Komodo dragon (Varanus Komodensis) is the biggest of the lizard species in the world inhabiting four of the Indonesian islands belonging to the Komodo National Park: Komodo, Rinca, Gili Motang and Padar.
It can grow up to 3 m and weight up till 70 kg. The size was initially attributed to the island gigantism – in absence of other carnivores the lizards had optimal conditions to grow, but recently researchers suggest that they remained the last representatives of a relict population of varanid lizards, inhabiting once Australia and Indonesia, which died in Pleistocene.
Fun facts (or where is the best to be eaten ;-)) :
1. Komodo island has a population of 2918 dragons, Rinca has a similar number – 2875 dragons, Gili Motang has only 92, Nusa Kuda 75, and only 5 dragons are on Padar Island.
2. Komodo dragons find their food naturally, they are not fed by rangers supervising islands. Dragons feed mostly on goats and birds (sometimes on careless tourists, as urban legends say).
3. Dragons do not live in groups, they prefer a solitary life, although they group for hunting, what constitutes an exception in the lizards’ world.
4. They are lizards, what means that they are cold-blooded. They climb the hills in the morning to sun bathe and hide in the shadow once is getting hot.
5. Komodo dragons can see objects from 300 m, but only in the daylight, and only moving objects, dragons do not have a capacity of stationary object recognition. But they are rather relying on their incredible sense of smell. Once they tracked the prey and injured it, they patiently wait almost 24 h following the prey for long kilometres, till it dies after being bitten.
6. The main food for Komodo dragons are water buffalos and Timor deers. Komodo dragons eat EVERYTHING: unlikely other carnivores, they devour bones, hooves and corns.
7. Despite of their size (up to 3 m long and over 70 km heavy), they can easily move with the velocity of 20 km/h, and even faster when they hunt.
8. The length of the Komodo dragon’s tail equals the length of its body.
9. Komodo dragons have 60 teeth, which are frequently replaced by the new ones (like by sharks), some of them reach 2.5 cm.
10. They dive! Komodo dragons are capable to make a 4.5 m dive. Not specified what for this function serves for, but divers, beware!
11. Komodo dragons have small range of hearing capacities (between 400 and 2000 hertz)(humans: 20 -20 000 hertz), for a long time scientists disputed if they are deaf or not.
12. They stress! When there is too many people, they can get anxious. In such case rangers warn tourists immediately to not to approach.
13. Mating period is between June and July, when females reach 8 and males 7. In September females dig 2 m holes and create nests, where they lay up between 15 and 30 eggs. To prevent access of predators, mothers dig several other holes around the nest, identical ones, to mistake predators. Sometimes even mothers get confused and dive into the empty one…
14. Mothers incubate the eggs for 3 months, then they leave, to come back nine months later to observe hatching. And here their role as mothers terminates, they do not care about the juveniles.
15. Small Komodo dragons break the egg shell with an egg tooth (a fragment of bone), which fells off afterwards. An average new born is 46.5 cm long and weights 105 grams.
16. Young Komodo dragons climb trees and hide in the bush for 3 to 5 years, eating lizards and small snakes, trying to survive. They are cannibals, what partially explains preference of a solitary life. If a small dragon gets to the ground and encounters an adult one, applies the only working defence technique: rolls in the excrements. Adult dragon, despite of being not picky about the food, will pass on this “dish”.
17. Komodo dragons are quick attackers, when they feel threatened. It is advise not to move and do not panic when being approached by an angry dragon.
18. Avoid to be beaten: till 2009 it has been believed that Komodo dragons’ saliva has poisonous bacteria which kill the prey shortly after the bite. In 2009 a biochemist investigated the common belief and discovered that the saliva doesn’t differ from the saliva of other carnivores. What really kills the pray is a venom released from the glands situated in the lower jaw. It is this venom what causes paralysis, excruciating pain, uncontrollable blood loss and inadequate clotting.
19. A Komodo dragon can eat an animal of 80% of his weight, as one dish.
20. Dragons are scavengers, for this reason inhabitants of Komodo have to cover graves of their loved ones with heavy stones.
21. Komodo dragons CAN procreate in absence of a male. It is a process called parthenogenesis, where certain eggs can fertilize others. It have been known facts of laying eggs in captivity when the female had absolutely no contact with a male. Those eggs hatched and gave healthy little dragons, all males.
22. Menstruating women should not even think to descend to the ground to see dragons, dragons are extremely sensitive to the smell of blood (menstruating women will be treated as a priority prey)(although nobody really checked if it is an urban legend or not)
23. Komodo dragons have been discovered and documented for the first time in 1912, but long before Komodo’s natives called them “ora”, what in the local language means “land crocodile”.
24. Komodo dragons like other reptiles have forked tongues – the tongue allows them to pick microscopic airborne taste particles and recognize from the distance of over 3 km if the dinner is worth to run for. It is even more spectacular in the case of dead or dying animals – dragons can sense them from the distance of 9.5 km!
25. Dragons have very slow metabolism – large Komodo dragons can feed 12 times per year, only.
26. Komodo dragons were inspiration for the King Kong movie from 1933.
27. American president, George H.W. Bush received a male Komodo dragon named Naga from Indonesian government. Unwilling to keep it in the Oval Office, the president offered it to the Zoo of Cincinnati, where Naga became father of 32 new dragons and died in respectable age of 24.
28. Recently scientists from the zoo in Washington discovered a “playful behaviour” among Komodo dragons; clearly distinguishing “the prey” from “playful object”; a feature which till now was only recognized by mammals.