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Komodo Dragons - Giant Lizards of Indonesia

Updated on April 15, 2013

Komodo Dragons are Real - Not Mythical

Dragons are huge lizard-like creatures that breathe fire and used to terrorize the populace in tales of the Middle Ages. Dragons are, of course, mythical creatures that only existed in medieval tales.

While, according to the legends of yore, brave knights, like England's St. George, would venture forth and risk their lives rescuing beautiful young maidens from dragons, the truth is dragons never existed in reality.

Saint George Slaying a dragon - Painting by French artist Gustave Moreau (18261898)
Saint George Slaying a dragon - Painting by French artist Gustave Moreau (18261898) | Source

However, while fire breathing dragons exist only in the realm of myth, they do have a close cousin in reality and that is the Komodo Dragon.

Komodo Dragons are a species of large lizard.

Male Komodo Dragons can grow as large as nine feet in length and weigh between 150 and 200 pounds.

Female Komodo Dragons measure six to seven feet in length and weigh 100 to 150 pounds.

In addition to their huge size, they also have long, thin tongues, like other lizards and snakes except much larger.

These tongues dart in and out of their mouths rapidly giving the appearance of flames coming out of a dragons mouth.

In the wild, Komodo Dragons are only found on the Indonesian island of Komodo and a few other islands near by.

Life size sculpture of Komodo Dragon at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Washington
Life size sculpture of Komodo Dragon at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Washington | Source

First Recorded Sighting of Komodo Dragon by a European

Native peoples living in the area of Komodo Island have obviously known about these creatures since ancient times.

There are also accounts of Chinese sailors, dating back to the second or third century A.D., claiming to have seen these dragons (and they referred to them as dragons which are common in Chinese as well as Western mythology) while visiting the islands in merchant ships trading for pearls and other products in the area.

However, it wasn't until 1910 that a Dutch Army officer, Lieutenant Steyn van Hensbroek, who was stationed on the neighboring island of Flores while serving in the colonial administration of the Dutch East Indies (the former name of Indonesia when it was a Dutch colonial possession) became the first westerner to see and kill a Komodo Dragon.

After hearing tales from natives, and probably from European locals as well, about giant land crocodiles in remote areas of Flores and the much smaller and more remote Komodo island, he set out in search of the creatures. He was successful in finding and killing a seven and a half foot Komodo Dragon. Upon his return to his post he sent the skin from the slain Komodo along with a photograph of the creature to Peter A. Ouwens, Director of the Zoological Museum in Buitenzorg (now Borgor) on the island of Java.

Live Komodo Dragon at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Washington
Live Komodo Dragon at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Washington | Source
Komodo Dragon viewing visitors at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Washington
Komodo Dragon viewing visitors at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Washington | Source

Dutch Move Quickly to Protect Komodo Dragon

Two years later Peter A. Ouwens published a paper on the creature, which he named Varanus Komodensis, but soon came to be known as the Komodo Dragon outside the scientific community.

It soon became clear to the Dutch authorities that, given the limited habitat of the Komodo Dragon - outside of zoos, Komodo Dragons are only found on the relatively small Indonesian islands of Komodo, Rinca, Gili and Montang as well as in three small locations on the larger island of Flores all of which, including the island of Flores, are within the same 1,000 square mile area of ocean and islands in the Indonesian archipelago - the Dutch government, in 1915, made the Komodo Dragons a protected species giving the Komodos the distinction of being one of the first species in the world to receive official government protection.

In 1980 Indonesia created the Komodo National Park which encompasses the islands Komodo, Rinca and Padar along with some smaller neighboring islands and some areas on Flores island.

Komodo Dragon resting at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Washington
Komodo Dragon resting at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Washington | Source
Close-up of live Komodo Dragon
Close-up of live Komodo Dragon | Source
Komodo Dragon resting in his cage in Seattle Washington's Woodland Park Zoo
Komodo Dragon resting in his cage in Seattle Washington's Woodland Park Zoo | Source

Komodos Eat Any Available Meat

Unlike the dragons of old, Komodo Dragons don't seem to have any particular fondness for young damsels, however, given their large size and deadly bite, it is probably not a good idea to get too close to them and definitely not a good idea to keep one as a pet (which is illegal under American, Indonesian and probably most other nations' laws). Until this year (2009), it was believed that the poison in a Komodo's bite was the result of poisons released by deadly bacteria that lived in the saliva in the Komodo's mouth.

Recent research has revealed that the Komodo's do have a gland that produces a mild form of venom. In addition to being mild, in terms of the severity of the poison, the venom also appears to not be delivered very effectively by the Komodo.

Instead, prey that manage to escape after being bitten by a Komodo generally die within a day or so from either loss of blood or blood poisoning from the bacteria in the Komodo's saliva. This is fine with the Komodo Dragon as it will follow the scent of the wounded animal and devour the dead carcase when it catches up to it. In fact, in addition to attacking other animals, including its own young when they are dumb enough to come within range of an adult Komodo Dragon, the Komodo Dragon also feasts on the rotting carcase of any animal it comes upon regardless how the animal died.

Komodo Dragon in cage at Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo
Komodo Dragon in cage at Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo | Source

Young Have to Flee to Tree Tops to Avoid Being Eaten by Parents

Like other reptiles, Komodo Dragons hatch from eggs. In the case of the Komodo Dragon the female Komodo digs a hole in the ground or takes over the burrow of another Komodo Dragon or other animal, lays 15 to 30 eggs and then covers and abandons the eggs.

Adult Komodos mate during the summer months and the fertilized eggs grow and develop within the female until early Fall when the female digs a burrow and lays the eggs which then incubate until Spring when they hatch and the young Komodos emerge.

Despite the large size of an adult Komodo, the newly hatched youngsters are only about 12 to 15 inches in length and weigh about four ounces at birth.

To survive, baby Komodos have to seek refuge in trees to avoid being eaten by adult Komodos and other predators. The main diet of young Komodos are insects and smaller reptiles. After about four or five years the young Komodo Dragon has grown to about 4 feet long and becomes too heavy to be supported by the branches of the tropical trees.

At this point it is generally big enough to avoid being eaten by adult Komodos and can safely leave the trees and live on the ground. Being at the top of the island food chain, the Komodo at this point has the potential to live for thirty to fifty years provided it can avoid disease, starvation and fatal accidents.

Replica of a Komodo egg (Woodland Park Zoo)
Replica of a Komodo egg (Woodland Park Zoo) | Source
Komodos hatching from Eggs (Woodland Park Zoo)
Komodos hatching from Eggs (Woodland Park Zoo) | Source
Four year old Komodo (Woodland Park Zoo)
Four year old Komodo (Woodland Park Zoo) | Source

Komodos Must Be Careful Not to Get Overheated

Being a cold blooded reptile, the Komodo Dragon lacks an internal mechanism to regulate its temperature as so must watch its environment.

Komodos tend to venture out in the morning where they warm themselves in the sun while seeking food and water. As the external temperature increases as the day wears on, the Komodo is forced to seek shady shelter during the hot afternoon.

Failure to find shade will cause its temperature to rise and, if it rises much above 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) the Komodo risks becoming overheated.

In the evening Komodos retreat to dense vegetation or burrow into the ground to help retain body heat.

Claw of  a Komodo Dragon
Claw of a Komodo Dragon | Source
Komodo Dragon - Giant Lizard of Indonesia
Komodo Dragon - Giant Lizard of Indonesia | Source

Komodo Dragons Smell With their Tongue

While Komodos can see and hear, they rely mainly on their sense of smell which is accomplished with their tongue.

Darting their tongue in and out of their mouth they are able to detect and track down food - both live prey and rotting corpses - at great distances. As meat eaters they attack and devour both warm and cold blooded creatures on land.

Despite the fact that Komodos are capable of devouring up to two-thirds their weight in food withing a few minutes, their metabolism is such that they can survive on very little food if need be. After attacking and devouring a large animal, the Komodo Dragon will go for days or weeks without additional food.

Despite being Rare, Komodo Dragons Can be Found in Many Large Zoos

Despite their rarity, they can be found in many zoos around the world and can also be seen in the wild on tours to Indonesia's Komodo National Park.  The pictures accompanying this Hub were taken by me during a recent visit to the Komodo exhibit at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Washington.

Map of Komodo Dragon Habitat
Map of Komodo Dragon Habitat | Source
Sculpture of Komodo Dragon at Woodland Park Zoo
Sculpture of Komodo Dragon at Woodland Park Zoo | Source

Indonesian Islands That are Home to Komodo Dragons

Komodo Island, Indonesia:
Pulau Komodo, Indonesia

get directions

Indonesian island of Palau Komodo, one of the islands on which Komodo Dragons are found.

Flores Island, Indonesia:
Flores, Indonesia

get directions

Flores Island, Indonesia which hosts three small colonies of Komodo Dragons in the wild.

Rinca Island, Indonesia:
Rinca, Indonesia

get directions

Rinca Island, Indonesia where Komodo Dragons can also be found in the wild.

Gili Island, Indonesia:
Gili Islands, Indonesia

get directions

Gili Islands, Indonesia which are also home to Komodo Dragons in the wild.


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    • HomerMCho profile image


      7 years ago

      Very interesting hub on Komodo.

    • carolinemoon profile image


      7 years ago

      This is nice.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      This is a wonderful article, very comprehensive. The Komodo Island is now gaining popularity from travelers, nice place for something exotic.

    • balihq profile image


      7 years ago

      Great hub! A lot of tourist is visiting Komodo Island to see these dragons and usually shy and will not confront a human.

    • GetSmart profile image


      7 years ago

      I really enjoyed your hub. I have always found the komodo dragon fascinating. Thanks

    • ReptileRevolution profile image


      7 years ago from California

      Cool komodo article--I just saw one at the Phoenix zoo.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I like your article, it's very complete.

      Komodo island is the new 7 wonders of the world

    • profile image


      7 years ago

    • Chapter profile image


      8 years ago from Indonesia

      Komodo is very dangerous for foreign people but they are friendly with native people.

    • Roffi Grandiosa profile image

      Roffi Grandiosa 

      8 years ago from Bandung, Indonesia

      this is an informative hub.. thx

    • ocbill profile image


      9 years ago from hopefully somewhere peaceful and nice

      they smell with their tongue. go figure. I always thought they were an old dinosaur like the sharks, loch ness monster, abominable snowman..(.OK forget the last one).

    • RomerianReptile profile image


      9 years ago

      NP, I like sharing.

    • Chuck profile imageAUTHOR

      Chuck Nugent 

      9 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      RomerianReptile - thanks for the update on how Komodo Dragons kill their prey. I have added the three links you provided to the link module in my Hub so that everyone who reads the article can access themas well as those who see you comment can click on them in your comment.

      The information you provided is very recent (I believe that the paper in question was published in April 2009). I am sure that there will be more studies and scientific debates forthcoming on this.

      Thanks again for your contribution.


    • RomerianReptile profile image


      9 years ago

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      9 years ago from south Florida

      Thanks, Chuck, for the well-researched article. I knew that baby Komodos have to avoid many predators but didn't know they had to climb trees to avoid being eaten by other adult Komodos. Guess they don't believe in "We Are Family."

      My latest Weird Animal hubs feture the Aye-Aye and the Axolotl. Keep hubbin'!

    • artrush73 profile image


      9 years ago

      great article thanks for sharing. Very interesting :)

    • Vladimir Uhri profile image

      Vladimir Uhri 

      9 years ago from HubPages, FB

      Great hub, thank you.


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