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The Komodo dragon (Varanus
komodoensis), also known as the Komodo monitor, is a large
species of lizard found in the Indonesian islands of Komodo,
Rinca, Flores, Gili Motang and Gili Dasami. A member of the
monitor lizard family (Varanidae), it is the largest living
species of lizard, growing to a maximum length of 3 meters (9.8
ft) in rare cases and weighing up to around 70 kilograms (150
lb). Their unusual size has been attributed to island gigantism,
since there are no other carnivorous animals to fill the niche
on the islands where they live.
However, recent research suggests that the large size of komodo
dragons may be better understood as representative of a relict
population of very large varanid lizards that once lived across
Indonesia and Australia, most of which, along with other mega
fauna, died out after the Pleistocene. Fossils very similar to
V. komodoensis have been found in Australia dating to greater
than 3.8 million years ago, and its body size remained stable on
Flores, one of the handful of Indonesian islands where it is
currently found, over the last 900,000 years, "a time marked by
major faunal turnovers, extinction of the island's mega fauna,
and the arrival of early hominids by 880 ka.
As a result of their size, these lizards dominate the ecosystems
in which they live. Komodo dragons hunt and ambush prey
including invertebrates, birds, and mammals. Their group
behavior in hunting is exceptional in the reptile world. The
diet of big Komodo dragons mainly consists of deer, though they
also eat considerable amounts of carrion.
Mating begins between May and August, and the eggs are laid in
September. About twenty eggs are deposited in abandoned megapode
nests or in a self-dug nesting hole. The eggs are incubated for
seven to eight months, hatching in April, when insects are most
plentiful. Young Komodo dragons are vulnerable and therefore
dwell in trees, safe from predators and cannibalistic adults.
They take about eight to nine years to mature, and are estimated
to live for up to 30 years.
Komodo dragons were first recorded by Western scientists in
1910. Their large size and fearsome reputation make them popular
zoo exhibits. In the wild their range has contracted due to
human activities and they are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN .
They are protected under Indonesian law, and a national park,
Komodo National Park, was founded to aid protection efforts.
The Komodo dragon is also known as the Komodo monitor or the
Komodo Island monitor in scientific literature, although this is
not very common. To the natives of Komodo Island, it is referred
to as ora, buaya darat (land crocodile) or biawak raksasa (giant
The evolutionary development of the Komodo dragon started with
the Varanus genus, which originated in Asia about 40 million
years ago and migrated to Australia. Around 15 million years
ago, a collision between Australia and Southeast Asia allowed
the varanids to move into what is now the Indonesian
archipelago, extending their range as far east as the island of
Timor. The Komodo dragon was believed to have differentiated
from its Australian ancestors 4 million years ago. However,
recent fossil evidence from Queensland suggests that the Komodo
dragon evolved in Australia before spreading to Indonesia.
Dramatic lowering of sea level during the last glacial period
uncovered extensive stretches of continental shelf that the
Komodo dragon colonized, becoming isolated in their present
island range as sea levels rose afterwards.
In the wild, an adult Komodo dragon usually weighs around 70
kilograms (150 lb), although captive specimens often weigh more.
The largest verified wild specimen was 3.13 meters (10 ft 3 in)
long and weighed 166 kilograms (370 lb), including undigested
food. The Komodo dragon has a tail as long as its body, as well
as about 60 frequently replaced serrated teeth that can measure
up to 2.5 centimeters (1 in) in length. Its saliva is frequently
blood-tinged, because its teeth are almost completely covered by
gingival tissue that is naturally lacerated during feeding. This
creates an ideal culture for the bacteria that live in its
mouth. It also has a long, yellow, deeply forked tongue.
The Komodo dragon does not have an acute sense of hearing,
despite its visible ear holes, and is only able to hear sounds
between 400 and 2000 hertz. It is able to see as far away as 300
meters (980 ft), but because its retinas only contain cones, it
is thought to have poor night vision. The Komodo dragon is able
to see in color, but has poor visual discrimination of
The Komodo dragon uses its tongue to detect, taste, and smell
stimuli, as with many other reptiles, with the vomeronasal sense
using the Jacobson's organ, rather than using the nostrils. With
the help of a favorable wind and its habit of swinging its head
from side to side as it walks, Komodo dragons may be able to
detect carrion from 4–9.5 kilometers (2.5–5.9 mi) away. It only
has a few taste buds in the back of its throat. Its scales, some
of which are reinforced with bone, have sensory plaques
connected to nerves that facilitate its sense of touch. The
scales around the ears, lips, chin, and soles of the feet may
have three or more sensory plaques.
The Komodo dragon was formerly thought to be deaf when a study
reported no agitation in wild Komodo dragons in response to
whispers, raised voices, or shouts. This was disputed when
London Zoological Garden employee Joan Proctor trained a captive
specimen to come out to feed at the sound of her voice, even
when she could not be seen.