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Monday, August 4, 2008

Entirely the wrong size for a lizard to be…

Posted by: Jona Jacobson, Woodland Park Zoo Conservation

“Komodo lizards are…big. Very big. There’s one on Komodo at the moment which is over twelve feet long and stands about a yard high, which you can’t help but feel is entirely the wrong size for a lizard to be.” - Douglas Adams, Last Chance to See

While big, most Komodo dragons don’t reach quite that size, averaging between 6.5 to 10 feet and weighing in at around 150 pounds. Komodo dragons are the vultures of the four Eastern Indonesian islands they inhabit: they eat carrion.

That doesn’t mean, however, they won’t eat other things as well, including hatchling Komodo dragons, whose survival instincts have them scurrying up trees, where they stay until large enough to not be such easy snacks for the adults.

WPZ has provided funding to the Komodo Survival Program since 2000. The group’s recent study examines the spatial ecology of juvenile Komodo dragons. Huh, you ask?

Field researchers captured 5 hatchling and 7 juvenile dragons to study where young Komodo dragons hang out, basically. Transmitters were attached to the dragons’ tails using duct tape, and positions recorded via GPS. Neither group moved at night: Komodo dragons’ eyes lack rods, and since they have only cones, it is believed they have poor night vision. Researchers also found that hatchling Komodo dragons are arboreal, while larger juveniles are terrestrial. Diet and avoidance of predation from other dragons seem to be factors contributing to hatchling behavior. By understanding the habitat requirements of dragons, researchers hope to improve species management.

For more information about the zoo’s conservation programs, check out our conservation homepage: http://www.zoo.org/conservation/conservation.html.

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