The Komodo Dragon is the world’s largest lizard and is found exclusively on a few islands in Indonesia. This species can grow up to 10 feet and weigh over 300 pounds! Komodo Dragons grow so large because they live on islands, the type of biome where evolution generally occurs more rapidly. They are also large in size because they have larger guts, enabling them to eat less nutritious food they find on islands.
When we think of lizards, we often think of tiny ones hiding in the corners of exotic beach bungalos or the chameleon living in our garden. However, did you know that there is a massive spectrum of lizards out there in the world, aside from the common ones that we see on a daily basis? In fact, some of these lizards are so big (and I mean really big) that they will leave you astonished!
The Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis) is the largest lizard species in the world. This species can grow up to 10 feet in length and weigh over 300 pounds, which not only makes it the largest lizard, but also the heaviest!
Before you proceed any further with this article, pause for a moment here and think about small lizards you may have seen on vacation or in your own home, depending on where you live. Now, think about the sheer size of the Komodo Dragon. Kind of crazy to picture them both, right? One is tiny and docile, while the other is capable of putting up one hell of a fight!
In case you’ve never seen or learned about a Komodo Dragon, or if you simply want to know more about this majestic giant, keep reading!
Why are Komodo Dragons So Big?
As you know, islands are remote in terms of their location and many species are unable to reach these habitats as a result. Thus, the few species inhabiting islands evolve more or less in an undisturbed manner. This remoteness also allows for species to evolve more rapidly than those restricted to the mainland. Animals restricted to islands will evolve over time to fill niches left empty by species that could not reach the remote islands. Thus, the smallest and largest of most creatures are found on islands.
On the other hand, some animals on islands get bigger so their body size can accommodate a larger gut, which can process the lower quality food available on islands. It is likely that similar effects have led to the Komodo Dragon being so large in size.
How big do they grow?
Komodo Dragons usually weigh around 70 kgs (>150 pounds), but some individuals have grown to over 160 kgs (>360 pounds). The largest individual ever recorded grew to 10.3 feet.
Where are Komodo Dragons Found?
Komodo dragons are found in limited numbers in some of the Lesser Sunda Islands in Indonesia. They usually inhabit tropical savanna forests, but may also range across islands. In general, there is limited information on the number of Komodo Dragons living in the wild.
What do Komodo Dragons eat?
Komodo dragons are carnivores and eat almost any kind of meat. Younger dragons feed on insects and small lizards, while older ones eat monkeys, wild boars and goats. They usually wait patiently to catch their prey, as their skin helps them camouflage easily. The muscles in their jaws and throat allow them to swallow large chunks of meat at very fast speeds. Most of the time, Komodo Dragons consume their entire prey, leaving behind very little meat or even bones!
Interestingly, when a Komodo Dragon feels threatened, it may throw up whatever it ate earlier to lessen its weight so that it can flee faster.
How do they catch their prey with such large bodies?
Komodo Dragons can run at surprisingly high speeds (10-12 mph), but only briefly. They mostly stay in one spot, waiting for their prey to come to them before attacking it. Due to their large size, most of the attempts to capture prey are unsuccessful. However, if it is able to catch its prey and bite it, the venom from its saliva will kill the prey in a few days. Sometimes it may take up to four days for the animal to die, but when it does, the dragon uses its sense of smell to locate the animal and then feast on the freshly deceased meal.
Are Komodo Dragons Venomous?
Yes, Komodo Dragons are venomous, but don’t worry, as they rarely attack humans!
Komodos have venom glands containing toxins that cause bleeding, prevent clotting and induce shock in the animals that have been bitten. A Komodo Dragon uses its teeth to bite into an animal and then employs its strong neck muscles to pull back, thereby creating huge wounds. The venom is then injected into the kill, which sends the victim into shock. Animals that are lucky may escape, but their luck runs out once the venom takes effect.
How do they reproduce?
As is the case for many other animals, dominant males compete with each other to mate with females. Komodo Dragons wrestle with one another in upright postures, attempting to throw their opponent to the ground (oddly similar to how humans wrestle). The loser forfeits his right to mate with the female and runs away.
Female Komodos are said to lay around 30 eggs and the incubation period is eight months. Although the females stick around to protect their eggs, once they hatch, the newborns receive almost no parental care.
Interestingly, in 2006, a bunch of researchers observed parthenogenesis in Komodo Dragons. Parthenogenesis is the process in which offspring are produced without being fertilized by males. In this study, researchers found that female Komodo Dragons could switch between sexual and asexual reproduction, depending on whether or not a mate was available. When a mate is not available, the genetic makeup of the offspring produced resembles that of its mother.
I hope this taught you a bit more about the world’s largest lizard. If you ever get the chance to visit Indonesia, do your best to go and observe these species in their natural habitats. There are few sights as awe-inspiring as these legendary beasts in the wild!