The Varanus komodoensis, Komodo dragon, or monitor is the heaviest and largest lizard in the world. It belongs to the family Varanidae, i.e., the monitor family and gets its name from one fo its habitat, the Komodo Island.
Locals often refer to this lizard as ‘biawak raksasa’ (giant monitor), ‘ora’, or ‘buaya darat’ (land crocodile).
Finally, while there are over 3000 different species of lizards, Komodo lizard is just a single species that may have some color variations.
The average lifespan of a wild Komodo lizard goes up to 30 years, and it takes 8-9 years for hatchlings to mature into adults.
Size and weight
Komodo monitors can grow up to 10 ft (3 meters) in length and weigh up to 154 pounds (70 kilograms), with males being bigger than females.
Typically, males weigh 174 to 201 lb and grow up to 2.59 m (8.5 ft) long while females weigh 68 to 73 kg and measure about 2.29 m (7.5 ft) notes the Guinness Book of Animal Facts and Feats.
However, the largest Komodo dragon in the wild measured 3.13 m (10.3 ft) and weighed 166 kg (366 lb), inclusive of all the food it had eaten (1).
Why do they grow so large? There are many reasons. This jumbo size may be due to island gigantism characterized by the absence of carnivores predators on the island, or they may be a descendant of extinct enormous varanid lizards that once occupied Australia all through to Indonesia.
Being large and there being no other carnivores that would prey on them, these lizards dominate their habitats, preying on other animals in their habitats since they are on top of the food chain of their habitat.
Description and quick facts
Besides their size, other things you should know about these lizards include the following:
- Head, neck, and jaws: They have long flat heads and their snout is round. Their necks are agile while their powerful jaws that open widely, especially while swallowing their prey.
- Limbs –They have sturdy, bowed legs that help them make their undulatory walks while rocking their head from side to side. They can walk for about 1.2 miles daily, particularly in pursuit of injured prey.
- Tail – Their muscular tail is almost half their body length and supports their hind legs while wrestling or capturing their prey.
- Tongue – They have long forked yellow tongue, which they flick to taste and detect smell with the aid of Jacobson’s organ.
- Teeth – They have 60 replaceable one inch long serrated teeth. Since their gingival tissue covers them, they are often blood-stained due to injuries they get as they are tearing their prey.
- Skin – Their skin has armor scales with osteoderm (a reinforcing bone material). However, the osteoderm is absent in juveniles and babies and ossifies as they grow older, making their leather not useful.
- Touch – Their scales, including those with osteoderm, have sensory plaques to detect touch with those on chin, soles, ears, and lips having more sensory plaques.
- Eyesight – Like other varanids, the Komodo monitor has one staple that transfer sound vibrations from their eardrum to cochlea. A single staple bone implies that they can only hear a lower hertz range.
- Sight– They can see as far as 300 meters. However, they don’t see well at night since their retina has only cones with no rods. Furthermore, while they can distinguish colors, they will not effectively differentiate stationary objects.
- Coloration – Juveniles tend to show more vibrant patterns and colors, while adults have uniform stone colors. Their common colorations include gray, blue, orange, green, or blue Komodo dragons. (1)
- Running speed – They can run at up to 20km/h, dive up to 4.5m high, and stand on their hind legs supported by their tail while reaching to their prey
- Climbing – Young Komodo lizards, can climb trees proficiently using their claws. However, as they grow, their large size makes it unreasonable to climb trees. Instead, they will use their nails for hunting and digging.
These reptiles thrive well in hot and dry habitats. You will find them in tropical lowland forests, savannas, grasslands, and so on and their native habitat is the lesser Sunda Islands, i.e., Komodo islands, Flores, Gili Dasami, Gili Motang, and Rinca, all in the Komodo national park.
These lizard’s preferred habitat temperature is about 95 degrees Fahrenheit while they require a higher relative humidity of about 70%.
Being ectotherms, this type of monitor lizards are active when the sun is warm, i.e., during the afternoons. However, they may show some nocturnal tendencies.
However, when it is so hot or cold, they usually dig or use already existing burrows shelter or sleep inside them. These burrows can be 1-3 meters wide and are common on ridges. This habit of sleeping in their holes helps them conserve heat.
The Komodo monitors are solidary pets that only come together when they want to eat or breed. During the times they come together, they usually maintain a social hierarchy.
To maintain hierarchies, dominant males will rumble, hiss, or use body language to communicate with smaller males. If they are same-sized, they may wrestle until the loser retreats.
However, during fights, they can fight until one dies, and the winner may feed on the dead one.
Finally, to avoid being eaten, young ones roll on adult’s feces and appease adults. These young ones will do so by running around adults as they feed with “tail is stuck straight out, and they throw their body from side to side with exaggerated convulsions,” observes Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.
Food and diet
Komodo dragons are cannibals. When in their natural habitat, adult Komodo lizards eat invertebrates, snakes, birds, smaller dragons, and mammals, including live and carrions of Timor deer, wild pigs, boas, monkeys, goats, buffalos, or fish that washes to the shore.
On the other hand, young ones eat insects, invertebrates, and small vertebrates like geckos as they cannot handle larger prey animals.
To detect their prey, they use their keen sense of smell that can sense a dying or dead animal that is within a distance of 9.5 kilometers.
Once they have spotted their prey, these stealthy but very powerful hunters camouflage before they charge and ambush their victims.
While ambushing them, they will target areas beneath their neck and kill them using their powerful venomous bites and claws. Their preys die due to blood loss and severe laceration. Sometimes, they use their tail to knock down their prey.
Usually, they don’t wait for their prey to die from a distance like vipers do. Instead, they kill and eat them immediately without wounding and waiting for them to die.
When feeding, they will tear and swallow large junks of their prey carcasses while holding it with their forelimbs. These lizards often avoid undigested plant materials in their prey’s entrails that make up 12% of their prey.
However, in the case of small prey, the size of a goat or less, they will swallow their prey as a whole. The swallowing takes up to 15 minutes, and they will lubricate it with saliva and hit it on surfaces to help in the swallowing process.
Komodo lizards can eat up to 80% of their weight, and once they are full, they will drag themselves to sunny or warm places as warmth aids digestion. Adult Komodo dragons can survive on only 12 meals a year, thanks to their slow metabolism.
After swallowing their prey, these lizards will regurgitate their prey’s teeth, fur and horns covered in foul-smelling saliva before cleaning their mouth by rubbing it against the ground or vegetations.
To remain hydrated, they drink water via buccal pumping, i.e., they such it into their mouth. Afterward, these lizards will raise their heads and swallow the water.
Finally, these lizards, hunt in a group, a unique behavior noted only in these reptiles but when eating, the larger Komodo monitors eat first since they maintain the hierarchy.
Do Komodo dragon lizard attach humans?
Yes. Komodo dragons attack, bite, or kill humans. However, such attacks are uncommon as they tend to avoid human encounters. Attacks occur mainly to fishing villagers living near Komodo national park. Sometimes, they may eat humans buried in shallow graves.
Young Komodo will flee from humans once they are 100 meters distance while older ones will retreat when humans move closer.
If cornered by humans, they will gape, hiss, and swing their tail, and if pressed further, they may bite or attack humans.
Finally, if threatened, they vomit their stomach content to make them lighter whenever it is possible.
Are their bites venomous?
Yes. Komodo lizard bites are poisonous. These reptiles secrete toxic proteins from two glands located in their lower jaws that work as anticoagulants, cause muscle paralysis, induce hypothermia, and lowers blood pressure.
All these effects of their venomous bites make their prey to lose consciousness and go to shock.
However, there is no one consensus on the role of their toxic proteins, with some scientists arguing they have other primary functions.
Reproduction and breeding
Besides being a little smaller, females resemble males with only a small scale arrangement variation on their cloacal. Sexing them is not easy.
While they can reproduce without mating, i.e., by parthenogenesis, they mate from May to August. During the mating season, males fight for females with some defecating and vomiting as they prepare to fight. During the fights, they stand on their hind legs, and losers are the ones pinned down.
After the fights, males use their tongue to detect if a female is receptive, and during coitus, males must restrain females that often resist using their teeth and claws during the early stages of courtship.
Besides forming a monogamous pair bond, chin rubbing, back scratches, and licking are some of the common courtship behaviors displayed by males. Copulation occurs by insertion of hemipenes to a female’s cloacal vent.
After mating, females lay eggs in September either in a nest, they dig or in deserted megapode nests. Females can dig as a dep as 9 meters to bury their eggs on the ground, hillside, or on mounds.
Sometimes they have decoy nests intended to confuse predators from finding their eggs and eating them.
These females can lay as many as 15 -30 eggs, which will hatch after 7-8 months, meaning they will hatch in April or May when there is plentiful of invertebrates, especially insects. The hatchlings are 46.5 cm long and weigh about 105.1 grams immediately after hatching
Being vulnerable to predators and cannibalization by some adults that may show cannibalism tendencies, the Komodo hatching, and young ones will hide in trees.
Pet or Komodo dragon in a zoo
Can I keep a Komodo dragon pet? No. They are ideal pets for everyone. Although many people seek them, mainly because they are large and scary nature, only licensed expert keepers, including Zoos, can keep them for viewing.
Besides, they will need a significant habitat, a lot of food, and at times, they attack humans. To make matters worse, those caught from the wild quickly get parasites and infections and may not reproduce easily. Furthermore, their lifespans are often short when living under captivity.
However, in captivity, they learn to recognize their keepers and discriminate unfamiliar people, may play with plastic rings, can, rings, shovels, or shoes, and so on.
Finally, the IUCN lists them as a vulnerable species since human activities, volcanic activities, fire, tourism, and poaching, have shrunk their habitat and population to about 2500. The Indonesian law, as well as the Komodo National park, protect and help in conserving them
Komodo dragon for sale
As already indicated, the Komodo lizard a vulnerable species. Therefore they are not one of the pets in the pet trade market.
However, since these reptiles attract a massive price of $30,000 or more, many smugglers are willing to sell them on the black market or underground organization. Such sales are illegal, and you must read of several foiled attempts to sell Komodo dragons.
Finally, some countries don’t allow people to keep them as private pets. For instance, in Europe, it is illegal to own them as a private owner. Therefore, you shouldn’t think looking for a Komodo dragon pet for sale.
Fascinating facts about Komodo lizard
- Their blood plasma has a potent antibacterial peptide that can kill bacteria and fungi and aids in wound healing.
- Their saliva has bacteria to help in keeping good oral hygiene, and after feeding, they will lick their mouths as well as brush their head against leaves to clean their mouth. Some sources note that these monitor lizards unleashes these bacteria to their prey to kill them.
If you want to see Komodo lizards in the wild or in their natural habitat, visit Komodo island or others that form part of the Komodo national park. This island is one of the 17,508 islands that form Indonesia, and it spans over 390 square kilometers, with about 2000 people living there, especially in the Komodo villages.
Besides seeing this world’s biggest lizard, you will have a chance to see other wild animals like the Javan dear, banded pigs, macaques, cockatoo, civet, among others.
Additionally, this island is a popular and memorable destination to visit if you love diving, taking tours, trips, cruises, or sailing. Its beaches with pink sand, flora, and fauna are breathtaking.
Don’t worry about accommodation. You won’t miss an excellent lodge, guesthouse, hotels, or a beautiful place to board the likes of La Belle Etoile hotel, The Jayakarta Suits, Puri Sari Beach Hotel, Sudamala Suites, and Villas Komodo, Labuan Banjo, Luwansa Beach Hotel, Flores Xpirates Dive Camp, Komodo Resort among others.
Finally, animal smuggling and poaching are illegal, and there is a conservation effort due to excessive animal smuggling.