KINGDOM: Animalia (Animals)
PHYLUM: Chordata (Possessing a notochord)
CLASS: Reptilia (Reptiles)
ORDER: Squamata (Scaled reptiles)
FAMILY: Varanidae (Lizards)
SUB-FAMILY: Varaninae (Monitor lizards)
GENUS: Varanus (Monitor lizards)
SPECIES: Varanus komodoensis (Komodo dragon)
Komodo dragons are endemic to the island of Komodo in Indonesia, and also on the neighbouring islands of Rinca and Flores.
The Komodo dragon is the largest lizard in the world, with a heavy-set body, stocky, bowed legs, and a long, muscular tail. They have a long, flat head with a rounded snout, and sharp, serrated teeth. Their bodies are uniformly covered in rough scales. Komodo dragons are a greyish-brown colour all over.
Komodo dragons prefer open lowland areas with tall grasses and bushes. They inhabit inhabit monsoon and savannah forests. The three islands where the Komodo dragon lives are all volcanic.
They are carnivores (meat eaters) and will eat goats, pigs, deer, wild boar, horses, water buffalo, and smaller Komodo dragons. Most of their diet consists of carrion, but they may attack large prey by ambushing them and delivering a venemous bite. The animal then succumbs to either blood loss and infection.
The Komodo dragon is mostly a solitary animal, but home ranges of several dragons may overlap. They don’t defend their territories, and may come together to feed on a large kill. The position and eating order is determined by the dominance of the individual. Dominance is based on size and sex.
Komodo dragons are polygynandrous (males and females will both have several mates). Males engage in fights over females. They have courtship rituals which include males rubbing their chin on the female’s head, scratching her back, and licking her body. If the female exhibits interest, she licks him back. Females can exhibit asexual reproduction and unfertilised eggs can hatch.
An average of 22 eggs are laid and buried. The young dragons hatch after about 8 months, and spend the first months of their lives living in trees to avoid predators. There is no parental care involved for Komodo dragon paretns. At about 8 months old, the dragons become too big to live in trees and start living on the ground. Sexual maturity is reached at about ten years old. Komodo dragons can live up to about 50 years.
It was long thought that Komodo dragons’ saliva was used as venom due to the various strains of bacteria it contains. This is false however. The Komodo dragon, in fact, has complex venom glands in its jaw, which excrete a variety of toxic substances that prevent blood clotting and lower blood pressure in its prey.
Due to the fact that the Komodo dragon is the most dominant predator in it’s environment, mature adults have no natural predators in their native habitats. Infant mortality is high though, and infants have adapted by living in trees to avoid predators.
The biggest threat to the dragons is habitat loss due to logging and increased human population. Komodo dragons are also threatened by volcanic activity on these geologically active islands which can cause declines in their prey species, in turn affecting the local Komodo dragon populations.
Did you know?
- The Komodo dragon is the largest lizard in the world
- Komodo dragons can reach up to 3m in length and weigh up to 136kg!
- A dragon can eat 80 percent of its body weight in a single feeding
- Infant dragons will roll in faeces to avoid predation by adults