Native to the Nusa Tenggara archipelago of East Indonesia and not found anywhere else in the world, the Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis) roams proudly in the islands of the Komodo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Scientists have identified Australia as the birthplace of the Komodo Dragon. In Eastern Australia, fossils identical to the bones of present-day Komodo Dragons date as far back as four million years ago! Studies presenting fossil evidence from Australia, Timor, Flores, Java and India show that Komodo Dragons most likely migrated westward from Down Under to Indonesia.
Despite being a carnivore, it’s important to point out that Komodo Dragons are typically non-aggressive towards humans, just in case you are wondering! To enjoy your experience, follow the Ranger’s advice and instructions during land-based excursions in the Park.
Komodo Dragon’s Secret Weapon
Laced with venomous proteins in the form of potent anticoagulants (compounds that prevent blood clots), the saliva of the Komodo Dragon makes it one of the most efficient predatory creatures known to mankind. Komodo Dragons typically feed on wild deer and pigs; one venom-filled bite and their prey will bleed non-stop. How’s that for quick dinner prep?
To protect their territory and food supply, a Komodo Dragon have no qualms about engaging in a physical battle with a competitor that enters his/her hunting area. On a Komodo National Park excursion with Aqua Expeditions, you may witness the spectacle of two Komodo Dragons in the middle of a showdown!
Here lies the fascinating bit, when Komodo Dragons bite each other, they don’t bleed non-stop like their prey do. All the losing Komodo Dragon suffers are minor injuries and possibly a fair bit of humiliation.
Why won’t Komodo Dragons bleed to death when they bite one another? Genome scientists have recently found evidence to suggest that, at some point in history, these creatures developed special genes, with encoded protein structures that provide resistance against their own venomous anticoagulants.
Although scientists from the study are interested in mixing dragon saliva and blood together in a dish to see how the Dragon’s proteins actually work, that may take a while. “They don’t really want to give up bodily fluids,” says Katherine Pollard, an epidemiologist and biostatistician at the University of California, San Francisco, as well as a researcher at the Gladstone Institutes.
Other amazing Komodo Dragon abilities
If there’s one disadvantage, Komodo Dragons have very poor eyesight for a predator. Able to see up to just 0.18 miles (300m) in the day and even less at night, Komodo Dragons are unable to admire the stunning views of the rugged coastal habitat that so many human explorers come here for!
Evolution has, however, ensured that Komodo Dragons can hunt for survival, using their sense of smell instead of their sight. Scientists found that Dragons have far more sensory receptors than other lizards, giving them an uncanny ability to sniff out their prey from as far away as 5.9 miles (9.5km)!
At close range, Komodo Dragons can pursue their prey at speeds of up to 12 mph (19 kmh), making them slower than most human beings (15 mph) but among the quickest in the lizard family. Dr. Pollard and her colleagues have managed to attribute the lightning quick speed of Komodo Dragons to their unique mitochondria — cellular structures responsible for generating energy.
Why are they so big?
The Komodo Dragon is the largest lizard to walk the Earth today; adult Komodo Dragons weigh in at more than 350 pounds (158 kg) and measure longer than 12 feet (3.6 meters)!
For their efforts, Dr. Pollard and her team found no particular insights into the lizards’ giant size. To be exact, there were no obvious changes to genes involved in development and growth, as one might expect if there had been positive selection among Komodo Dragons (i.e. a preference to mate with larger sized Dragons).
This leaves a possible, and mind-blowing explanation for Komodo Dragon’s size: this was how lizards were always supposed to be — enormous. Extinction events throughout history may have wiped out even bigger species, leaving Komodo Dragons behind as the largest still surviving species.
The tiny lizards that we see in our homes? That’s likely to have been a more recent development. “Perhaps the Komodos are the normal ones,” Dr. Pollard speculates, and everyone else has shrunk through the ages.