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Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis) Fact Sheet: Diet & Feeding

Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis)

Diet

  • Opportunistic carnivores. Feed on a wide variety of prey.
  • Hatchlings feed exclusively on insects (beetles and grasshoppers).
  • Small komodos tend to be arboreal and feed on smaller lizards, insects birds and their eggs.
  • Medium Komodos feed largely on rodents (rats, shrews) birds (megapodes and various small species) geckos, skinks and small snakes.
  • Large Komodos feed on carrion or hunt animals along game trails: wild boar, sunda deer, water buffalo, large snakes, occasionally smaller Komodos.

Feeding

  • About 16 scavenging dragons occupy one sq km
  • Large Komodos kill about one large prey ungulate (deer or boar) per month. This is supplemented with small prey (birds, rats)
  • Most lizards have broad flat tongues that are used primarily for food handling but varanids have snake-like tongues which lack tastebuds and can be retracted into a sheath. As the lizard searches for food or explores, the tongue is moved up and down through an arc sampling about 7 sq cm of air. Odor molecules are then carried back to the vomeronasal organs
  • Jaws close rapidly (enabling capture of fast-moving prey.) Prey is held (sometimes thrashed) until all movement ceases. Small prey is swallowed whole, usually head first. Large prey is sliced in pieces and devoured.
  • Tongue is partially attached to a skeletal structure called the hyoid apparatus. All snakes and lizards have such a structure which helps in swallowing large food items.
  • Swallowing is accomplished by pushing prey down the throat while the flexible jaws move forward to engulf it. Large prey is torn apart. The hyoid apparatus moves it back to the esophagus. Neck muscles bend from side to side to move food through the esophagus.
  • Ingestion rate may be as much as 2.5 kg/min - higher than any other predator except large snakes.
  • After a heavy feeding, Komodos drink from water holes produced by wild boar
  • High digestive efficiency (70-90%)
    • Time is dependent upon temperature (about 26 hours at normal body temperature); cool nights can delay to almost 5 days.
    • Stress can slow or even stop digestion (defecation of partially digested prey may occur)
  • Similar to owls, all varanids regurgitate gastric pellets of undigestible material.
  • Fecal pellets may include hair, feathers, partly digested bones, hooves, teeth, and claws and are excreted covered with a semisolid, white uric acid paste.
  • Researchers identified venom in the saliva of monitor lizards, and venom-producing glands (Fry et al. 2006; Fry etl a. 2009)
    • The idea that bacteria-laden saliva contributes to their success in killing their prey (Auffenberg, 1981) is discounted
    • A comparatively high venom yield and large gland size argue convincingly for venom being vital to monitors' predation

Dragon Food

komodo dragon eating

Komodo dragons possess resistance to the harmful bacteria found in the carrion they consume.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Global. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Auffenberg (1980, 1981)
Burden (1927)
Fry et al. (2006)

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