Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Komodo Dragon

The Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) is a species of lizard found on few Indonesian islands.  They are rated as 'Vulnerable' by the IUCN.

Physical Features
The komodo dragon is known for being the largest lizard alive.  They weigh an average of 70 kilograms.  Females are smaller and weigh about 65-75 kilograms while males can weigh anywhere between 80 kilograms to 100 kilograms.  The largest specimen was about 10.3 feet and weighed a massive 166 kilograms(including undigested food).  The komodo dragon has very sharp teeth.  Their tails are very strong and they have sharp claws which they use for digging.  They are stockily built. The color of their body can be brown to grayish-red.  Juveniles are green with black and yellow bands.  These colors fade away as they mature.  They have thick skin with rough scales.  Ear openings are visible.  Its skin has small bones known as osteoderms.  Their saliva is ideal for the development of bacteria, making it infectious.  They have a good sense of smell, detecting decaying remains of an animal about 5 miles away. They have a bad sense of hearing and can see within ranges of 980 feet.

Komodo dragons are diurnal (active during the day) due to their poor night vision although there are few cases of them being nocturnal.  Juveniles spend most of their time on trees.  They spend most of their time foraging for food.  They build burrows to retreat during nights or hot weathers.  Juveniles use their sharp claws and strong limbs to climb trees.  Komodo dragons are generally solitary except during breeding.  These lizards are quite aggressive.  They are good swimmers and can run at speeds of 18 km/hr.  Komodo dragons are mainly ambush predators.  Even if the prey escapes the lizard, it dies within sometime due to its infectious bite. Once it is dead, the komodo dragon picks up its scent and starts eating the animal.  It even consumes the bones of the animal. 

Komodo dragons are carnivores.  Adult komodo dragons eat large animals like water buffaloes, deer, wild pigs, goats and other reptiles.  Juveniles eat smaller animals like snakes, other lizards, insects and rodents.  There are chances of cannibalism.  This is why juveniles spend most of their time on trees.  Komodo dragons use their sharp claws as a weapon for killing prey.  In one meal, they consume half of their own body weight. Though they have teeth, they do not chew the food.  They tear off pieces of the meat and swallow them.

Distribution and Habitat
The range of the komodo dragon is restricted to the Indonesian islands of Komodo, Rinca, Padar and Western Flores.  They prefer dry areas like savannas, arid forests, dry riverbeds and scrubby areas.

Life Cycle
The komodo dragon matures at an age of 5 years.  Males among each other for mates, using their tails as props.  After mating, females dig burrows and lay about 25-30 eggs (depending upon the size of the female).  The eggs hatch after 8-9 months.  The young can be a subject to cannibalism.  The maximum lifespan of these lizards are 40 years.

Conservation Status
The komodo dragon are rated as 'Vulnerable' by the IUCN.  The estimated population ranges from 3000 to 5000 individuals.  The main reasons for the decline of their population are volcanic activity, tourism, loss of prey due to poaching, loss of habitat, earthquakes and illegal hunting.  Now, they are a popular tourist attraction which is the main incentive for the increasing conservation of these animals.  

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