The Komodo Dragon
The Komodo Dragon: Man Eating Lizard of Indonesia
The Komodo Dragon is the largest remaining lizard on earth, a living, breathing relic of the Dinosaur Era. It's remaining habitat consists of a few isolated islands in Indonesia, which is probably fortunate from a human perspective.
The Komodo Dragon is well known as a man eater and a lizard most people avoid as much as possible. This remarkable reptile is interesting for many reasons and exhibits many of the behaviors of its smaller and more numerous relatives - the monitor lizards.
Komodo Dragon Range, Habitat and Behavior
The Komodo Dragon is found on the islands of Komodo, Rintja, Padar, Gili Mota, and Owandi Sami, all part of the larger island nation of Indonesia. They are great swimmers and will often swim between these islands as well. Three of these islands, Komodo, Padar and Rinca, together form the Komodo National Park system set-up to protect these giant lizards.
These are essentially very dry, grass covered islands, which receive only small amounts of moisture. They have annual temperatures ranging from 115F to 60F and few fresh water resources.
The Komodo Dragon thrives in these conditions, growing to lengths of 10 ft and weights of 200 -300 lbs. This giant lizard reaches sexual maturity at 6 years of age and has a life-span of up to 20 years.
Komodo dragons, are usually solitary hunters, but have been known to hunt in packs, using their superb sense of smell to track their quarry and share in feeding. Although they prefer dead and rotting meat (carrion), which they are able to detect from a distance of 5 miles, they also prey on the deer, pigs and monkeys which inhabit the islands. When hunting live prey, the Komodo dragon is an ambush predator, which seeks to inflict a bite or bites into it's prey.
The Komodo dragon is an opportunistic feeder and will literally eat just about anything. They have been known to take down animals as large as a water buffalo and are cannibalistic, preying on smaller members of their own species. Humans too are preyed upon, especially small children or isolated and injured individuals.
Because of its carrion diet, Komodo dragon mouths are a veritable cesspool of deadly germs and bacteria creating fatal infections with a bite of their razor sharp teeth. In addition, recent scientific research in Great Britain, has established that the Komodo dragon possesses venom glands and injects venom with its bite. It's venom apparatus is comparable to that of the Gila Monster, lizard of the American Southwest.
If the Komodo dragon is unable to immediately overpower and kill it's live prey, it will track it, until it is overcome with infection and /or the affects of the venom. The Komodo dragon will then pounce on its helpless or dead victim and feast.
These giant lizards are excellent swimmers and tree climbers. They are also fast, capable of running 11 mph (18 kph) for short distances. For comparison, humans are capable of 27 mph with a running start (the author not included!)
Current Population and Conservation Efforts.
The Komodo dragon is a protected species in its natural Indonesian habitat. There are believed to be an estimated 4 to 5 thousand dragons located on the five small islands on which they are found naturally. There has never been an official population study, so this estimate is an educated guess. Worldwide, the Komodo dragon is listed as "rare" and is on the Endangered Species list.
Endangered: The largest threat is volcanic activity, fire and subsequent loss of its prey base. Currently habitat alteration , poaching of prey species and tourism may have the most pronounced effect. Commercial trade in specimens or skins is illegal under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Successful efforts to breed Komodos outside of their native habitat have been largely successful at various zoos throughout the world. These captive bred
reptiles have done well and the concerted effort by many organizations to increase
the population of the Komodo dragon seems to be paying off.
Komodo Dragon Behavior and Danger to Humans
As the dominant predators on the islands they inhabit, Komodo dragons will eat almost anything, including carrion, deer, pigs, smaller dragons, and even large water buffalo and humans.
Although attacks are very rare, Komodo dragons have been known to attack humans. There is documentation of five human deaths as a result of Komodo dragon attacks, since 1974. These reported fatal attacks occurred in 1974, 2000, 2005, 2007 and 2009. These giant lizards are considered especially dangerous to children. On June 4, 2007 a Komodo dragon attacked an eight-year-old boy on Komodo Island. The boy later died of massive bleeding from his wounds. Natives blamed the attack on environmentalists outside the island and government restrictions prohibiting goat sacrifices. A belief held by many natives of Komodo Island is that Komodo dragons are actually the reincarnation of fellow kinsmen and should thus be treated with reverence.
The latest attack was in March 24, 2009, when two Komodo Dragons attacked and killed fisherman Muhamad Anwar on Komodo Island. The man was attacked after falling out of a sugar-apple tree and was left bleeding badly from bites to his hands, body, legs, and neck. He was taken to a clinic on the neighboring island of Flores where he was pronounced dead on arrival.
Besides these officially documented deaths there have been a number of disappearances of people on these islands, including that of a German birdwatcher, with suspicions that they were probably attacked and eaten by Komodo dragons.
There has also been a problem of Komodo dragons occasionally consuming human corpses, digging up bodies from shallow graves.This habit of raiding graves has led the villagers of Komodo to move their graves from sandy to clay ground and to pile rocks on top to deter the lizards.
The Komodo dragon has a bite tinged with a deadly venom, according to researchers.
An analysis of Komodo specimens has shown a well-developed venom gland with ducts that lead to their large teeth.
The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences report shows that rather than using a strong bite force, Komodos keep a vice-like grip on their prey.
In this way, the venom can seep into the large wounds they make with their teeth.
The work is a follow-up to a 2006 study by Bryan Fry of the Australian Venom Research Unit at the University of Melbourne.
The study showed that known venomous lizards, such as the Gila monster of the south-western US, were in the same lineage as Komodo dragons.
The researchers suggest that Komodo dragons produce a small amount of comparatively weak venom, and the delivery method is not the most efficient.
"These lizards make a huge wound using their serrated shark-like teeth; that's good enough to get the venom in," says Christofer Clemente, a comparative physiologist at the University of Cambridge and a co-author of the study.
What Next for The Komodo Dragon?
"The Australian biologist Tim Flannery has suggested that the Australian ecosystem may benefit from the introduction of Komodo dragons, as it could partially occupy the large-carnivore niche left vacant following the extinction of the giant varanid Megalania.
However, he argues for great caution and gradualness in these acclimatisation experiments, especially as "the problem of predation of large varanids (lizards) upon humans should not be understated".
He uses the example of the successful coexistence with saltwater crocodiles as evidence that Australians could successfully adjust.