Komodo Dragon Varanus komdoensis
Komodo dragons are native to Indonesia, and inhabit just four islands, Flores, Pandar, Rintja and the largest island, Komodo (hence the name).
Komodo dragons are the largest lizards in the world. Despite their size – adults may grow to 9 feet (3m) and weigh 200 pounds (80kg) -- they are surprisingly agile and can run up to 12 miles per hour (18 kph). Smaller dragons are expert climbers, which is necessary to escape their larger, cannibalistic brethren in the wild.
Adult dragons kill pigs or small deer in the wild by ambushing them and tearing the victim apart with their sharp teeth and claws. Animals that escape the initial attack usually die shortly after from even a small bite. The Komodo’s saliva contains many strains of virulent bacteria that is believed to kill their prey by infection, but in 2009 some researchers claimed that the saliva is venomous (although this is still being debated). They eat special diets in captivity, including small rodents, and while a bite should be avoided, captive dragons don’t carry as many strains of bacteria in their saliva as do the wild dragons.
Virginia Aquarium Komodo Dragons
A habitat that mimics the Komodo’s volcanic home on Flores Island, Indonesia houses two of the Virginia Aquarium’s three Komodo dragons. The largest, Teman, is about 6 feet (2m) long, and a younger brother-sister pair (Sanchez and Ki Ki) are 4.5 (1.5m) and 3.5 (1m) feet long, respenctively. Since Komodo dragons require natural light, both the exhibit habitat and the holding areas have specially-designed windows that allow sunlight to reach them. The habitat portion has a lovely view of Owls Creek, and the Komodos are rotated from holding areas to habitat areas to allow each dragon an opportunity to explore new sights and scents.
Komodo dragons are endangered and protected by international law.