Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis)
The Komodo dragon is the largest lizard in the world, growing to over 3 metres and weighing up to 100 kilograms: the largest specimen ever recorded weighed 165 kilograms, albeit with a full belly.
The species occurs on the islands of Komodo, Rinca and Gili Motang in eastern Indonesia, which are protected within the boundary of the Komodo National Park. A small population also occurs in parts of northern and western Flores, which lies to the east of the national park.
Komodo dragons are generally not limited by habitat, but by the availability of prey and the absence of predation by man. The open, grassy savanna, low forest and mangrove which makes up the larger islands of Komodo National Park supports populations of introduced wild boar, Timor deer, common palm civet, water buffalo and other large mammals on which these huge lizards prey. Quite what they consumed before man introduced these large mammals to the area centuries ago is unclear.
They are also known to be cannibals, and are useful scavengers: the scent of blood or rotting flesh will attract Komodo dragons from some distance, reportedly from up to 5 km away.
Female dragons are smaller than males, reaching around 2.5 metres in length. Eggs, of which up to 30 might be laid in one batch, are either laid in specially excavated burrows or in the nesting mounds of the orange-footed scrubfowl Megapodius reinwardt, a species of megapode. Juveniles spend their early lives in the trees, probably to avoid being eaten by adults, but once they are longer than a metre or so they spend more time on the ground.
Komodo dragons are considered to have relatively weak eyesight and limited hearing but, like some other reptiles, their sense of smell is acute: the Jacobson's organ in the roof of the mouth is used to 'taste' scents picked up by the forked tongue. Their saliva is reportedly so loaded with bacteria that even if their intended prey manages to escape it will soon die of infection.
These animals can swim well, but the cool waters surrounding the islands of Komodo and Rinca may limit the distance they can explore: being cold-blooded they need bodily warmth to maintain a sufficient energy level.
The Komodo dragon is truly one of the most impressive and iconic vertebrates of Southeast Asia.