Komodo dragon had survived for million of years in isolated island in Eastern Indonesia. Its phenomenal size, deadly bites and rarity had earned it an international reputation. Could this species survive for another million of years?
Komodo dragon is originated 40 million years ago in Asia. The species migrated to Australia around 15 million years ago and evolved there before spreading to Indonesia around four million years ago. Most lizards had died ever since unless in Lesser Sunda Islands in eastern part of Indonesia that had been isolated by rising sea levels occurred some nine hundred years ago during the last glacial period. First record of the dragon was made by European scientist in 1910.
With average length of 6-10ft and weight up to 150lb, Komodo is the largest and heaviest lizard on the planet. The females are smaller than the males. Komodo is a fast moving reptile; it can run up to 20 kilometers per hour. It is also a good swimmer and good tree climber when young. Its 60 serrated teeth enable it to cut out its prey easily.
Komodo has a good sense of smell but it cannot hear very well. It can differentiate color but has poor night vision. The dragon very much depends on its tongue to detect object and to smell and taste its prey. The tongue also helps navigating during the night.
Komodo dragon can only be found in National Parks in Komodo Island, Indonesia and other surrounding islands of Rinca, Gili, Padar and Montang. A national park was founded in 1980 on Komodo, Rinca and Padar Islands.
This solitary animal mate between May and August and the females lay eggs in September. One female can lay 15 to 30 eggs at a time. The nesting period is 8 to 9 months. The hatchlings reach maturity in five years with life expectancy ranging from 20-50 years. In the absence of male individual, the female can still lay eggs and produce only male offspring. Some komodo may be monogamous.
Komodo’s favorite menus include deer, water buffalo, goats, pigs and other reptiles. Komodo is cannibalistic. That’s why baby komodos spend the first one year of their life up on three branches to avoid being eaten by the adults. Sick injured and old dragons are also easy target for the others. When necessary, the dragons can stand on its hind leg and uses its muscular tail as support.
Komodo has good appetite and it does eat a lot and fast. In one meal, it can eat up to 80% of its body weight. With the help of its flexible skulls and expandable stomach, komodo can swallow large chunks of meat. With its highly sensitive sensor, komodo can smell rotting carcasses
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Komodo dragon’s saliva contains 57 different strains of virulent bacteria. Blood stain in the dragon’s mouth helps keep the bacteria alive. In addition to the bacteria, komodo has venom glands that produce toxic protein. One bite from a komodo dragon will definitely cause deadly infection within hours even if the victims can survive the original attack.
Attack on human
Though very rare, several attacks on human had been recorded. In 2007 an eight years old boy was killed by a komodo. In 2009 two dragons attacked and killed a fisherman after he fell out of a tree. On March 2010 one komodo grabbed the foot of a park ranger. Luckily other fellow ranger could drive the komodo away and get the wounded ranger to hospital in time. On May the same year another ranger was attacked, but he was lucky to get away only with minor wounds.
The Villagers, who had been living alongside the dragons in peace for generations, now start to feel fear when the numbers of attacks increase. The villager usually feed the komodo with deer but since 1994 this practice is prohibited. Lack of food and hunger may have been the cause of increased attack on human. Hungry komodo often attracted by the smell of drying fish from nearby village. Komodo also has the habit of digging graves to search and eat human corpses. The villagers still do not know the best way to live with this deadly reptile in the future.
Since the colonial era, the Dutch government had outlawed the hunting of this reptile. The number of individuals taken for scientific studies is also strictly limited. Today, Indonesian government had continued this effort. With only 3000 to 5000 individuals left in the wild, the species had been listed as vulnerable.
The threat mostly comes from illegal poaching, natural disaster and loss of prey. Population at Padar Island had disappeared following a wildfire. Volcanic activity and earthquake also pose a major problem. Commercial trade of komodo’s skin had been prohibited to protect the animal from illegal poaching. Hopefully this efforts can help komodo dragon to survive for another million of years.