The Komodo Dragon

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This male Komodo was popular on the island, choosing a prime spot to lounge out in the open. The guides have long known that he and a few other komodos prefer to hang around that area, and we found the dragon resting right next to the dragon sign they put up. Though he may seem docile from his lazy behavior, komodos are very aware of their surroundings, and he would turn to stare at me when I advanced a bit closer. This dragon was one of two males that were probably the largest that we encountered. It was astounding to see the detail on his muscular throat, tough armored skin, sharp black claws, and ticks camouflaged on the body. Our second day on the island as we were walking through the forest we had to make way for the dragon as we crossed paths. It was mesmerizing to watch him move from side to side with a slow heavy gait.

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Before visiting the Lesser Sundas I had heard of how huge komodo dragons are, but it wasn’t until I stood just a few meters away that I could fully grasp exactly how massive they are. It seemed that every step I took toward the dragon it kept getting larger until I was close enough to fully define its round dark pupils. Komodo dragons are without a doubt powerful animals. Reaching over three meters in length and weighing more than 150 pounds, they are the largest and heaviest lizard on the planet. Their serrated teeth are ~2.5 cm long, though they are mostly concealed by the gums. Adult komodos feed on Timor deer (Rusa timorensis), water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis), wild boars (Sus scrofa vittatus), long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) as well as smaller komodo dragons. It’s also likely that dwarf elephants (Stegodon sp.) were once a common prey item before their extinction (~10,000-20,000 years ago). Komodos are highly dependent on mammalian fauna on the islands, particularly the Timor deer, and it’s been speculated that human hunting of deer on Padar island has led to large declines of the dragons due to their diminishing food resource. In 1991 Komodo National Park was declared a World Heritage Site, regulating human impact on the area and conserving both terrestrial and marine wildlife.

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Komodos are ambush predators, lying low to the ground in the dimly lit forest or hidden behind vegetation in the savannas. When an animal strays near the dragon will charge and aim to bite the throat, using its claws and tail to beat the animal down into submission. Although komodos are well-equipped predators, they frequently feed on carrion and freshly killed prey. Komodos have a keen sense of smell, and the blood from an injured animal will often attract a dozen or more dragons to take part in the feeding. Smaller dragons must take care when taking portions since they can often themselves become prey to large dragons. In contrast to other monitor lizards, the komodo dragon swallows large pieces of prey whole using its large gaping mouth, muscular throat, and expansive stomach, very similar to a snake’s method of prey consumption. While trekking throughout the island we would often find regurgitated clumps of hooves and hair.

All dragons photographed in situ [1]

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Footage of male and female Komodo dragons:

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A couple of shots of the big male dragon from our last day on the island:

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