Komodo dragons: fast facts

Hunting

Komodo dragons can reach speeds of up to 20km/h.

Usain Bolt can run 45km/h. Are you half as fast as Usain Bolt? If not, best not get too close. Your guide will carry a Y-shaped stick to pin down any dragon that gets too close, but if that fails you’ve basically got two options: climb a tree (though they have sharp claws, adult Komodo dragons are too heavy to climb up far) or hope someone else in the group is slower than you. And don’t run into the water either, because Komodos are excellent swimmers and divers too. Eek.
Komodos have a low hearing range so they cannot hear low-pitched murmurs, or high-pitched screams.

However, loudly ordering an approaching lizard to Sit! is not likely to work either, so you may as well keep screaming.
For a long time it was believed that toxic bacteria in the dragons’ mouths helped to incapacitate and poison their prey.

Scientific studies now indicate that the dragons have a venomous bite. It is true though that their mouths contain around 50 strains of bacteria, which is probably around half of what you’d find in the Responsible Travel fridge after the Christmas party.
The giant monitor lizards, which can weigh up to 170kg, will often lie in ambush for hours, camouflaged, and ‘smelling’ the air with their tongues.

When unsuspecting prey approaches, the Komodo dragon will spring up using its powerful legs, then use its serrated, shark-like teeth to eviscerate the unlucky animal. There’s no joke here, I just want to give you nightmares.

Diet

Komodos can eat up to an incredible 80 percent of their own body weight in one sitting.

Now I once managed close to 30 percent at an all-you-can-eat buffet but it’s not something I’d want to try again, and anyway the restaurant closed down not long afterwards due to serious health and safety violations. Komodo dragons can also scoff around 2.5kg of meat in a minute, which I am still some way off if I’m honest.
Komodo dragons are cannibals.

Baby Komodos will scarper up a tree as soon as they hatch from their eggs to avoid being eaten by adults, and stay there for several years. If there’s no tree nearby they may roll themselves in dung to make themselves appear an unappetising meal. They are literally regarded as food from the moment they are born. Worth mentioning to your own kids next time they don’t want to eat their dinner.
Komodo dragons are at the top of their food chain and have no natural predators.

But when they feel threatened they will sometimes throw up the contents of their stomachs so they can run faster. Try doing that before your next Park Run and see what happens.

Lizards at large

The first discovery of Komodo dragons by westerners in the early 20th century was a key inspiration for the film King Kong.

The decision to make the protagonist a giant ape instead of a lizard was taken at the last minute, when the wrong costume was delivered by mistake.
Komodo dragons can live for up to 30 years in the wild, but usually much less in captivity.

One exception was ‘Naga’, who died in Cincinnati Zoo at the ripe old age of 24, having fathered over 30 offspring. Naga was originally a present from the Indonesian government to US President George H. W. Bush and he died in 2007, just before Bush’s son left office. As yet unproven, it has been suggested that Bush Junior’s Vice President, Dick Cheney, was actually a gigantic carnivorous lizard in a human disguise.

Our top Komodo Vacation

Kayaking holiday in Indonesia, Komodo Dragon expedition

Kayaking vacation in Indonesia, Komodo Dragon expedition

Sea kayaking to some of the most remote beaches on earth

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Conservation

The dragons are found in the wild in only one place (thankfully) – the islands in Komodo National Park: Komodo itself of course, Rinca, Flores and Padar.

No dragons have been seen on Padar since the 1970s however. They’re probably hiding, and waiting.
For some time now there has been debate over whether Komodo Island should be closed to tourists.

One reason that has been given is that people have been feeding the dragons, making them more docile. Come on people, they’re not ducks.
Komodo dragons are endangered.

There are thought to be only around 6,000 of them in the wild, only 350 of which are breeding females. And while you wouldn’t want one as a household pet, we can probably agree that it would be much better if Komodo dragons didn’t go extinct. If you want to help them, then whether you’re kayaking or cruising, book your trip to Komodo National Park with a responsible operator that works with conservation projects and local communities.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Poppet Maulding] [Hunting: oliver.dodd] [Diet: Mats Stafseng Einarsen] [Lizards at large : oliver.dodd] [Conservation : Jorge Láscar]
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