become very aggressive.

They live in hot and dry places in open grasslands, savannas, and tropical forests.

Active during the day, they spend nights in burrows of their own making. They hunt in the noon and spend the hottest periods of the day in the shade. Their resting places are secluded, marked with excrement, and devoid of vegetation.

They are solitary, gathering with others only for mating (between May and August) and during eating.

They are sexually dimorphic.

Females lay eggs in September. They can be monogamous and form bonds with chosen individuals, which is an unusual trait among lizards.

Hatches typically consist of 20 eggs and the incubation lasts for seven to eight months. Young spend most of their first years of life on the trees, where they are protected from both predators and older Komodo dragons (young specimens make up for 10 percent of their diet).

They mature within eight to nine years, and their life expectancy is about 30 years in the wild.

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