Komodo Dragon

The Komodo dragon is the largest lizard in the world. It is found in the Indonesian islands of Komodo, Rinca, Flores and Gili Motang. It can grow up to 3 metres long (10 feet) and weighs around 70 kilograms (155 lb). It is currently classified as an endangered species because of deforestation, tourism, poaching and natural disasters like volcanic eruptions on the islands which it lives on. Komodo dragons are protected under Indonesian law and especially in the Komodo National Park. There are approximately about 4000 to 5000 living Komodo dragons in the wild.

How the Komodo Dragon eats

The Face of a Komodo Dragon. Pic by Trisha Shears
The Face of a Komodo Dragon. Pic by Trisha Shears

Komodo dragons are meat eaters and scavengers. They even eat their own species. They will hunt and ambush prey like deer, pigs, birds and even large water buffalo and humans. It is estimated that 10% of their diet consists of other Komodo Dragons! They eat almost any kind of meat. Baby Komodo dragons will feed on mostly small lizards or insects.  They are able to swallow smaller prey whole (up to the size of a goat) like a snake, because they have loosely joined jaws, flexible skulls and an expandable stomach. The Komodo dragon will take 15-20 minutes to swallow a goat. This crazy Komodo dragon will even speed up the process of swallowing by ramming the carcass against a tree to force it down its throat! Sometimes the poor tree gets knocked over. However, it will not be suffocated by large chunks of food because it breathes using small tubes under its tongue, connected to the lungs. That is why it breathes through its mouth. Since the Komodo dragons do not have a diaphragm, they cannot suck water or even lap water with their yellow tongue. So, they will in fact take a mouthful of water and lift their heads up to let the water flow down their throat.

After eating up to 80% of their body weight in one meal, they drag themselves to a sunny spot to speed up digestion. It is because the food could rot and poison them if left undigested for too long.

The Komodo Dragon has a slow metabolic rate like a snake. A large komodo can live on as little as 12 meals a year. It will vomit out the horns, hair and teeth of its prey. Then it will clean its face with dirt or on a bush.

The Komodo Dragon is the World's Biggest Lizard
The Komodo Dragon is the World's Biggest Lizard

The largest Komodo dragon will get to get to eat first, while the smaller ones have to wait. If they are of equal size, there will be a fight among them. Losers will surrender. Unfortunately, the losers are sometimes killed and eaten by the victors!

Believe it or not, occasionally they even eat humans and dead human bodies. They will dig up the bodies from swallow graves, This gruesome habit has caused the villages of Komodo to shift their graves from sandy ground to clay ground and pile rocks on top of the graves so that it is harder for these Komodo dragons to dig up the bodies.

Komodo Dragon Babies

The mother Komodo dragon will lay her eggs in September. She will lay up to 30 eggs in the nest. She will use the nest mound of a Brush Turkey. The baby Komodo dragons will be about 40cm (16 inches) and weighs about 100 gram (3.3 oz). The eggs will be incubated for 7 to 8 months and they will hatch in April. Once they are hatched, young Kodomo dragons are left to take care of themselves. They will quickly run to the treetops. They will live there until they are big enough to protect themselves from being eaten by predators and other Komodo dragons. They usually live up in the trees until they are about 3-5 years old. They can live as long as 50 years old.  Young Komodo dragons are multi-coloured. They can be yellow, green, brown and gray with a speckled and banded skin. Adult colours vary from earthen red to dark gray and black.

A Captive Komodo Dragon
A Captive Komodo Dragon

The Komodo dragon has a muscular tail as long as its body. It has about 60 serrated teeth which are about 2.5 centimetres (1 inch) long. The teeth are razor sharp like a flesh-eating shark’s teeth. What is amazing is these 60 teeth are frequently being replaced. Its teeth is designed to slice, tear and cut but not for chewing, that is why it will tear a large chunks of flesh from the prey and swallow it whole while holding the carcass down with their forelegs.  Its teeth are hidden in the gums. Therefore, it does not have the ‘toothy smile’ of a crocodile. Its saliva is often coloured with blood because its teeth are almost completely covered by gum tissue which is normally cut and torn when the Komodo dragon is tearing off the flesh of a prey.

Having this kind of blood-tinged saliva turns the Komodo dragon’s saliva into a great place for poisonous bacteria to grow. The bacteria causes infection and often wounded prey will die within 2-3 days, even if it escapes. The Komodo Dragon has a long, yellow, deeply  forked tongue which it uses to taste and smell. It has a good sense of smell but it does not have a good sense of hearing. However, it is able to see far. It can see as far as 300 metres (1000 ft). It has poor night vision. It is able to see in colour but it cannot see things if they do not move.

Having a good sense of smell, with the help of a favourable wind and its habit of swinging its head from side to side as it walks, greatly help the Komodo dragons to be able to seek out rotten dead flesh up to 10 kilometres (6 miles) away.

Komodo dragons have flat heads with rounded snouts and short bowed legs.  They are covered with scales. Some of the scales of the Komodo dragon are strengthened with bone and some have lots of nerves which helps its sense of touch. These special scales grow around the ears, lips, chin and the sole of Komodo Dragon’s feet.

Although they are huge, the Komodo Dragon is a fast moving monitor lizard. It can run rapidly at 20 kilometres per hour (12 miles per hour) over short distances. It is a good short distance runner. They can climb the trees competently when they are young by using their strong claws and they are great swimmers. They can dive up to 4.5 metres (15 feet).

Komodo Dragon Habitat

The Komodo dragon lives in dry hot rocky areas.  It loves to be at the dry open grassland, savanna and tropical forest. It is a very solitary creature except during the breeding season and eating. One thing good about the Komodo dragons are they are willing to share their feeding areas. It sleeps in underground burrows. It regulates its body temperature by using the burrow. These burrows are about 1 – 3 metres wide (3-10 feet). It uses its powerful forelegs and claws to build these burrows.

Male Komodo dragons are very territorial and they were defend their territory and even patrol up to 2 kilometres to make sure no other Komodo dragons invade their territory.

As the Komodo dragon grows older, its claws are mainly used as weapons – they are rarely used for climbing trees, because the adult dragons are just too heavy. It is more active in the day. It will normally hunt in the afternoon. When it is too hot, it will stay in the shade. Their favourite resting places are located at barren mountains or hills with cool sea breeze.

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