Komodo dragons (Varanus komodoensis), the largest lizards in the world, are found on the Indonesian island of Komodo from which they derive their name. They are also found on the neighbouring islands of Rinca and Flores.
Komodo dragons have a bulky body, with stocky legs, clay-coloured scaly skin for camouflage and a long muscular tail. Males can measure up to 3 m (10 ft) in length and can weigh almost 80 kg (176 lb). They use these tongues to pick up smell, from even a mile away and eat wild buffalo, deer, snakes, fish and pigs.
They are formidable predators and their insatiable appetite has added to their ferocious reputation. The bacteria that is contained in their saliva is so lethal that even a bite can be dangerous. If the victim manages to escape an attack, it is likely to die from the infection within a week.
Most lizards are vegetarian but this giant lizard eats only meat. It can consume up to 80% of its body weight at one time. It has about 60 short sharp teeth to cut and tear flesh. It can run as fast as humans for short distances and are known to swim from island to island in the water. Komodo dragons are believed to be the source of Chinese legends and folklore involving large, scaly, man-eating monsters.
Your chances of seeing one in the wild
Since they are found only in limited areas, Komodo dragons are extremely vulnerable to extinction due to human activity. Numbers have been reduced to a mere fraction of what they were - through habitat loss, loss of prey species, and hunting.
There are approx. 6,000 Komodo dragons left in existence and only about 350 breeding females. They have recently become a major attraction for tourists, and hopefully this economic incentive will help to conserve this enigmatic species. They are listed as 'vulnerable' in the IUCN (World Conservation Union) Red List of Threatened Species.