Komodo Dragon


Varanus komodoensis
(French: Le dragon de Komodo)

Class: Reptilia

Order: Sauria

Family: Varanidae

Genus: Varanus


Distribution (where it’s found in the world): The Komodo dragon is found on only a few small islands in the Lesser Sunda archipelago of Indonesia; the islands of Komodo, Rinca, Flores and Gili Motang.

Habitat: The climate is hot and dry but includes rocky slopes, savanna, forested valleys, mangrove swamps, coral reefs and sand bars. Komodo dragons are most commonly found in savanna and forest areas.

Food: Young Komodo dragons eat geckos and live mostly in trees for their first year of life, until they are about 1.3 metres in length. At this stage they begin foraging on the ground for snakes, birds, pigs, goats and deer. Komodo dragons also scavenge on beaches for dead fish or any other carrion. Large adults are capable of killing animals as large as 600 kg. water buffalo. Komodo dragons gulp chunks of flesh whole and can consume up to 80% of their own body weight in one meal. Adult dragons also prey on younger members of their own species.

Description:
Male Length: 2.6 m Weight: 90-kg
Female Length: 1.5 m Weight: 45 kg
Very large males have been recorded at 3 metres in length and a weight of more than 130 kg. The Komodo dragon, the largest lizard in the world, is a heavy, well-muscled lizard with a long thick head and neck. The colour is greyish brown with a thick rough skin, which has a beaded appearance. There are long curved claws on all four feet. The tail, which is about the same length as the body,
tapers to a fine tip.

Reproduction and Development (birth and growth): Komodo dragons become sexually mature at 5 to 7 years. During the breeding season, May through July, males often fight for hours for access to a female in breeding condition. From July through September females lay 15 to 30 leathery eggs, 7.5 cm in length, which incubate in unattended underground nests throughout the rainy season, from December through April. Females may guard their nests for a short period immediately after laying. Incubation time ranges from 200 to 250 days. At hatching the young are 40 cm in length and weigh about 100 g each. Hatchling dragons feed on insects and smaller reptiles, spending most of their time in trees where they are safe from adults of their own kind. By the time they are about 1.3 m in length most young dragons begin foraging on the ground. Captive Komodo dragons have survived to 35 years of age.

Adaptations (how it survives in its environment):The Komodo dragon is unique among lizards, as it is the top carnivore in its isolated environment. Long claws and very strong jaws and teeth help Komodo dragons catch and kill their prey. They are remarkably fast over short distances and can show great endurance in pursuit of deer that are their main prey. The claws are used for ripping open the bodies of prey animals. Although they have no venom, the saliva of Komodo dragons contains high concentrations of bacteria that cause severe infections in animals they attack and can eventually kill any prey animal that manages to escape. The teeth have serrated edges that saw easily through meat. Teeth that are lost are regrown throughout the life of the dragon. Four or five sets of replacement teeth may be present in the jawbone behind the exposed teeth.
Because Komodo dragons can regulate their body temperature by basking in the sun or seeking shade to cool themselves, they require much less food than warm blooded carnivores such as a wild dogs or tigers. Adult Komodo dragons may be able to live on only one tenth the quantity of food needed by mammal predators of the same size. Their small island habitat therefore can sustain enough prey animals to support a healthy population of reptile predators where a mammal predator would probably soon eat itself out of "house and home".
Komodo dragons swim well and have been known to cross the narrow ocean barriers between the islands they inhabit.

Status: Rare, CITES appendix I (no legal trade), SSP(Species Survival Plan) at the Toronto Zoo .
The government of Indonesia recognizes the Komodo dragon as a national treasure and, as early as 1928, declared Komodo Island a Wilderness Area to help conserve the species. By current estimates there are 3,000 to 5,000 Komodo dragons in the wild and about 200 in captivity. Its range on the islands of Komodo, Rinca and Gili Motang has been protected since 1980 within Komodo National Park. Although it is relatively secure in this very limited habitat the Komodo dragon remains vulnerable to natural catastrophes such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tidal waves. Grass fires that are often lit by poachers are also a recurring threat. Habitat on Flores Island, outside the protection of the park is becoming fragmented due to human encroachment. Indonesia is a country with a very large and growing human population and human demands for lands the dragon now occupies are likely to intensify.
About 30 zoos in the world now house captive Komodo dragons and in May 1997 the Toronto Zoo joined the Species Survival Plan for this species when it received a young male and female from Indonesia. Careful breeding of the captive animals in zoos is an important part of the conservation plans for the Komodo dragon.

Diet: Young Komodo dragons eat geckos and live mostly in trees for their first year of life, until they are about 1.3 metres in length. At this stage they begin foraging on the ground for snakes, birds, pigs, goats and deer. Komodo dragons also scavenge on beaches for dead fish or any other carrion. Large adults are capable of killing animals as large as a 600-kg water buffalo. Komodo dragons gulp chunks of flesh whole and can consume up to 80% of their own body weight in one meal. Adult dragons also prey on younger members of their own species.

Zoo Diet: Whole animals (rats) and carnivore mix.

References:
Benyus, J. M. Beastly Behaviours, Addison Wesley Publishing Company,Don Mills, ON,
1992. Pp. 217 - 228.
Diamond, J, "The Evolution of Dragons", Discover, Vol. 13, No. 12, Dec. 1992. Pp. 72 - 80.
Halliday, T, & K. Adler, eds., The Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians, Facts on File Inc., New York, 1989. Pp. 106 -07, 111.
Hartman, J., Looking at Lizards, Holiday House, New York, 1978. Pp. 84 - 89.
Lutz, D. and J. M. Lutz, Komodo, The Living Dragon, Dime Press, Salem, Oregon, 1997.
Stevens, J., "Facing the Dragons", International Wildlife, Vol. 23, No. 5, May/June 1993. Pp. 30 - 35.
Wikramanayake, E., "Everyone Knows the Dragon is only a Mythical Beast", Smithsonian, Vol. 28, No. 1, April 1997. Pp. 74 - 85.