Komodo dragons live in a variety of habitats but are generally found in tropical grassland and woodland. Komodo Island (where most wild dragons live) is very hilly and volcanic.
Hatchlings eat insects and small reptiles and as they grow, their food gets progressively larger. Adults are capable of bringing down animals as big as a buffalo. It was previously thought that toxins in the dragons saliva poisoned the prey, although we now believe that the prey dies as a result of shock, tissue damage and subsequent infection (buffalo often seek shelter in swamps so it’s easy to see how a wound could become infected). Adult dragons will also eat baby dragons if they catch them.
Baby dragons spend the first few years up in the trees – this keeps them away from hungry adults! Adults are generally solitary and only come together to breed or to feed on large prey items. Like all monitor lizards, Komodo dragons are intelligent animals and respond very well to training in captivity. They are active mainly during the day, and will seek refuge in burrows to escape the mid-day sun.
Komodo dragons lay up to 20 eggs which take around 7-8mths to hatch. Females do not look after their young. Komodo dragons also exhibit a strategy called parthenogenesis – females can lay eggs without ever mating with a male. The hatchlings from a parthenogenetic breeding are always male and receive all of their genes from their mother. This strategy was first recorded in UK zoo in 2005 and 2006 – a great example of how animals in zoos can help us to better understand the natural world and how it works.
Because they only live on a few small islands, Komodo dragons are threatened by habitat loss and human development. Komodo Island is a National Park and this allows the wild dragons some protection.
Classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN. In captivity, Komodo dragons are managed by a studbook which aims to keep the zoo population healthy and diverse. They are one of the most well studied lizard species and many zoos contribute towards researching the dragons in the wild.
- Latin Name: Varanus komodoensis
- Class: Reptiles
- Order: Squamata
- Family: Varanidae
- Conservation status: Vulnerable
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