Reptile - Komodo Dragon


Varanus komodoensis

Komodo dragons are revered as one of Indonesia’s national treasures. These giant reptiles are the largest and heaviest of all lizards on earth and descendants of what is thought to be the largest venomous animal to have ever existed (Varanus priscus).

30+ years (estimate) but scientists are still studying this

Carrion, deer, goats, pigs, and even smaller Komodo dragons

Tropical savanna forests

Limited to the Lesser Sunda Islands of Indonesia

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Komodo dragons are the heaviest lizards on the planet. They have long, flat heads with rounded snouts, scaly skin, bowed legs, and huge, muscular tails.

  • Length: average 8 feet; up to 10 feet
  • Weight: average 100lbs; largest recorded weighed more than 300lbs

Territorial Behavior
Komodo dragons tend to be solitary except during mating season. Fighting during mating season is common as the male dragons engage in violent altercations often ending with the "loser" retreating with bloody wounds.

Reproductive Behavior
Females will lay an average of 18 or up to 30 eggs in burrows or in very large abandoned nests of megapodes (several species of chicken-like birds). While females will protect the eggs during the nine-month incubation period, there is little evidence of parental care after the young hatch.

The juveniles, in fending for themselves, are capable of climbing trees to avoid predators and search for food.

Can you believe this?
Komodos have been observed cannibalizing (eating their own species) the young, so juveniles will often roll in carrion intestines or the fecal matter of adult dragons. The smell will throw off a potential attack by an adult who is programmed to avoid a mature dragon.

Komodos have thrived in the harsh Indonesian climate for millions of years. While they appear to prefer the tropical forests, they can be found across the islands from the beach inward.

Komodo dragons are not particularly finicky eaters but have been known to bring down a meal larger than themselves. Their sharp serrated teeth, one of their deadliest weapons, act as efficient tools for eating, easily ripping at the tough flesh of prey.

Adults prefer deer, goats, monkeys, rodents, and even other Komodo dragons.

How do they find their meals?
With the use of their forked tongue and a special feature on the roof of their mouth called a Jacobson’s organ that helps identify airborne molecules, Komodo dragons can detect some prey as far as 4km away.

How can they eat such large meals?
Watching a Komodo dragon eat can be fascinating as they swallow large chunks of meat with great speed. They have extremely strong muscles in their jaw, throat, and neck and several movable joints, such as the intra-mandibular hinge which opens the lower jaw unusually wide. The stomach expands and is flexible allowing an adult dragon to ingest as much as 80% of its own body weight in a single meal!

Want to know something really interesting?
Just as quickly as they can consume large amounts, when threatened, Komodos can also regurgitate the contents of their stomachs to lessen their weight in order to flee. Since they also ingest the fur and bones of their prey, Komodo dragons regurgitate "pellets" of this undigested matter.

Venom-Bacteria Debate
Komodo dragons have long been thought to kill their prey with high levels of bacteria in their saliva. Experts accepted the conclusion that the prey died of sepsis. However, a Komodo an Australia-based researcher observed a keeper at the Singapore Zoo, who had been bit by a Komodo dragon, bleed for an unusually long period of time. He discovered that these lizards actually have a large venom gland below their jaw and was able to extract venom from a terminally ill lizard to study. It is now known that Komodo dragons are venomous and that their toxin lowers the blood pressure of a bite victim and prevents blood clotting, both of which would weaken a prey and cause it to go into shock.

Here at the Virginia Aquarium:
Occasionally, our resident dragons are challenged with a large enrichment meal that offers guests a wonderful glimpse into their eating behaviors.

Conservation of this ancient species is of great concern and the good news is limited. However, we can celebrate the fact that this animal is highly valued, and with more and more organizations sharing information about ways each of us can help, we can have hope. Even making simple informed changes in the food and hygiene products we choose to purchase can have a profound impact. The resident Komodo dragons at the Virginia Aquarium are part of the greater AZA Species Protection Plan Program. You can read more on our Conservation in Action page.

Population estimate: 5,000


Limited Range - Their range is limited to a few Indonesian islands (Lesser Sunda Islands) including Rinca, Padar, Flores, and of course Komodo. Though dragons have not been seen on the island of Padar since the 1970s. The limited range naturally limits the space where these amazing ancient animals can thrive and with human populations growing, their range is threatened.

Human Impact - Thousands of tourists eager to see these large reptiles flock to the region year after year, and while tourism positively impacts local communities, the conservation impacts are often detrimental. Even with protective laws in place illegal poaching also continues to play a role in population decline. Indonesia has taken measures to limit the impact of tourism on islands like Komodo.

Resident Komodo Dragon


  • Hatched out at the Denver Zoo in 2003
  • Arrived at the Virginia Aquarium in 2006
  • Even at a whopping 95lbs., Teman is the calmer and more laid back of our dragons.
  • Sired our 2 juveniles, who hatched here at the Virginia Aquarium in 2016.

Teman responds to his name and comes when called. He has learned to follow a target pole or laser pointer which makes the interactions with his handlers safer for everyone.

IUCN Classification

A taxon is Endangered (EN) when the best available evidence indicates that it meets any of the criteria A to E for Endangered, and it is therefore considered to be facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild.