When it comes to reptiles, few are as imposing as the Komodo dragon. These giant lizards come from Indonesia, although fossil evidence suggests that they lived in Australia as well. Their habitat has significantly declined, leaving them vulnerable for extinction, but conservation efforts are taking place to keep this unique species alive in the wild world. Although they might seem scary, Komodo dragons are actually very special animals that are much more interesting than many give them credit for.
#1 – They’re The Largest Living Lizards
This might not come as a surprise, but Komodo dragons are the largest lizards in the world. Growing roughly 8-9 feet in length and reaching up to 200 pounds, their large size has been attributed to something called “island gigantism.” This is a biological phenomenon in which the size of an animal isolated on an island far exceeds that of their mainland relatives. Since no other carnivorous animals live where Komodo dragons do, their size was allowed to significantly increase as they dominated the ecosystem.
#2 – They Are Venomous
It used to be thought that Komodo dragons killed their prey with the toxic bacteria found in their saliva, but more recent research suggests that the lizards are actually venomous. That said, they aren’t venomous like most of the snakes we know of. Instead, Komodo dragons have thrashing bites that ooze venom into their prey. The effects of the venom are not immediate, but bites eventually lead to blood clotting, muscle paralysis, hypothermia and shock – causing their prey to fall weak or dead within a few hours to days.
#3 – They Have Excellent Eyesight & Smell
Komodo dragons have surprisingly good eyesight, being able to see clearly up to 985 feet away. This sighting is only good during the day, however, as they do not see well at night at all. Even more impressive is their sense of smell. Since it takes their prey up to one week to die from an attack, Komodo dragons must use their powerful noses to find the weak or dead animals once they’ve fallen. They’re able to sense the existence and direction of injured prey up to 2.5 miles away.
#4 – They’re Actually Quite Agile
Young Komodo dragons are expert climbers, using their long claws to get higher up to avoid cannibalistic adults. However, as they grow, their climbing ability lessens due to their size. Their claws are still there, though, and they use them for digging. Komodo dragons enjoy burrowing into dens and these claws help them dig holes up to 9.8 feet wide. Further, they’re able to sprint at speeds of up to 12mph – which is very impressive for such a large animal. Komodo dragons can also dive up to 15 feet and they have been known to swim from one island habitat to another.
#5 – They Have Unusual Hunting Tactics
Komodo dragons are carnivores and eat mostly carrion; the flesh of already dead animals. However, they are ambush hunters as well. Komodo dragons will find the trails of deer or other prey and lie waiting for them to arrive. There, they will attack violently. Komodo dragons use their powerful forelimbs and claws to grab and tear at their prey, use their serrated teeth to grip and mutilate the flesh while releasing their venom. If they prey gets away, the lizards rely on their incredible sense of smell to find them later. However, most prey lies in shock after the initial attack. From there, the Komodo dragon often moves to the stomach, tearing it open as the prey bleeds to death. The giant lizards are efficient eaters, leaving behind only about 12% of their prey (animals such as lions leave 25-30% of their prey). Needless to say, attacks by Komodo dragons are not something to take lightly.
Cover photo: Jordi Payà via Flickr