Why the Komodo Dragon Is an Animal to Respect, Not Fear

These ancient lizards can be found on an archipelago in Indonesia.

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The Komodo dragon, weighing in at 300 pounds, is the largest lizard in the world. By: wwarby

Anyone who’s watched any of the Jurassic Park movies knows that dinosaurs are to be feared (and that Chris Pratt is looking pretty good in that latest one).

But you may be surprised to know that there is a creature living today that resembles those dinosaurs — the Komodo dragon.

So are these so-called scary monsters really as fearsome as those CGI dinos we see on the big screen? Let’s take a look.

Where They Come From

According to a study published in PLOS ONE, the Komodo dragon has been around for at least 900,000 years. Fossils discovered from that time period are almost identical to the bones of the current Komodo, meaning that this animal has changed very little since that time.

There’s a lot of history to distill, but the Komodo likely evolved from the Mosasaur, a marine reptile that went extinct about 65 million years ago. While Komodo dragons were originally found in Australia, their numbers have decreased, and now this lizard can be found only in the archipelago of Floris in Indonesia.

So Komodos could be classified as modern-day dinosaurs, I suppose. But they don’t seem all that scary to me.

Characteristics

In the book Komodo Dragons: Biology and Conservation, the Komodo is described in detail. The Komodo dragon:

  • Is the largest lizard in the world, reaching up to 10 feet in length and 300 pounds
  • Ranges in color between black, brown, gray and green, with the occasional white patch
  • Has thick and tough skin, which can droop from the body
  • Has sharp, pointed teeth to better enable them to tear into their prey
  • Can swim and swims often to nearby islands
  • Lays eggs

The Komodo also has a long, strong tail used for support and fighting. The animal certainly resembles both the mighty lizards of old and its much smaller cousins of today.

The Komodo dragon’s mouth contains around 50 strains of bacteria that can cause blood poisoning in prey. By: schristia

Hunting

The Komodo is primarily a scavenger, but it will hunt other prey as well. Komodos eat snakes, birds, rodents, shrews and other warm-blooded mammals. But Komodos will also eat hatchlings should they stumble across them — and may attack prey larger than themselves, such as buffalo and horses.

Although the Komodo can run at a respectable 13 miles per hour, it prefers to take its prey by ambush. These lizards have good vision and an excellent sense of smell, and will lie in wait for hours if necessary for prey to cross their path.

The Komodo will spring out and attack. Even if the unfortunate prey manages to escape, they will still likely die — the Komodo’s mouth contains 50 or more strains of bacteria that will cause blood poisoning.

Yikes.

Fear Factor

Although the Komodo was “discovered” by the Western world in 1912, natives have managed to coexist with the animal for centuries, with few fatalities.

Occasionally a Komodo will attack a human — to them, we’re just another warm-blooded mammal. But unlike the dramatic portrayals of Hollywood giants, these lizards will not seek us out specifically. They are primarily scavengers.

Watch these Komodo dragons duke it out:

Komodo dragons are survivors from a prehistoric age and carry with them a fascinating history. They managed to survive while other species perished by evolving to meet the demands of a new world. These lizards survived a massive volcanic eruption on Flores close to 900,000 years ago, which wiped out most animal life on the island.

Komodo dragons should not be inherently feared but rather respected. They survived every curveball that nature has thrown at them. In fact, their most immediate threat now is humans. There are only 3,000–5,000 Komodos left in the world.

So certainly afford the Komodo dragon the respect it deserves, but don’t fear it needlessly. When visiting its home, simply take precautions that are common sense: Stay with guides, on walkways and in designated areas.

And though it’s probably not a good idea to take in one of these massive lizards as a pet, take the time to learn more about this fascinating animal — you’ll be glad you did.

Melissa Smith

View posts by Melissa Smith
Melissa Smith, discussions manager for Petful, has been researching and writing about pet behaviors for several years. A longtime pet lover, she lives in Massachusetts with her teenage son, their cat Harrison and the spirit of their German shepherd named Gypsy. Melissa is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in multimedia design and hopes to adopt as many needy animals as she can.

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