Komodos don’t need to eat often, but when they do they can take a lot: up to 80% of their body weight. What’s 80% of your weight?
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Komodo monitors, commonly known as Komodo dragons, are the largest lizards in the world. Their unusual size has evolved as the result of needing less food (a slow metabolism) and not having to compete with other carnivores on their island habitat. A top predator, their hunting strategy is based on stealth and power.
What They Eat
Where They Live
What They Do
How They’re Doing
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The saliva of the Komodo dragon contains close to 50 types of bacteria, many of wich are highly toxic.
Komodo dragons are capable of stretching and unhinging their jaws, which enables them to eat large prey. They usually consume their prey whole, but will tear in into pieces if necessary.
Infant Komodo dragons may roll themselves in the guts and feces of prey animals to mask their smell and avoid being eaten by mature Komodo dragons.Much like a shark, Komodo dragons go through 4 or 5 sets of teeth throughout their life. Their mouth contains 60 sharp teeth, flattened and serrated, and perfect for cutting and tearing food.
Care at the Zoo
Keeping Komodo dragons healthy in captivity requires giving them special care. This is accomplished by meeting both their physical and psychological needs.
Reptiles rely on heat from their environment to keep themselves warm. On the tropical island homes where Komodo dragons live, the sun keeps the ground warm all day. The Minnesota Zoo is far from the equator, and the average temperature in the Tropics building is 75º F, which is too cool for Komodo dragons. At the zoo, a radiant floor heating system helps keep the dragons warm by circulating hot water through tubing imbedded in the soil covered cement floors and rocks in the exhibit, making them warm for the Komodo dragons.
Enrichment (providing a stimulating environment) is another way to address the physical and psychological needs of zoo animals. Similar to snakes, Komodo dragons have a sensory organ in the roof of their mouths known as the Jacobson's organ, which they use to “taste” the air and track their prey. With a flick of their forked tongue, dragons capture molecules from the air and transfer them to this special organ, which interprets the smell. In the wild, Komodos are capable of trailing injured prey or smelling carrion from several miles away.
Keepers at the zoo encourage our Komodos to use their natural ability to track prey by creating scent trails. This is done by dragging food items such as dead rats and chickens through the sand and over the plants and logs in the exhibit. After the trail is created, the dragons are let out into the enclosure to hunt for the food located along and at the end of the trail.
In addition to food enrichment, habitat or environmental enrichment is also important for the Komodo dragons. Large branches to perch on, heated pools to soak in, and varied heat zones throughout the exhibit all provide opportunities for our Komodo dragons to exhibit natural behavior.
Meet the Animals
Minnesota Zoo’s original Komodo dragons were a gift from the President of Indonesia where they are a national treasure.
Komodo dragons are endangered due in part to their limited range. Komodo National Park, established in 1980, and strict anti-poaching laws have helped protect the dragons.
The Minnesota Zoo is active in the Komodo Dragon Species Survival Program (SSP), a captive breeding program designed to maintain a genetically healthy population of dragons in captivity. In 2002, on the recommendation of the SSP, one of the Minnesota Zoo’s Komodos was sent to the Toronto Zoo to be paired with two female dragons. The breeding was successful and in 2003, “Satu,” meaning “number one,” was the first Komodo dragon hatched in Canada!
In 1998, BJ Schoeberl, Minnesota Zoo Tropics Supervisor, traveled to Indonesia with five other zoo professionals to collect information on wild Komodo dragons. While there, she observed a wild female nesting and hatchlings emerging from a burrow. The data she helped collect has been extremely helpful to the successful management and breeding of Komodos through the Komodo DragonSSP.
Komodo dragons are the largest of the world’s living lizards. The largest confirmed specimen measured 10 feet 2 inches and weighed 350 pounds! Males grow to 7-9 feet and weigh approximately 200 pounds or more, while females attain a length of 6-8 feet. Young monitors can be colorful, with hues of yellow, green and white banding, and dots on a dark background. As they mature, they change to dull black, gray, or green. Young Komodos are slender and have longer tails. Adults are much heavier, with tails making up about half of their total body length.
Range and Habitat
Like other reptiles, Komodos rely on their environment to regulate their body temperature. They prefer a body temperature of approximately 97º F and spend much of their day trying to achieve and maintain their optimal temperature. To do this, they seek out warm areas in the morning, cool areas during the hottest parts of the day, and may burrow to conserve body heat overnight.
Habits and Adaptations