The Komodo dragon is one of the most amazing reptiles on the planet. A strong, unusually mobile giant lizard is also called the Komodo dragon. External resemblance to the mythical creature monitor lizard provide a huge body, long tail and powerful bent paws.
A strong neck, massive shoulders, a small head give the lizard a militant look. Powerful muscles are covered with rough scaly skin. The huge tail serves as a weapon and support during hunting and sorting out relations with rivals.
Origin of the species and description
Varanus komodoensis is a chordate of the reptile class. Belongs to the squamous order. Family and genus – monitor lizards. The only one of its kind is the Komodo dragon. First described in 1912. Giant Indonesian Monitor — representative of the relict population of very large monitor lizards. They inhabited Indonesia and Australia during the Pliocene period. Their age is 3.8 million years.
The movement of the earth’s crust 15 million years ago caused the influx of Australia into Southeast Asia. The transformation of the landmass allowed the large Waranids to return to the territory of the Indonesian archipelago. This theory was proved by the discovery of fossils similar to the bones of V. komodoensis. The Komodo monitor lizard really came from Australia, and the largest extinct lizard megalania is its closest relative.
The development of the modern Komodo dragon began in Asia with the genus Varanus. 40 million years ago, giant lizards migrated to Australia, where they developed into the Pleistocene monitor lizard – Megalania. Such an impressive size of megalania was achieved in a non-competitive food environment.
In Eurasia, the remains of extinct Pliocene species of lizards, similar in size to modern Komodo dragons — Varanus sivalensis. This proves that giant lizards thrived even in conditions where there is high food competition from carnivores.
Appearance and features
Indonesian monitor lizard structure body and skeleton resembles extinct ankylosaurs. A long squat body, elongated parallel to the ground. Strong curved paws do not give the lizard grace when running, but do not slow it down either. Lizards can run, maneuver, jump, climb trees and even stand on their hind legs.
Komodo lizards are capable of accelerating up to 40 km per hour. Sometimes they compete in speed with deer and antelopes. There are many videos on the net where a hunting monitor stalks and overtakes ungulate mammals.
The Komodo monitor lizard has a complex coloration. The main tone of the scales — brown with polysyllabic inclusions and transitions from gray-blue to red-yellow. By color, you can determine which age group the lizard belongs to. Juveniles have a brighter coloration, while adults are calmer.
Video: Komodo dragon
Small in comparison with the body, the head resembles a cross between the head of a crocodile and a turtle. There are small eyes on the head. A forked tongue protrudes from a wide mouth. The ears are hidden in the folds of the skin.
A long, powerful neck passes into the body and ends with a strong tail. An adult male can reach 3 meters, females -2.5. Weight from 80 to 190 kg. The female is lighter -70 to 120 kg. Monitor lizards move on four legs. During the hunt and showdown for the possession of females and territory, they are able to stand on their hind legs. A clinch between two males can last up to 30 minutes.
Monitor lizards — hermits. They live separately and unite only during the mating season. Life expectancy in nature is up to 50 years. Puberty in the Komodo dragon occurs at 7-9 years. Females do not groom or care for offspring. Their maternal instinct is enough to guard the laid eggs for 8 weeks. After the birth of the offspring, the mother starts hunting for newborns.
Where does the Komodo monitor live?
The Komodo dragon has an isolated distribution in only one part of the world, making it especially susceptible to natural disasters. The area of the range is small and amounts to several hundred square kilometers.
Adult Komodo dragons live mainly in tropical forests. They prefer open, flat areas with tall grasses and shrubs, but are also found in other habitats such as beaches, ridgetops, and dry riverbeds. Young Komodo dragons live in forest areas until they are eight months old.
This species is found only in Southeast Asia on the scattered islands of the Lesser Sunda archipelago. The most densely populated monitor lizards — Komodo, Flores, Gili Motang, Rincha and Padar and a few other tiny islands in the vicinity. Europeans saw the first giant pangolin on the island of Komodo. The discoverers of the Komodo dragon were shocked by its size and believed that the creature could fly. Hearing stories about living dragons, hunters and adventurers rushed to the island.
An armed group of people landed on the island and managed to get one monitor lizard. It turned out that this is a large lizard over 2 meters in length. The next mined specimens reached 3 meters or more. The research results were published two years later. They refuted the speculation that the animal could fly or breathe fire. The lizard was given the name Varanus komodoensis. However, another name has also stuck to it – the Komodo dragon.
The Komodo dragon has become something of a living legend. In the decades since the discovery of Komodo, various scientific expeditions from a number of countries have been conducting field research on dragons on Komodo Island. Monitor lizards did not go unnoticed by hunters, who gradually reduced the population to a critical minimum.
What does the Komodo monitor lizard eat?
Komodo Dragons — carnivores. It was believed that they eat mostly carrion. In fact, they often and actively hunt. They ambush large animals. Waiting for the victim takes a long time. Komodos track prey over long distances. There are cases when Komodo dragons knocked down large boars and deer with their tails. A keen sense of smell allows you to find food at a distance of several kilometers.
Monitor lizards eat prey by tearing large pieces of meat and swallowing them whole, while holding the carcass with their front paws. Loosely articulated jaws and expanding stomachs allow them to swallow prey whole. After digestion, the Komodo dragon regurgitates bones, horns, hair, and teeth from its stomach. After clearing their stomachs, monitor lizards clean their snouts on grasses, bushes, or dirt.
The Komodo dragon’s diet is varied and includes invertebrates, other reptiles, and smaller species. Monitor lizards eat birds, their eggs, small mammals. Among their victims are monkeys, wild boars, goats. Large animals such as deer, horses and buffalo are also eaten. Young monitor lizards feed on insects, eggs of birds and other reptiles. Their diet includes geckos and small mammals.
Sometimes monitor lizards attack and bite people. There are cases when they eat human corpses, digging up bodies from shallow graves. This habit of raiding graves led the people of Komodo to move the graves from sandy to clay soil and lay stones on them to keep the lizards away.
Despite the huge height and large body weight, the Komodo monitor lizard is a rather secretive animal. Avoids meeting people. In captivity, it does not become attached to people and demonstrates independence.
The Komodo dragon is a solitary animal. Does not form groups. Zealously guards its territory. Does not educate and does not protect its offspring. At the first opportunity, he is ready to feast on a cub. Prefers hot and dry places. Usually lives in open plains, savannahs and rainforests at low altitudes.
It is most active during the day, although it shows some nocturnal activity. Komodo dragons are solitary, coming together only to mate and eat. They are capable of running fast and adept at climbing trees when young. To catch unreachable prey, the Komodo monitor lizard can stand on its hind legs and use its tail as a support. Uses its claws as a weapon.
For cover, it digs holes 1 to 3 meters wide using its powerful front paws and claws. Due to its large size and habit of sleeping in burrows, it is able to retain body heat during the night and minimize its loss. He knows how to disguise himself well. Patient. Able to spend hours in ambush waiting for his prey.
The Komodo dragon hunts during the day but stays in the shade during the hottest part of the day. These resting places, usually located on ridges with a cool sea breeze, are marked with droppings and cleared of vegetation. They also serve as strategic ambush sites for deer.
Social structure and reproduction
Komodo dragons do not form pairs, do not live in groups and do not form communities. They prefer an exclusively isolated lifestyle. Carefully protect their territory from relatives. Other representatives of their own species are perceived as enemies.
Mating in this species of lizards occurs in the summer. From May to August, males fight for females and territory. Violent fights sometimes end in the death of one of the opponents. An opponent who is pinned to the ground is considered defeated. The fight takes place on the hind legs.
During battle, monitor lizards can purge their stomachs and defecate to lighten their bodies and improve their agility. This lizard technique is also used when running away from danger. The winner starts courting the female. In September, the females are ready to lay their eggs. However, in order to have offspring, females do not have to have a male.
Komodo dragons are parthenogenesis. Females can lay unfertilized eggs without the participation of males. They develop exclusively male cubs. Scientists suggest that this is how new colonies appear on previously monitor-free islands. After tsunamis and storms, females, thrown by waves onto deserted islands, begin to lay eggs in the complete absence of males.
Females of the Komodo monitor lizard choose bushes, sand and caves for laying. They camouflage their nests from predators ready to feast on monitor lizard eggs, and monitor lizards themselves. The incubation period of masonry is 7-8 months. Young reptiles spend most of their time in trees, where they are relatively protected from predators, including adult monitors.
Natural enemies of Komodo monitors
In the natural environment, the monitor lizard has no enemies and competitors. The length and weight of the lizard makes it almost invulnerable. The only and unsurpassed enemy of a monitor lizard can only be another monitor lizard.
Cannibal lizards. As observations of the life of a reptile have shown, 10% of the diet of the Komodo monitor lizard is its relatives. A giant lizard doesn’t need a reason to kill to eat its own kind. Fights between goannas are not uncommon. They can start because of territorial claims, because of the female, and simply because the monitor lizard has not obtained other food. All clarification of relations within the species ends in a bloody drama.
As a rule, older and more experienced monitor lizards attack younger and weaker ones. The same thing happens with newborn lizards. Little lizards can become food for their mothers. However, nature took care of the protection of monitor lizard cubs. The first few years of life, juvenile monitor lizards spend in the trees, hiding from their stronger and stronger counterparts in appearance.
In addition to the lizard itself, it is threatened by two more serious enemies: natural disasters and humans. Earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions seriously affect the population of the Komodo monitor lizard. A natural disaster can destroy the population of a small island in a matter of hours.
Man has mercilessly exterminated the dragon for almost a century. People from all over the world flocked to hunt the giant reptile. As a result, the animal population has been brought to a critical point.
Population and species status
Information on the population size and distribution of Varanus komodoensis has until recently been limited to early reports or surveys conducted on only part of the species’ range. The Komodo dragon is a vulnerable species. Listed in the Red Book. The vulnerability of the species is due to poaching and tourism. The commercial interest in animal skins has put the species at risk of extinction.
The World Animal Fund estimates that the number of Komodo dragons in the wild is 6,000 lizards. The population is under protection and surveillance. To preserve the species on the Lesser Sunda Islands, a national park has been created. Park staff can tell exactly how many lizards are currently on each of the 26 islands.
The largest colonies live on:
- Komodo -1700;
- Rinche -1300;
- Gili Motangue-1000;
- Flores — 2000.
But not only people affect the state of the species. The habitat itself is a serious threat. Volcanic activity, earthquakes, fires make the traditional habitats of the lizard uninhabitable. In 2013, the total population in the wild was estimated at 3,222 individuals, in 2014 — 3092, 2015 — 3 014.
A number of measures taken to increase the population almost doubled the number of the species, but according to experts, this figure is still critically low.
Komoda monitor lizards protection
People took a number of measures to protect and increase the species. It is legally prohibited to hunt the Komodo monitor lizard. Some islands are closed to the public. Territories protected from tourists are organized where Komodo lizards can live and breed in their natural habitat and atmosphere.
Understanding the importance of dragons and the state of the population as an endangered species, the Indonesian government issued a decree on the protection of lizards on Komodo Island in 1915. The Indonesian authorities have decided to close the island to the public.
The island is part of a national park. Measures to isolate it will help increase the population of the species. However, the final decision to stop tourist access to Komodo must be made by the Governor of East Nusa Tenggara.
Authorities have not said how long Komodo will be closed to visitors and tourists. At the end of the isolation period, conclusions will be drawn about the effectiveness of the measure and the need to continue the experiment. In the meantime, unique monitor lizards are raised in captivity.
Zoologists have learned how to save the clutches of the Komodo dragon. Eggs laid in the wild are collected and placed in incubators. Ripening and rearing takes place on mini-farms, where conditions close to natural are created. Individuals that are strong and able to protect themselves are returned to their natural habitat. Currently, giant lizards have appeared outside of Indonesia. They can be found in more than 30 zoos around the world.
The threat of losing one of the most unique and rare animals is so great that the Indonesian government is ready to take the most extreme measures. Closing some of the islands in the archipelago may ease the fate of the Komodo dragon, but isolation is not enough. To save Indonesia’s top predator from humans, it is necessary to protect its habitat, stop hunting it, and get the support of local residents.