Varanus komodoensis Komodo Dragon
Also known as:
Komodo Monitor, komodo, ora
Loh Buaya, Rinca, Nusa Tenggara, IndonesiaOctober 21, 1999
Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis)
The highlight of our trip to Indonesia and the islands in Komodo National Park was, of course, the legendary Komodo dragon, largest lizard in the world. And possibly the only lizard around that occasionally eats people. We saw this mangrove-wanderer soon after we got off the boat onto Rinca, the island neighboring Komodo. Most wild Komodo dragons are on Komodo and Rinca. Almost all the rest are on the western end of the much larger nearby island Flores. And a handful of others may or may not be found on some of the tiny little islets in the area; occasionally they swim from island to island if the pickings smell good from a distance.
Loh Buaya, Rinca, Nusa Tenggara, IndonesiaOctober 21, 1999
Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis) Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis) Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis)
The largest Komodo Dragon ever reliably measured was slightly over 10 feet long. The first two pictured here were huge adults, maybe 8 feet long. The really big ones that we saw spent most of their time lying about. Occasionally one would sloooowly rise to its feet, instantly escalating the tension level of any human observers.

The third one here is a young adult; big enough to live on the ground. (Until the age of two or so they live primarily in the trees, thus avoiding being eaten by the larger ones.) The younger ones we saw were considerably more active than the huge ones; they were generally wandering about tasting the scent of the air constantly with their long forked tongues. This one took a brief rest under one of the ranger station buildings to cool off.

Loho Liang, Komodo, Nusa Tenggara, IndonesiaOctober 23, 1999
Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis) Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis)
One of the ways Komodo dragons kill very large prey is by lying in ambush and taking out big bites as the prey animals go by. The traditional theory is that the lizards' mouths are generally storehouses of bacteria from all the dead things they scavenge, so the wound from the big bite is likely to get horribly infected and weaken and eventually kill the prey. We learned that the correct scientific term for this killing mechanism, according to Elliot Gould narrating on some Discovery Channel documentary, is "Mouth of Putrefaction". And you have to say it in the most dramatic possible way. The first picture here shows a little of that drool.

In the years since we visited, some researchers have come to a different conclusion: that Komodo dragons actually have venom that helps prevent the blood from clotting, among other effects. This, combined with the large open wounds inflicted by tearing with sharp teeth, causes the prey animals to weaken and bleed to death. I think there is still some controversy about this bacteria-vs-venom issue, but from my amateur point of view it looks like the venom theory is now more generally accepted.

The rangers used to throw dead goats out so tourists could watch a giant lizard feeding frenzy. Eventually people realized that the lizards were becoming dependent on this sort of handout, which is a bad thing. So they stopped the goat-tossing but were worried that travellers would stop visiting dragon-land if it was hard to find dragons. To try to avoid this dreary possibility, they built some concrete watering holes near the old feeding site. The watering holes are supposed to keep the prey animals around (deer, wild pigs, water buffalo, etc.). This may be true, but when we were there it just provided a nice place for several dragons to cool off from the tropical heat, and take the occasional swig. So this picture looks like it was taken in a zoo, but these are indeed actual wild lizards free to come and go as they please.

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