The Komodo Dragon

Komodo Adventure Tour Package
About Komodo National Park

The Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) belongs to the group known as monitor lizards, from the ancient belief the creatures monitor or warn, of the presence of crocodiles. The komodo is the largest species of monitor lizard, which are found throughout Asia, Africa, and Australia. The natives call the dragon ora, or buaya darat (land crocodile).

Fossils strikingly similar to the dragon date back 130 million years. The creatures has been extinct everywhere but there since the Jurassic period. The area's isolation and strong ocean currents ensured the lizard’s survival.

Named by a Dutch scientist P.A Ouwens the dragon have lured visitors since their discovery in 1912. The komodo dragon  came under the legislative protection of the Sultan Bima in 1915, a mere three years later. Yet hunting continued until 1937 when the dutch finally put a stop it. About 600 ora have been trapped shot or embalmed for museums in the past 60 years. Now the wildlife management office in Bogor has set a limit of but five year komodo killed strictly for scientific purposes. The fiercest lizard known, komodo can down deer, goat, or wild pig ripping them apart with saw like teeth. These highly specialized slicing teeth, as well as the lizard’s predatory habits, are unique among reptiles.

Komodo dragon can lift up their heavy tails and beliefs to sprint at up to 18 km per hour, but only for short distances. Dragon also enter the sea and swim, sometimes against strong tidal currents up to 1,000 meters to offshore islets. They can plunge to depths of four meter, easily swimming 100 meters while submerged.

The komodo dragon  has uncanny senses of smell and touch and is one of the world’s most intelligent reptiles. In captivity they have the ability to recognize and obey only certain zookeepers. Barely a dozen specimens of this rate species are found in the world’s zoos outside Indonesia, and if kept in captivity for long periods komodo grow fat and phlegmatic and usually die within a few years of amoebic parasites.  Back to the Top

Habitat 
The komodo dragon has the smallest permanent  habitat range of any of  the world’s great carnivores. Confined to Komodo, Padar, Rinca, Uwada, Sami, Gili motong and western Flores, their total area comprises just under 1,000 square km. Komodo Island is the largest  single undisturbed komodo habitat. The total number of lizards is estimated at 5,000 – 7,000. Population density. Population density  averages 17 lizards per square km on Komodo, and six to seven per square km on Padar, Rinca, and western Flores.

Komodo monitors prefer naturally made burrows along the banks of  dry  riverbeds, or of the steep slopes of open hills, usually behind overhanging vegetation, big rocks, or tree roots. Komodo villagers know the best sites. The dragon seek refuge  in these  holes during really hot days; they’re seldom used during the wet season. Burrows serve  as a heat sink at high temperatures, conserving the panting lizard’s body water. Burrows act as well as insulated chambers when night temperatures drop. Cold-blooded, the dragon don’t usually  emerge from their holes until after 08.00 – 09.00 when the air starts to get hot. Diurnal, they retire to their burrows by 19.30  and are very deep sleepers.

Burrows are commandeered from rodents or porcupines, in length averaging only 1.5 meters. The reptile’s head and shoulders therefore often protrude from the entrance; inside the burrow their tails are bent like hairpins . Sometimes several dragons use the same burrows, and there can be as many as 18 burrows to a burrow cluster. Back to the Top

Body Form 
The longest specimen ever recorded was a male in the St. Louis Zoo that measured 3.13 meters from tail to snout. Villagers in the Lenteng area of Flores  swear that 3.5 meter long ora  live in the vicinity, and through the years there have been absurd, unsubstantiated reports of dragons up to 14.5 meters long. Adults can weigh 150 kg, but most full-grown specimens are 1.7 – 1.8 meters long and average 35 kg in weight. Females attain only two-thirds the size of the average male.

The tail is the adult’s best defense and most dangerous weapon. An adult runs through the grass with its tail lifted off the ground, lashing it about, or winds it like  a snake and delivers mighty blows. Its thick, strong front legs and huge claws enable the lizard to climb hilly terrain and hold down carrion while ripping and tearing. The dragons are superlative diggers, able to excavate  a meter-deep hole in less than  an hour. When trapped in stockades, they can easily dig under the walls to escape. Starting February the dragons shed their skins; the sloughing is completed by the end of the month.

Young dragons  are the most unpredictable, the speediest, and the most tree climbers . Sometimes  you see them perched in trees preying on monkeys; some even live in hollow trees.

Coloration  changes from speckled, multihued, greenish-yellow sub adult to the standard dappled gray adults, large male specimens have yellowish-green spots on their snouts. The clay color camouflages the mature ora as it waists in ambush, while the coloration of the young protects as they scamper through leafy trees.   Back to the Top

Senses
Komodo dragons are in large part  scent – oriented, but they can also see well up to five to six meters, In spite of the popular belief that they’re stone deaf, dragons hear moderately well –they just  choose not to pay attention to noise, unless it pertains to food or danger. Much information is passed from lizard to lizard through scent : highly odoriferous fecal pellets of the larger dragons are often “read by the smaller ones, who stop along the way and carry out exhaustive olfactory examinations. A ripe putrifying carcass can draw among from 11 km away, and ora can track the spoor of a deer in the wild as well as any hunting dog. The reptile’s long tongue, forked and protrusible like a snake’s is both an organ of smell and taste, flicking out and tacking scent “samples” before eating. These carnivores also use their all – important sense of smell to recognize territorial boundaries.
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Diet
Newly hatched ora feed on small lizards and insects. Sub adults prey on  shellfish, rodents, eels, geckos, sea turtle eggs, bird eggs. Adult feed on roe deer, crab – eating macaques, feral dogs, and boars. Large dragons an kill water buffalo 10 – 15 times their weight. Dragons will eat virtually anything they can catch or kill including their other dragons.

The carnivores show a marked preference for pregnant hoofed animals. And are able to distinguish these female by scent. On Flores and Rinca Island, a dragon will wait beneath a foaling mare so it can eat the newborn, the straining mare can only try to kick  the lizard as she gives birth. Not only are the dragons fond of fetuses and after birth, but their harassment of the female so distresses and worries her it often causes a miscarriage, which then leaves her virtually incapacitated and more open to attack herself. Back to the Top

Hunting 
Komodo dragon ambush deer and wild boar along the victims, accustomed trails by hiding to the side and waiting, or cunningly creep up to within striking distance while the victim sleeps in the tangled thickets. Because of lack of cover, ora seldom hunt on open slopes. Dragon have also been known to come into a village in broad daylight to steal goats. Although almost exclusively active only during the day, occasionally ora raid the village at night for goats or fish keep under houses.

Dragon assume attack posture when they hold  their heads low, slightly cooked to one side, crouching low to the ground. Large ones often strike  their prey with the tail, then grasp the prey by the throat and head, jerking it violently from side to side. It’s a popular myth that dragons inflict poisonous bites, in fact a great number of bitten deer who escape eventually die of massive infections.

Dragon forage up to 10 km per day from sea level to 500 meters, to offshore islets, mangrove swamps, grass thickets, even over reefs and bars, following their prey – the largest foraging area of any lizard. They feed erratically – it’s feast or famine. Back to the Top

Feeding
With the exception of large snakes, varanids consume prey faster than any other large predator, including lions and crocodiles. They ‘re equipped with lateral rows of jagged  teeth, serrated, and curved with sharp tips and wide bases - like curved  scalpel blades – superlatively designed for cutting through flesh. If driven by hunger, dragons will swallow horn, hooves, antlers, hair, bones.

They plunge their heads first into the bellies of carcasses to trip out the intestines and stomach. The only reptiles that cut their prey  into sections before swallowing, varanids rock back  and forth as they bite, bolting down each chunk after it’s sawed  off the body. A  40 kg ora can eat a 30 kg wild boar, swallowing the hindquarters whole, it takes a several lizard three to five days to devour a 1,200 kg water buffalo. Articulate jaws like a snake’s enable it to maneuver such odd shapes as horned heads and pelvic sections  into their stomachs.

The dragon powerful front legs, sharp claws, and thick bag legs are vital for holding down carrion, tearing off rotted hide, ripping under bellies, and digging out megapode nest s and rodent burrows. In comparison with world’s  other large carnivores, Komodo have fewest competitors for carrion. Only with flies, wild dogs, beetles, crows and kites is the magnificent scavenger-predator willing to share its carcass. But even the largest  dragons can be driven from a kill  on a hot day by a belligerent and persistent boar.

Varanids can go up to 1.5 months without water , when drinking they plug their heads in up to their eyes, gulp water, then raise their head like chickens to allow the water to run down their throats. Back to the Top

Hierarchy And Reproduction       
A group of three to four ora  feeding together or carrion is common; there could be as many as 20 at the banquet, ranging from juveniles to the largest adults. This is the only time when smaller varanids are tolerated. Behavior during feeding is very antagonistic, with definite pecking order. The larger,  dominant male take his pick of the carcass, the best position around it and most of the food.  He determine where and when the carcass is moved. The younger ora help snap  off ligaments and t6endon which prevent the dominant male from swallowing really large chunks of the body.

Courting males exhibit themselves to the females by dancing, calling, posturing, and other conspicuous and curious visual behavior. Females behave like-wise, with pushups, back-arching, and head bobbing. Courtship take place through  nearly the entire year. Actual population often occurs near carrion and is usually preceded by tongue flicks over the female’s back or by the male grasping the female’s neck skin with his jaws. Females are very aggressive during courtship, biting the male trying to mount her, sometimes severally injuring or even killing him. A male must completely overpower the female in order to copulate successfully.

Approximately two weeks later the female digs out hal-meter-deep hole in the sand under living shrub or on a hillside, then lays the soft, smooth, leathery, golfball-size eggs. The incubation period is about eight months, the young usually hatching in April or May. Occasionally,  the male and female will eat some or all of a brood of eggs. The Komodo is perhaps the only lizard to use this method of controlling overpopulation. Back to the Top

Fighting 
When fighting, Komodo lizards attack and parry with their open jaws. Zoologist call this “jaw fencing”, a habit common among lizards. They also bite, tear, paw, and shake opponents, sometimes causing death.

When high-ranking ora approach carrion , younger generation low-ranking individuals often scatter head-long into the underbrush. Smaller Komodo also go through elaborate appeasements displays in front of larger dragons to keep from being attacked. And for good reason : few vertebrate show such as disparity in size between young and adult. The larger the ora,  the more likely s/he is to attack and kill others. Back to the Top

Mortality 
The lifespan  of ora in the wild is about 50 years maximum; in captivity it’s half that. Size is directly related to the age of the reptiles. Rats, dogs, cats, sea eagles, brahminy kites, osprey, and snakes prey on ora under one meter in length, while kerbau, desert vipers, and wild boar can kill larger speciments. Others die from burrows collapse, becoming trapped in land depressions, lack of water, starvation, and poaching.

Humans and dogs are the lizard’s major competitors; dogs hunt deer and piglets in packs, and even compete for carrion, while people living in the dragon’s habitat illegally  poach about 150 deer yearly. Back to the Top

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