A Komodo dragon sticks its tongue out

Species Name: Varanus komodoensis

One of Indonesia’s national treasures, these giant reptiles are the largest and heaviest of all lizards on Earth. They are also descendants of Megalania (Varanus priscus), thought to be the largest venomous animal to have ever existed.

About Komodo Dragons

Length: 8-10 feet

Weight: Average 100 lbs, up to 300 or more

Komodo dragons are the heaviest lizards on the planet. They have long, flat heads with rounded snouts, scaly skin, bowed legs, and huge, muscular tails.

Venom-Bacteria Debate
Komodo dragons have long been thought to kill their prey with high levels of bacteria in their saliva. Experts previously accepted the conclusion that the prey died of sepsis. However, an Australia-based researcher observed as a keeper at the Singapore Zoo, who had been bit by a Komodo dragon, bled for an unusually long period of time. He discovered that these lizards actually have a large venom gland below their jaw and was able to extract venom from a terminally ill lizard to study. It is now known that Komodo dragons are venomous and that their toxin both lowers the blood pressure of a bite victim and prevents blood clotting, which would weaken a prey and cause it to go into shock.

Diet
Komodo dragons are not very picky eaters and have been known to bring down a meal larger than themselves. Adults prefer deer, goats, monkeys, rodents, and even other, smaller Komodo dragons. 

Their sharp serrated teeth, one of their deadliest weapons, act as efficient tools for eating, easily ripping at the tough flesh of prey. They search for food with their forked tongues and a special feature on the roof of their mouth called a Jacobson’s organ, which helps identify airborne molecules. Komodo dragons can detect some prey as far as 4 km away.

How can they eat such large meals?
Komodo dragons have extremely strong muscles in their jaw, throat, and neck, as well as several movable joints like the intra-mandibular hinge, which opens the lower jaw unusually wide. This allows them to swallow large chunks of meat. The stomach expands and is flexible, allowing an adult dragon to ingest as much as 80% of its body weight in a single meal. 

When threatened, Komodos can also regurgitate the contents of their stomachs and lessen their weight to flee. Since they also ingest the fur and bones of their prey, Komodo dragons regurgitate "pellets" of this undigested matter.

Habitat
Komodos have thrived in the harsh Indonesian climate for millions of years. While they appear to prefer tropical forests, they can be found across the islands from the beach inward.

Reproductive Behavior
Females will lay an average of 18 or up to 30 eggs in burrows or in the very large abandoned nests of megapodes (several species of chicken-like birds). While females will protect the eggs during the nine-month incubation period, there is little evidence of parental care after the young hatch.

The juveniles, in fending for themselves, are capable of climbing trees to avoid predators and search for food.

Territorial Behavior
Komodo dragons tend to be solitary except during mating season. Fighting during mating season is common as the male dragons engage in violent altercations, often ending with the "loser" retreating with bloody wounds.

(Not So) Fun Fact
Komodos have been observed cannibalizing (eating their own species) the young, so juveniles will often roll in carrion intestines or the fecal matter of adult dragons. The smell can deter a potential attack by adults, who possess instincts to avoid conflict with a mature dragon.

Concerns

Population estimate: 5,000

Limited Range - Their range is limited to a few Indonesian islands (Lesser Sunda Islands) including Rinca, Padar, Flores, and of course Komodo - however, dragons have not been seen on the island of Padar since the 1970s. The limited range naturally restricts the space where these animals can thrive, and with human populations growing, their habitat is threatened.

Human Impact - Thousands of tourists eager to see these large reptiles flock to the region year after year, and while tourism positively impacts local communities, the conservation impacts are often detrimental. Even with protective laws in place, illegal poaching also continues to play a role in population decline. Indonesia has taken measures to limit the impact of tourism on islands like Komodo.

Celebrations
Conservation of this ancient species is of significant concern and the good news is limited. However, this animal is highly valued, and a number of organizations have established conservation programs. The resident Komodo dragons at the Virginia Aquarium are part of the greater AZA Species Protection Plan Program. You can read more on our Conservation in Action page.

Resident Komodo Dragons

Our dragons can be found in our North Building, at the entrance to the Restless Planet Gallery. 

Teman the Komodo dragon eating meat from a cardboard box for enrichment

Teman

Hatched out at the Denver Zoo in 2003, Teman arrived at the Virginia Aquarium in 2006. He is our oldest dragon, and the father of our two younger dragons, Bejo and Kado. Though he is the largest at 95 pounds, Teman is the calmest and laid back of the three.

Bejo the juvenile Komodo dragon walks while sticking his tongue out

Bejo

Bejo is one of Teman's two offspring, having hatched at the Virginia Aquarium in 2016. He is the more active of our two younger dragons, is eager in his training sessions, and enjoys basking in sunlight.

Kado the juvenile Komodo dragon licks his lips while looking at the camera

Kado

Kado is the other of Teman's two offspring that hatched here in 2016. He's inquisitive, enjoys exploring, and likes to play with his food. He enjoys eating chicks more than rats.

IUCN Classification

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Endangered (EN)

A taxon is Endangered (EN) when the best available evidence indicates that it meets any of the criteria A to E for Endangered, and it is therefore considered to be facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild.

IUCN Red List
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