Apart from being earth’s heaviest lizard, behaviors like man-eating and grave-robbing are the Komodo dragons biggest claims to fame.
But did you know that these guys are also surprisingly intelligent—even playful—creatures gifted at both long-distance swims and virgin births? Read on to learn more.
- They’re also called Oras.
Western scientists didn’t find out about the giant reptiles until 1912, but long before they finally showed up on academia’s radar, Komodo Island natives had given them the name “ora,” which means “land crocodile.”
- Komodos are excellent swimmers.
Traveling between Indonesian islands is often a necessity for hungry Komodo dragons; the animals are sometimes spotted paddling along miles off shore.
- Around These carnivores, no carcass is safe.
Snakes and many lizards have forked tongues to pick up microscopic, airborne taste particles and its prongs are inserted into the animal’s Jacobson’s organ (located on the roof of its mouth). This enables the reptile to identify whatever flavors it’s just picked up from more than two miles away.
- George H.W. Bush received a live one as a gift.
Halfway through his only term, Bush 41 was given an ora male, courtesy of Indonesia’s government, named Naga. While the idea of letting a giant varanid prowl around the Oval Office sounds pretty awesome, the president instead chose to hand him over to the Cincinnati Zoo. After fathering 32 youngsters, the illustrious critter passed away in 2007 at the respectable age of 24.
- We recently learned that they’re venomous.
Ten years ago, scientists believed that these scavengers have saliva laden with really deadly bacteria, and that bites containing the spit were potent enough to bring down a water buffalo. But that wasn’t actually the case: In 2009, biochemist Brian Fry found venom glands in these lizards. Situated in the lower jaw, these release a nasty cocktail that causes paralysis, extreme blood loss, inadequate clotting, tissue damage, and excruciating pain. Those poor buffaloes never stood a chance.
- Komodos can consume 80 percent of their body weight in one sitting.
Having freakishly-flexible jaws really helps these creatures gorge. Komodos can swallow smallish animals (like mid-sized piglets) whole.
- During the last 41 years, they’ve killed at least four people.
Mortal encounters were documented in 1974, 2000, 2007, and 2009. The most recent attack involved a man who fell from an apple tree and was mauled by two dragons while lying dazed on the ground. As a general rule, Komodo dragons prefer raiding graves to eat man flesh, so natives frequently pile rocks over their loved ones’ tombs as a deterrent.
- Females can reproduce without having sex.
When no males are around, female Komodo dragons—like certain other lizards—may practice something called “parthenogenesis.” Basically, this means that, in lieu of sperm, certain egg cells can fertilize each other.
- Smaller ones roll around in feces to avoid getting cannibalized.
Adults are anything but picky eaters and won’t think twice about devouring their own offspring. Until they grow large enough to fend for themselves, young Komodos keep away from hungry grown-ups by taking to the trees, where they become nimble, branch-climbing predators.
- Komodos demonstrate play behavior.
Kraken, a resident of the National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C., is slowly changing the way scientists look at reptiles. Over the years, she has learned to come when whistled to and can even recognize her individual caretakers. But that’s not all: Kraken may even have a fun-loving side.