Komodo Dragons are the largest extant lizard of the present day, and are known for their exceptional group hunting. They are apex predators with a carnivorous diet, known to be both scavengers and opportunistic hunters. They will eat any kind of meat that is easily available to them, but do have their preference too.
What Does A Komodo Dragon Eat Exactly?
Adult Komodo Dragons will mostly dine on carrion in the wild. They will pick the bones of any carcass they find, and have even been known to dig them up. But they are known to be very effective hunters too. Most of their carnivorous diet is made up of the Sunda Sambar type of deer. They will also commonly eat invertebrates, wild boar, goats, water buffalo and other large prey that are unlucky enough to stumble into their ambush site.
There is even footage of komodo dragons eating monkey whole when they fall out of trees or come down to ground. They are also known to attack and eat other lizards including smaller komodo dragons. Komomdo dragons are notorious cannibals, mothers are even known to eat their own young. Attacks on humans have also been recorded.
What Do Young Komodo Dragons Eat?
In the wild, baby Komodo dragon hatchlings eat a diet of insects and small lizards, and this diet continues until they are about a year old and 3 feet in length. At this stage, young komodo dragons will also start to add rodents, geckos, eggs and birds to their diet, as well as scavenging on carrion. They don’t move onto larger prey until they reach around the age of 5.
How Do Komodo Dragons Eat
Komodo dragons have some pretty aggressive eating habits. With big prey, they tear large chunks of flesh and swallowing them without chewing, while at the same time holding the carcass down with their forelegs. With smaller prey, they are known to eat animals whole, and are not even too concerned if they are dead or not when they do. They can swallow down whole prey due to an intramandibular hinge that they have on their jaws, and an incredibly flexible skull. This allows them to open their lower jaw very wide and force food down.
When live prey struggle, komodo dragons have been known to swing their victims around, smashing them into rocks or trees to offer a fatal blow.
They can eat a whopping 80 percent of their body weight in a single feeding, but have a very slow metabolism. Because of this, large dragons can survive on as little as 12 meals a year. When they are done digesting their food, they regurgitate what is known as a gastric pellet, which is full of all the bits of bone, hair and bits that they are unable to digest.
As is common in the animal kingdom, with species that live in groups or packs, there is a hierarchy at the dinner table. The dominant dragon/s usually gets the first meal and the smaller dragons feed after. It’s not often a civilized affair though, and meal time can often lead to challenges of authority.
Komodo Dragons are ambush hunters. While they are known to chase down prey, and can run up to around 12 mph, they can’t maintain that for long. They prefer to hunt by ambush, and are in no hurry for their prey to die once attacked. A large animal may take days to succumb to an attack, but the dragons will be there to consume when the time is right.
They can see objects up to 300 meters away, but are not that great at perceiving stationary objects. While their vision is helpful it is their sense of taste that is their main tool for hunting.
The komodo dragon set up an ambush site along game trails, and will wait for unsuspecting prey to stumble along. Once close enough they will charge at the prey and if in a group they will often charge from different directions. They are known to be one of the best group hunters in the lizard kingdom. Other than hunting and breeding they are very solitary creatures.
Komodo dragons have a venomous bite. Research in the last decade or so has revealed that toxins that they carry in two glands in their lower jaw, contain proteins that act as an anticoagulant, induce shock and paralysis amongst other nasty things. If they don’t kill their hunt quickly, then an attack will take its toll over the course of a few days. It is this venom that allows them to take down large prey that may otherwise be able to fend them off and run away.
To catch prey that is out of reach, komodo dragons are able to stand on their hind legs and use their tails as support. They have also been known to use their tails to knock down large deer and pigs.
Importance of Komodo Dragons in the Ecosystem
Komodo dragons are apex predators, the only competition (other than humans) that komodo dragons need to worry about are other komodo dragons. They are important in their environment, stripping dead carcasses that would otherwise develop harmful bacteria. They keep the population of other species somewhat regulated, however in one study by the ESA (https://esajournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ecy.2970), it was determined that their activity was not so significant in regulating the population of two large species of prey.
They face stiff competition for their main food source, Sunda deer from humans. This has put pressure on populations on many of their existing island habitats.
Threats to Komodo Dragons
The largest risk to the survival of the Komodo Dragon is encroachment by humans, destruction of environment and poaching of prey such as the Sunda deer. As of 2015, there were approximately 3,000 living Komodo dragons in the wild.
Climate change poses a major risk for the natural habitat of komodo dragons in the future. Rising sea levels are set to claim much of their habitat, despite our best conservation efforts. For the survival of the species, it may be necessary to find new locations in which to introduce them, but that is easier said than done.
They are classed as ‘Vulnerable’ by the IUCN Red List and are protected under Indonesian law
Did you know?
- Baby Komodo Dragons are great at climbing trees, with good, sharp claws to help them do so. They often do this to avoid being eaten by bigger komodo dragons. As they get bigger their claws become less effective for climbing and they lose the ability.
- The blood plasma of the komodo dragon contains an antibacterial peptide that may one day benefit medicine in combating drug resistant pathogens and bacteria.
- Komodo dragons drink by sucking water into its mouth and raising its neck vertically, utilizing a process called buccal pumping.
- Komodo dragons can eat up to 80% of it’s body weight in a single meal. But if threatened, they can eject the contents of their stomach to enable them to run faster.