Scientific Name: Varanus komodoensis
The Komodo dragon is the world’s largest lizard.
Komodos have good eyesight during the day and can even see in color, but they mostly use their excellent sense of smell to find their prey. They also have very thick skin, and this helps protect them from fights with each other and from the thick jungle vegetation of their home.
STATUS: This animal is classified as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Komodo Island is protected as a wildlife preserve by the country of Indonesia, which provides safety from habitat encroachment by humans. However, Komodos are listed as Vulnerable because they occur naturally in such a small area of the world. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums has set up a Species Survival Plan to manage the breeding of captive Komodos and protect the species for the future in case something were to happen to the wild population.
HABITAT: Komodos live on only a few islands in Indonesia, and are most concentrated on Komodo Island, which has made it a popular tourist attraction. The islands themselves have very varied terrain – some areas are dry and tropical, while others are hilly and grassy. These lizards prefer grassier, wet habitats, but they can adapt to many different situations if necessary.
DIET: Komodo dragons sometimes cannot find food for weeks on end, and so when they do, they can consume up to 80 percent of their body weight in one sitting. They will eat almost anything – snakes, other lizards, reptile and bird eggs, carrion, deer, pigs, goats, and dogs. They will even attempt to eat mammals larger than they are, such as horses and water buffalo, but will only chase after young or weakened animals to have a better chance of capturing one. They are also extremely fast – in short bursts, they can reach speeds of about 12 miles per hour. When hunting, however, they prefer to lay in wait and then surprise their prey. Komodos have about 60 teeth which grow back quickly if one falls out. They use their teeth to cut their prey into sections, and then swallow without chewing. They rarely drink water, preferring to get their fluids from the food they eat.
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: A fully-grown Komodo dragon can be nine or ten feet long and can weigh 200 pounds or more. Males are slightly larger than females and sometimes have yellow spots on their snouts, but are otherwise grey. Each of their four feet have five short, curved claws that are used to catch and hold onto their prey. Juvenile Komodos use their claws to live in trees until they are fully-grown and able to protect themselves from other adult Komodos on the ground.
Komodo dragons have a reputation for having a poisonous bite. Their saliva is actually naturally harmless, but it picks up dangerous pathogens because its diet of carrion and other scavenged items. They are immune to most of these bacteria, including E. colli, but can pass them along to animals or humans through their bite. In captivity, Komodos are fed cleaner food that virtually eliminates this problem.