|Geographical Range||Four southeastern islands of the Sunda Region of Indonesia|
|Habitat||Grasslands, savannas and monsoon forests at lower elevations|
|Scientific Name||Varanus komodoensis|
Here Be Dragons...
This modern-day "dragon" is one of the world's largest lizards. Males often grow to more than nine feet long, and it's not uncommon to find them measuring more than 10 feet in length and weighing up to 200 pounds. Females are slightly smaller, but still grow to more than seven feet long and weigh up to 150 pounds.
A Hearty Appetite
The Komodo is a very efficient predator. Its large size allows it to bring down prey animals that are indeed fit for a dragon. Komodos have been known to kill pigs, wild horses, deer and even water buffalos! (Not only that, but they can eat three-fourths of their body weight at one sitting. Burp!) Normally, however, they're content with more moderate meals -- like birds, snakes, fish, snails and small mammals.
The Komodo dragon also has an impressive "athletic" ability. It can run as fast as a human for short spurts. And like most other monitor lizards, it's agile enough to climb trees, and is a good swimmer. So most prey has little chance of escaping the reach of a hungry Komodo.
But what happens if a Komodo takes a bite out of its prey, and the victim manages to get away? Here lies the real secret of a Komodo's hunting success -- (are you ready?), its saliva! Scientists have found dozens of species of bacteria in a Komodo's saliva, many of them deadly. So if a prey animals survives the dragon's initial attack, it will most likely die of infection within a few days. As a bonus to help the Komodo find its long-lost victim, it can smell a dead animal more than five miles away (especially if the wind is right!) by using its sensitive tongue to "sniff" the air currents.
No Parent of the Year
Komodo dragons won't win any awards for good parenting (then again, neither will most reptiles). After mating, a mother dragon lays a clutch of up to 20-40 eggs in a nest mound of a brush. When the young lizards hatch seven months later, they're left to fend for themselves.
Many of the 12-inch long baby dragons fall victim to larger predators, which in many cases are adult Komodos! To avoid being eaten by their older relatives, the young dragons take to the trees, where they spend most of their time. They feed on insects and smaller lizards.
When the juveniles grow to about four feet long and can no longer find tree branches to support their weight (usually at age 4), they come down to the ground to live.
Even Dragons Have Problems
These modern-day dragons have problems of their own. Komodos live on only a few islands in Indonesia and their declining numbers have prompted scientists to list them as them threatened. Habitat destruction and poaching are the prime reasons, as well as periodic volcanoes, hurricanes and fires.