One of the most interesting, unique, and largest lizards in the world is the Komodo dragon. One such dragon reached a length of 10.3 feet and weighed 356 pounds, and the largest wild dragons can typically weigh about 154 pounds.
They have long tails, strong agile necks, and sturdy limbs. The adult Komodo dragon has an almost-uniform stone color with large scales, but juvenile dragons may display more vibrant coloring and patterning. Their tongues are forked and yellow matching their draconian name.
The Komodo dragon's jaw and throat muscles allow it to swallow huge chunks of meat very quickly. There are several moveable joints such as the lower jaw which can open unusually wide using the intramandibular hinge and an expanding stomach enabling an adult to consume up to 80 percent of its own body weight in a single meal. When a dragon is threatened, it can throw up the contents of its stomach to lessen their weight and flee from a predator.
Determining the sex of a dragon is often difficult though males tend to grow larger and bulkier than females, and one small clue does exist. There is a slight difference in the arrangement of scales just in front of the cloaca, which is located at the end of their digestive tract.
The Komodo dragons are mostly found on a few Indonesian islands of the lesser Sundra group including Rintja, Padar, and Flores, plus the island of Komodo. They live in tropical savanna forests but can be found in other places on the island from beaches to the tops of ridges.
The Komodo dragon's vision plays a vital role in hunting and can see objects as far away as 985 feet, but they have a much smaller hearing range than humans. They cannot hear such sounds as a low-pitched voice or a high-pitched scream. In addition, they may be able to distinguish color but have poor vision in dim light.
Their sense of smell is their primary food detector using its long, yellow forked tongue like a snake to sample the air. The chemical analyzers 'smell' a deer by recognizing airborne molecules. They can also determine which direction the deer may be approaching from, the left or the right. The system along with its walk in which the head swings from side-to-side helps the dragon sense the existence and direction of odors from as far away as 2.5 miles when the wind is right.
Once a Komodo dragon hunts and catches its prey, such as a deer, it attacks feet first knocking the deer off balance. With smaller prey, the dragon may lunge straight for the neck, using strong muscles and powerful claws, but its teeth are the most dangerous weapon. They are large and curved and can tear flesh very efficiently.
They eat almost any kind of meat and stalk animals from small rodents to large water buffalo, though the young feed mostly on small gecko lizards or insects. A Komodo dragon housed at the Smithsonian National Zoo eats rodents, chicks, and rabbits each week and sometimes fish.
Most mating occurs between May and August. Dominant males can become embroiled in ritual combat in their quest for females. The female Komodo lays about 30 eggs in depressions dug on hill slopes or within nests of heaped earth mixed with twigs that may reach 3 feet in height and a width of 10 feet. Eggs incubate about nine months and following birth, there is no evidence for parental care of newly hatched Komodo dragons. Hatchlings weigh less than 3.5 ounces and stretch 6.5 feet long. Growth continues throughout their lifespan which is about 30 years in the wild.
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