Komodo dragons are one of the most iconic and idolized carnivores in the animal kingdom, but are plagued with many false truths.
Their dragon nomenclature derives from second-hand tales of mysterious beasts that fit the classic description. Komodo dragons were only discovered by the Western world in 1910, as they traditionally reside on only five remote islands in the Indonesian archipelago. Komodo, Rinca, Gili Montang, and Gili Dasami are all contained in the Komodo National Park, which offers protection for the species. Flores is the remaining island where they roam.
Although not endangered, the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists Komodo dragons as vulnerable due to their small habitat. Current estimates total approximately 5-6,000 wild dragons. Locally, they are called Oras, which translates as land crocodiles.
Let’s test your knowledge of the largest lizard on Earth today.
Komodo Dragon Fact or Fiction
- Komodo dragons were able to become so large in size because they have no natural predators outside of humans?
This appears to be the logical explanation, but recently discovered fossils indicate that the Komodo derives from a large lizard that spanned modern day Australia and Indonesia roughly 3.8 million years ago. They have also maintained their size for the last 900,000 years on the island of Flores despite drastic ecological changes.
- Komodo dragons can eat up to 40% of their body weight in one meal?
This is not true. They can actually consume up to 80% of their body weight at one-sitting. Their jaw is able to open extremely large, and allows them to devour prey rapidly while their stomach expands as needed.
- The largest recorded Komodo dragon reached 10′-4″and weighed 366 pounds?
This is a fact. However, many of the heaviest Komodos were weighed just after consuming their last meal, which could add over three quarters. Imagine how inaccurate the scale would be while weighing yourself directly after finishing Thanksgiving dinner. Normal weight for adult males is 200 lbs, and 8-9’ in length is customary. Females reach 6’.
- Due to their size, Komodo dragons are slow and poor hunters?
This is partially true. Like many carnivores, the success rate for catching prey is minimal. Despite being able to run short bursts at 13 mph, Komodos tend to hide and catch their prey by surprise. They will spend hours waiting along game trails for their chance to strike. With the ability to consume almost their entire weight, Komodo dragons only need to take down a large animal once a month to survive. This includes deer, boar, and water buffalo. They will also feed on carcasses, birds, and small rodents in between.
- Komodo dragons are man-eaters?
This is true, but less common than you think. Komodos are more likely to dig up a fresh grave and feast on the deceased. For this reason locals have switched graves to firmer soil and now pile rocks on top of the site. Only four known casualties have been documented in the last 42 years. The last attack occurred when a guy fell out of a tree and was knocked unconscious in 2009. Komodos have more to fear from humans than vice versa. With increasing settlement populations, locals have resorted to poisoning carrion to control their’ numbers.
- The bacteria found in the Komodo dragon’s mouth slowly poisons their prey after an initial bite?
This is by far the biggest misconception about Komodo dragons today. It wasn’t until 2009 when Brian Fry studied the composition of Komodos’ saliva, and found no potentially deadly bacteria. Instead, he found venom glands that paralyze prey and prevent their blood from clotting. For this reason, Komodos only need to make one bite and then stalk their prey until they ultimately succumb to the venom within the week. Surprisingly, fellow dragons do not appear to be affected by the venom during squirmishes.
More successful attacks feature a combination of several techniques. These include using their front legs and tail to knock the prey over and make them vulnerable, attacking their feet, or ultimately tearing the underside of their throat with serrated teeth. Razor sharp claws are also deadly weapons in their pursuit of food.
- Komodo dragons are cannibals, and even eat their own offspring?
This is sadly true as Komodos are not fussy eaters, and will try to eliminate future threats and competition before they mature. For this reason, young Komodo dragons will live the majority of their lives in trees until the age of four. They will even smear themselves with feces in desperate situations in order to be less appetizing.
- Compared to other carnivores, Komodo dragons are wasteful in terms of their kill?
This is false. Komodo will leave only 12% of an entire animal when finished eating. Their diet includes organs, hide, bones, and intestines after shaking the insides out. Very little is left at the end. It is at this time that you may see several solitary dragons come together to enjoy a meal. The largest oras will eat first while smaller Komodos will circle the perimeter waiting for their chance.
- Komodo dragons use their eyesight to locate prey?
Although Komodos’ eyes are sensitive to movement and can see up to 300 meters, their primary sense is via smell. Their forked tongues sample the air and organs on the top of their mouth analyze the molecules for signs of prey within 2 miles. They are able to tell where the prey is approaching from, by the location and concentration of appetizing molecules on their tongue.
- The best time to spot Komodo dragons is when they bask in the afternoon sun?
Komodos are only found in extreme heat, which averages 95° F and 70% humidity. However, that doesn’t mean they like to be in the scorching sun all day! They actually have dual purpose burrows to keep them warm at night, and cool during the hottest part of the day. They are most active during the morning.
- Female Komodo dragons can have asexual reproduction?
To the dismay of male Komodos, females can lay approximately 30 eggs without any assistance. This allows a single female to swim to another island and start a new “colony”, but similar genetics can lead to long term issues.
Typically, males will mate between May and August with the female laying eggs in September. Evidence shows that she will protect them during incubation for seven to eight months, and create decoy nests to keep potential predators away. Newborns are on their own upon hatching, though. Luckily, they are born in April and able to feast on insects until they grow large enough to catch birds, rodents, and monkeys.
- Male Komodo dragons partake in foreplay in order to prevent females from asexual reproduction?
In order to demonstrate masculinity, male Komodos will wrestle each other standing up on their hind legs and tails. The winner will then use their tongue to flick the female’s snout and body before copulation.
- Komodo dragons can live up to 100 years?
Maybe in the future they will be able to, but they currently average 30 years at best.
Hopefully you have learned more about the amazing Komodo dragon. Read Visiting Komodo National Park for information on how to see them in the wild.
*** The Final Word: What fascinating creatures! ***
Fancy posting a Komodo Fact or Fiction of your own? We’d love to hear it!