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The Komodo Dragon

The Komodo dragon is a carnivore species belonging to the Varanidae family. It is currently the largest living lizard on Earth. Residing in a handful of islands across Indonesia; Komodo, Rinca, Flores, Gili Motang and Gili Dasami, the origin of these giant lizards there date back to over 140 million years. Remarkably, they have survived all cataclysms, probably thanks to a favorable morphology. In addition to amazing diving, during each itinerary in the Komodo national park we can organize a tour on Komodo or Rinca Island to meet the Komodo Dragon.

Estimates have been made on the number of dragons still at large. As you can see, they live mainly in the Komodo National Park:
• Komodo Island (3000 dragons)
• Rinca Island (900 dragons)
• Motang Island (150 dragons)
• North of the town of Labuan Bajo and north of the island of Flores

The living area of the Komodo dragon

The living area of the Komodo dragon

Physical description of the Komodo Dragon

This reptile is between two and three meters long and weighs about 70kg in adulthood. However, this data has already been exceeded by a number of specimens in captivity (some sources say that a male can weigh up to 170kg and measure 3.1m long). Its tough skin is composed of small bones and is also often referred to as side mesh. Combined with its dark color, it ensures the dragon remains camouflaged. The Komodo dragon has a long and powerful tail (the length of its body) and a forked tongue. Its claws are long, curved, sharp and deadly while its teeth are terrible and reminiscent of ancient dinosaurs. The Komodo’s jaw is also extremely flexible, which greatly contributes to its dangerousness.

Komodo Dragon claw

Komodo dragon claw

The Komodo dragon has acquired its surprising size naturally, over generations, giving it an advantage in terms of survival. This phenomenon has often been observed with species living on islands, and is also called “island gigantism”.

Hearing

The Komodo dragon has a very special sense of hearing. Although the Komodo Dragon is able to hear sounds from very far away, this animal is actually deaf to sounds below 400 Hz and above 2000 frequencies. This means, if you are brave enough to shout in its ear it won’t hear you!

Sight

These giant lizards can actually see up to 300 meters, while, their night vision is also excellent. Moving targets make them confused and frightened, so due to feeling threatened, they tend to attack. Therefore, it is certainly not advisable to be running when you are next to a Komodo dragon.

Smell

The sense of smell of the Komodo dragon is also unique, because their nostrils are not actually very useful. The Komodo Dragon can smell blood from many miles away. It has no diaphragm, preventing it from sniffing odors accurately and drawing water. All these weaknesses are offset by its forked tongue, which helps to both feel and locate its prey and enable it to drink water.

LThe Komodo Dragon’s lifestyle

Hunting

This lizard will hunt wild boar, deer, water buffalo, birds, smelling prey with its tongue. It is not very fast but it is very smart. The dragon understands that the key to defeating his victims is surprise – once they have been bitten, the bacteria contained in the Komodo’s mouth will infect the victim over a period of a few days to a week and overcome its prey, negating the need to chase. The Komodo dragon is often considered as a scavenger because it eats prey which has already been killed, however, it is a predator because it eats the animals which it itself has bitten up to a week earlier.

Coupling

After mating the females lay up to 20 eggs, which hatch after a period of 7-8 months. Young lizards are defenseless, so they will climb trees when threatened, where heavy adults can not follow them. In fact, newborns represent 10 percent of the feed of adult dragons and are the leading cause of death among young Komodo dragons. It will take them five years to mature, and they can then live up to an age of 50 years old. Recent studies have even shown that if females were in an isolated environment conducive to the development of the case without the presence of males, they would actually be able to procreate to ensure its descent through genetic degeneration.

Young komodo dragon

Young Komodo dragon

Warning: Komodo dragons are good swimmers, so do not mistake their clumsy gait because it is misleading. Although they appear slow, these lizards can also run as fast as a man, if their stomach orders them to!

Threat

By sharing its prey and its territory, the Komodo dragon is exposed to extinction. Indeed, this species has survived on some Indonesian islands, because they are the only carnivorous predators there. These conditions are mandatory; the Komodo dragon must dominate the ecosystem within which it exists to survive. Moreover, since the arrival of humans who hunt the same prey in their territory, the Komodo dragon’s space has become threatened. A striking example is what happened at the island of Padar which now does not include any lizards. Indeed, in the mid-70s they became extinct because of both a lack of prey and exterminated by poachers.

Looking to the future

The Komodo dragon is a vulnerable species and is also on the IUCN Red List. To address this concern, the Komodo National Park was established in 1980 by the Indonesian authorities to protect populations of Komodo dragons. Worryingly, in 2002, after the census there seemed to be only 350 breeding females from about 5,000 Komodo dragons.

Researchers have recently argued that the introduction of these lizards in Australia could partly fill the large carnivore niche left vacant by the extinction of the giant lizard, Megalania (a lizard from the same family of the Komodo dragon, measuring up to 8m long and which became extinct there 40,000 years because of man disturbing the Australian ecosystem).

Megalania, the giant lizard

Megalania, the giant lizard

For the record, the natives of the island of Komodo believe that Komodo dragons are the reincarnation of deceased citizens and therefore treat them with the greatest respect. The Komodo dragon and man can live together successfully; the natives have proven this over the last hundred years. The question is, how long will this continue?

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