Komodo Dragons are not picky eaters. They can eat everything from birds to humans and they dig up even bodies from shallow graves. They are prodigious hunters and will wait stealthily until their prey approaches after which they will charge forward, rip out its throat, and retreat while it bleeds out. The only reason their human kill count is so low is probably due to limited interaction as well as the fact that they only really need to eat once a month.
The Komodo Dragon, is a large species of lizard found in the Indonesian islands of Komodo, Rinca, Flores, Gili Motang, and Padar. A member of the monitor lizard family, it is the largest living species of lizard. It grows to a maximum length of 3 metres in rare cases and weighing up to approximately 70 kilograms.
Their unusually large size has been attributed to island gigantism, since no other carnivorous animals fill the niche on the islands where they live. However, recent research suggests 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 megafauna, died out after the Pleistocene.
As with other Varanids, Komodo dragons have only a single ear bone, the stapes, for transferring vibrations from the tympanic membrane to the cochlea. This arrangement means they are likely restricted to sounds in the 400 to 2,000 hertz range, compared to humans who hear between 20 and 20,000 hertz. It was formerly thought to be deaf when a study reported no agitation in wild Komodo dragons in response to whispers, raised voices, or shouts.
The Komodo dragon is able to see as far away as 300 m, 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 stationary objects.
It uses its tongue to detect, taste, and smell stimuli, as with many other reptiles, with the vomeronasalsense 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, a Komodo dragon may be able to detect carrion from 4–9.5 km away. It only has a few taste buds in the back of its throat. Its scales, some of which are reinforced with bone, havesensory plaques connected to nerves to 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 prefers hot and dry places, and typically lives in dry, open grassland, savanna, and tropical forest at low elevations. As an ectotherm, it is most active in the day, although it exhibits some nocturnal activity. Komodo dragons are solitary, coming together only to breed and eat. They are capable of running rapidly in brief sprints up to 20 km/h , diving up to 4.5 m , and climbing trees proficiently when young through use of their strong claws. To catch out-of-reach prey, the Komodo dragon may stand on its hind legs and use its tail as a support. As it matures, its claws are used primarily as weapons, as its great size makes climbing impractical.
For shelter, the Komodo dragon digs holes that can measure from 1–3 m wide with its powerful forelimbs and claws. Because of its large size and habit of sleeping in these burrows, it is able to conserve body heat throughout the night and minimize its basking period the morning after. The Komodo dragon hunts in the afternoon, but stays in the shade during the hottest part of the day. These special resting places, usually located on ridges with cool sea breezes, are marked with droppings and are cleared of vegetation. They serve as strategic locations from which to ambush deer.
Komodo dragons are carnivores. Although they eat mostly carrion, they will also ambush live prey with a stealthy approach. When suitable prey arrives near a dragon’s ambush site, it will suddenly charge at the animal and go for the underside or the throat. It is able to locate its prey using its keen sense of smell, which can locate a dead or dying animal from a range of up to 9.5 km. Komodo dragons have been observed knocking down large pigs and deer with their strong tails.
They eat by tearing large chunks of flesh and swallowing them whole while holding the carcass down with their forelegs. For smaller prey up to the size of a goat, their loosely articulated jaws, flexible skulls, and expandable stomachs allow them to swallow prey whole. The vegetable contents of the stomach and intestines are typically avoided.Copious amounts of red saliva the Komodo dragons produce help to lubricate the food, but swallowing is still a long process. A Komodo dragon may attempt to speed up the process by ramming the carcass against a tree to force it down its throat, sometimes ramming so forcefully, the tree is knocked down. To prevent itself from suffocating while swallowing, it breathes using a small tube under the tongue that connects to the lungs. After eating up to 80% of its body weight in one meal, it drags itself to a sunny location to speed digestion, as the food could rot and poison the dragon if left undigested for too long. Because of their slow metabolism, large dragons can survive on as little as 12 meals a year. After digestion, the Komodo dragon regurgitates a mass of horns, hair, and teeth known as the gastric pellet, which is covered in malodorous mucus. After regurgitating the gastric pellet, it rubs its face in the dirt or on bushes to get rid of the mucus, suggesting, like humans, it does not relish the scent of its own excretions.
The Komodo dragon’s diet is wide-ranging, and includes invertebrates, other reptiles, birds, bird eggs, small mammals, monkeys, wild boar, goats, deer, horses, and water buffalo.Young Komodos will eat insects, eggs, geckos, and small mammals. Occasionally, they consume humans and human corpses, digging up bodies from shallow graves. This habit of raiding graves caused the villagers of Komodo to move their graves from sandy to clay ground and pile rocks on top of them to deter the lizards. The Komodo dragon may have evolved to feed on the extinct dwarf elephant Stegodon that once lived on Flores, according to evolutionary biologist Jared Diamond.
The Komodo dragon drinks by sucking water into its mouth via buccal pumping, lifting its head, and letting the water run down its throat.
Mating occurs between May and August, with the eggs laid in September. During this period, males fight over females and territory by grappling with one another upon their hind legs, with the loser eventually being pinned to the ground. These males may vomit or defecate when preparing for the fight. The winner of the fight will then flick his long tongue at the female to gain information about her receptivity. Females are antagonistic and resist with their claws and teeth during the early phases of courtship. Therefore, the male must fully restrain the female during coitus to avoid being hurt. Other courtship displays include males rubbing their chins on the female, hard scratches to the back, and licking. Copulation occurs when the male inserts one of his hemipenes into the female’s cloaca. Komodo dragons may be monogamous and form “pair bonds”, a rare behavior for lizards.
The female lays her eggs in burrows cut into the side of a hill or in the abandoned nesting mounds of the Orange-footed Scrubfowl, with a preference for the abandoned mounds. Clutches contain an average of 20 eggs, which have an incubation period of 7–8 months. Hatching is an exhausting effort for the neonates, which break out of their eggshells with an egg tooth that falls off soon after. After cutting out, the hatchlings may lie in their eggshells for hours before starting to dig out of the nest. They are born quite defenseless and are vulnerable to predation.
Young Komodo dragons spend much of their first few years in trees, where they are relatively safe from predators, including cannibalistic adults, as juvenile dragons make up 10% of their diets.