Species group: Monitor Lizards
Other common names: Komodo Monitor, Ora
Scientific name: Varanus komodoensis
If true dragons may be said to exist today, then surely they are embodied in the largest of the world’s lizards, the Komodo Dragon. From its massive size and bold demeanor to the thick, 2-foot-long tongue, everything about this magnificent creature screams “ancient, mythical predator”. Long protected by local and international laws, Komodo Dragons may not be kept in private collections (a good thing, as you’ll see!), but are included here as an example of the concept that truth is, indeed, stranger than fiction.
The Komodo Dragon is limited in range to the volcanic Indonesian islands of Komodo, Rinca and Flores. The population formerly found on Padar disappeared when poachers exterminated the deer upon which the lizards fed. Recent research has determined that their ancestors rafted or swam to the islands from Australia, which was once home to a “real dragon-lizard” – the 20-foot-long Megalania ((Varanus prisca).
Wet forests and open savannahs are their primary habitats, but village edges are frequently used as foraging sites. Youngsters spend most of their time in trees and bushes – apparently to avoid being eaten by the ground-dwelling adults.
Appearance / Health:
One of the world’s largest reptiles, the Komodo Dragon is extremely thick-set, with heavy, muscular limbs and a long, powerful tail. They are colored in a somber brownish-gray, but those living on Flores are reddish-brown in color and sport yellow heads. Young Komodo Dragons are strikingly-marked with green and yellow bands. Mature males can exceed 200 pounds in weight and 9 feet in length, with a record size of 10 feet, 2 inches; females are considerably smaller.
Komodo Dragons are now widely-bred in zoos worldwide. Early-on in their captive history, metabolic bone disease plagued hatchlings – a consequence, it seems, of their unusually fast growth rate and high calcium requirements.
Behavior / Temperament:
Komodo Dragons are as intelligent and responsive as other monitors, quickly learning feeding and cleaning routines and responding to them. Wild individuals seem to “know” that they are the masters of their habitat, and are bold to the point of being dangerous. This is even more so for zoo animals, although youngsters, ever wary of being eaten by adults, remain quite shy. Cleaning and feeding is always carried out by at least 2 well-experienced, professional zookeepers.
Komodo Dragons do best in zoos that are able to provide outdoor access, but also thrive in huge indoor exhibits. Their temperature needs – a wide thermal gradient and basking sites of 110-120 F – are similar to those of other tropical monitors.
Like their relatives, these giants are active, intelligent reptiles, and are usually provided opportunities to search through decaying logs, soil, and leaf piles for food.
Komodo Dragons have evolved the means of overcoming the only food source able to sustain their adult mass – water buffaloes, deer, wild pigs and domestic goats. In addition to massive size, powerful jaws and large, sharp teeth, they produce powerful venom that lowers blood pressure and prevents blood from clotting. The venom is transferred by multiple bites, as is the case with other venomous lizards, ensuring that large animals which at first escape will quickly succumb to blood loss. Young Komodo Dragons and, sadly, people, also fall prey to these powerful predators on occasion. Carrion is taken readily as well. Youngsters feed upon large invertebrates, snakes, and lizards.
Captive individuals are fed pre-killed rats, rabbits, pigs and sections of cow and goat (including fur and bone).
Supported by their thick, muscular tails, males stand on their rear legs and “wrestle” for mating rights in May and June. Females excavate nests in the soil and deposit their 15-25 eggs 2 months after mating.
Written by Frank Indiviglio