Komodo Dragon facts - all about Komodo Dragons
The largest of the monitor family of lizards, the formidable dragon has a deadly arsenal. These are some of the characteristics that define this amazing animal
Komodo dragons have an acute sense of smell – handy for searching out carrion and finding prey it has wounded but not killed outright. It smells like a snake does, sampling the air with its forked tongue and picking up airborne scent molecules. The tongue tips are then touched to the roof of the mouth where chemical receptors analyze the concentration of molecules. If there are more on the right tip than the left, the dragon knows its prey can be found to its right. It will then attack, or patiently follow a previously attacked deer, pig, even water buffalo, until it drops. It can detect carrion as far away as 4km (2.5 miles).
Eyes and ears
Dragons can view objects that are 300m (984ft) away, especially if it is moving, so their eyes play a part in hunting. Their vision works well in daylight but they cannot see so well at night or in dim light. This is where their sense of smell comes into play. Their range of hearing is narrow so it’s likely they cannot hear low calls or high pitched cries – or screams.
Mouth and tongue
Komodo dragon saliva is infested with more than 50 different strains of bacteria, some septic, and toxins that cause the prey to go into shock and prevent its blood from clotting. Its bite, therefore, is deadly – perhaps not straight away, but within 24 hours most of its prey will be dead of blood loss or poisoning. This enables it to tackle animals many times bigger than itself, using large, curved and serrated teeth, rather like a shark does, to tear it apart. The lower jaw can open unusually wide to swallow big chunks of meat.
The dragons’ legs are chunky and bowed – not surprising as they are the heaviest lizards in the world, weighing more than 136k (300lb). The feet end in sharp claws that help the animal catch and open up its prey. It attacks by knocking the legs out from under its meal. There is strength enough in its legs to lunge, and with these stubby apendages it can run at 11 miles per hour and climb trees.
Dragons have an expandable stomach to accommodate a large meal. In fact, they can eat up to 80 per cent of their own bodyweight at a time. They are also efficient eaters as they only leave about 12 per cent of their prey unconsumed. Unlike other large carnivores, dragons chomp through bones, tough hide, even hooves with ease. Intestines they shake vigorously to remove the contents. For this reason young dragons, that run the risk of being eaten by bigger ones, roll in dung to cover themselves in a smell the adults will avoid. If the animals are threatened in any way they throw up their meal to lighten the weight and allow them to run away.
Despite the fact that they are huge – about 3m (10ft) in length – Komodo dragons are egg layers. Mating takes place between May and August and the females lay around 30 eggs in September. The young are only about 40cm long (16in) and spend their early years in trees. Not only do they have to beware of predators, including humans, but also of adults of their own kind as they regularly eat other dragons’ offspring
When males want to assert their dominance and win a female they use their tails to support themselves as they employ their forelegs in grappling and attempting to wrestle their rivals to the ground and into submission.
WHERE CAN YOU SEE THEM?
Komodo dragons only live on the Indonesian Lesser Sunda Islands, to the west of the archipelago. There is a population of between 3,000 and 5,000 divided between Komodo, Gila Motang,Gila Dasami, Rintja, Padar and Flores Islands. They usually live in tropical savanna forests, but can be found all over the islands, even on the beaches. The species has endangered status because of their limited range and loss of numbers due to human persecution. They are now protected by Indonesian law. Komodo National Park (covering Komodo, Padar and Rintja) was established in 1980 and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991. The park can be visited as a day trip from Flores.
We sent journalist Mark Eveleigh to Indonesia to search for the Komodo Dragon. Read what heppened here