Wednesday, October 22, 2014

For National Reptile Awareness Day!

My students were asking a lot of questions this week about reptiles and their brain power, so I’m reposting this article about the Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis).  Found in the wild on a few volcanic islands in Indonesia, this largest of all reptiles (with large individuals weighing over 150 lbs) will eat almost any type of meat.  It is endangeredDSC_0029  (population is estimated at 3,000 to 5,000 individuals) because of its limited range, lack of egg-laying females, human encroachment, and natural disasters.  Since it’s a top predator in its habitat, the Komodo dragon plays an important role in keeping the ecosystem in balance.

Here are 8 more really cool facts about Komodo dragons:

  1. Komodo dragons can see their prey at great distances – over the length of a football field!
  2. Komodo dragons only have light sensing cells called “cones” in their eyes – no “rods”.  “Cones” help animals see color and in bright light, while “rods” help animals see in dim light.   So if you’re going to avoid the gaze of a Komodo dragon, do so at dusk.
  3. Komodo dragons have a terrific and unique sense of smell, much like a snake’s.  Check out this description from the National Zoo (2013):   “It uses its long, yellow forked tongue to sample the air, after which the two tongue tips retreat to the roof of the mouth, where they make contact with the Jacobson's organs. The chemical analyzers "smell" a deer by recognizing airborne molecules. If the concentration present on the left tongue tip is higher than that sampled from the right, it tells the Komodo that the deer is approaching from the left. This system, along with an undulatory walk in which the head swings from side to side, helps the dragon sense the existence and direction of odoriferous carrion from as far away as 2.5 miles (four km), when the wind is right.”  So maybe trying to avoid Komodos at dusk won’t work out so well……
  4. Komodo dragons have both venom AND over 50 strains of bacteria in their saliva – good for bringing down prey.
  5. Komodo dragon venom is not toxic to other Komodo dragons!
  6. Komodo dragons can eat up to 80% of their body weight in one feeding!
  7. Komodo dragons can run up to 13 mph!
  8. Komodo dragons can be playful and have different personalities!  Don’t believe it?  Check out this article in Zoogoer magazine.

But wait, there’s more!  If you’d like to learn more about these fascinating creatures, check out the National Zoo fact sheet


National Geographic.  2013.  “Komodo dragon (Varanus Komodoensis)”  Accessed online 1/22/2013.

National Zoo.  2013.  “Reptile and Amphibian Fact Sheets:  Komodo dragon”  Accessed online 1/22/2013.

McIntosh, P.  2012.  “Dragons at Play”  Smithsonian Zoogoer Magazine.  Sept/Oct. 2012.

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