Komodo Dragon Facts

Scientific Name: Varanus komodoensis

A Komodo Dragon crawling on a beach
Getty Images

The Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) is the largest lizard on the face of the earth today. An ancient species of reptile, it first appeared on the planet more than 100 million years ago—though it was not known to Western science until 1912. Prior to that time, it was known in the West only through rumors of dragon-like lizard living in the Lesser Sunda Islands of the Pacific.

Fast Facts: Komodo Dragon

  • Scientific Name: Varanus komodoensis
  • Common Name(s): Komodo dragon, Komodo monitor
  • Basic Animal Group: Reptile
  • Size:  six to 10 feet 
  • Weight: 150–360 pounds
  • Lifespan: up to 30 years 
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Habitat: specific Indonesian islands
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable 


Komodo Dragon Portrait close up - Komodo Island, Indonesia
Jamie Lamb - elusive-images.co.uk/Getty Images

Description

Full-grown Komodo dragons typically grow to six to 10 feet and can weigh 150 pounds—though individual specimens can be as heavy as 350 pounds. They are dull brown, dark grey, or reddish in color, while juveniles are green with yellow and black stripes.

Habitat and Distribution

Komodo dragons have the smallest home range of any large predator: they live on certain small Indonesian islands of the Lesser Sunda group, including Rintja, Padar, Gila Motang, and Flores, and Komodo, in habitats ranging from beaches to forests to ridge tops.

Diet and Behavior

Komodo dragons will eat almost any kind of meat, including both live animals and carrion. Smaller, younger dragons eat small lizards, snakes, and birds, while adults prefer monkeys, goats, and deer. They are also cannibalistic.

These lizards are the apex predators of their Indonesian island ecosystems; they occasionally capture live prey by hiding in vegetation and ambushing their victims, although they usually prefer to scavenge already-dead animals. (In fact, the giant size of the Komodo dragon can be explained by its island ecosystem: like the long-extinct Dodo Bird, this lizard has no natural predators.)

A pair of Komodo dragons hunting an antelope in Borneo, Indonesia
 

Komodo dragons have good vision and adequate hearing, but rely mostly on their acute sense of smell to detect potential prey; these lizards are also equipped with long, yellow, deeply-forked tongues and sharp serrated teeth, and their rounded snouts, strong limbs, and muscular tails also come in handy when targeting their dinners. (Not to mention when dealing with others of their own kind: when Komodo dragons encounter one another in the wild, the dominant individual, usually the largest male, prevails.) Hungry Komodo dragons have been known to run at speeds topping 10 miles per hour, at least for short stretches, making them some of the fastest lizards on the planet.

Reproduction and Offspring

The Komodo dragon mating season spans the months of July and August. In September, the females dig egg chambers, in which they lay clutches of up to 30 eggs. The mom-to-be covers her eggs with leaves and then lies over the nest to warm the eggs until they hatch, which requires an unusually long gestation period of seven or eight months.

The newborn hatchlings are vulnerable to predation by birds, mammals, and even adult Komodo dragons; for this reason the young scamper up into trees, where an arboreal lifestyle provides them refuge from their natural enemies until they are large enough to defend themselves.

Komodo National Park Welcome Sign, Rinca Island (Pulau Island), Indonesia
lrosebrugh/Getty Images

Conservation Status

Komodo dragons are listed as Vulnerable. According to the San Diego Zoo's website: "One study estimated the population of Komodo dragons within Komodo National Park to be 2,405. Another study estimated between 3,000 and 3,100 individuals. On the much larger island of Flores, which is outside the National Park, the number of dragons has been estimated from 300 to 500 animals." While the population is more or less stable, Komodo habitat is continuing to shrink due to increasing human encroachment.

Komodo Dragon Venom Controversy

There has been some controversy about the presence of venom, or the lack of it, in the Komodo dragon's saliva. In 2005, researchers in Australia suggested that Komodo dragons (and other monitor lizards) have mildly venomous bites, which can result in swelling, shooting pains, and disruption of blood clotting, at least in human victims; however, this theory has yet to be widely accepted. There's also the possibility that the saliva of Komodo dragons transmits harmful bacteria, which would breed on the rotting bits of flesh wedged between this reptile's teeth. This wouldn't make the Komodo dragon anything special, though; for decades there has been speculation about the "septic bites" inflicted by meat-eating dinosaurs!

Sources

  • “Komodo Dragon.” National Geographic, 24 Sept. 2018, www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/reptiles/k/komodo-dragon/.
  • “Komodo Dragon.” San Diego Zoo Global Animals and Plants, animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/komodo-dragon.
  • “Komodo Dragon.” Smithsonian's National Zoo, 9 July 2018, nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/komodo-dragon.