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Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis) Fact Sheet: Taxonomy & History

Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis)

Taxonomy and Nomenclature


  • The genus name "Varanus" was introduced in 1820 by German professor, Blasius Merrem.
    • Latinization of the Arabic "waran," the Egyptian name for the Nile monitor. (Egyptians believed that these lizards served as "monitors," alerting people to the presence of crocodiles.)
  • 70 species and subspecies of Varanus have been described but only 50 species are currently recognized
    • Size is the most variable anatomical characteristic in the family (length varies from 0.32 m to 3.5 m)
    • All species are similar in appearance
  • The family Varanidae includes the largest living lizards
  • First mention of Komodo dragon in scientific literature:
    • Peter Owens in 1912 mentions "Varanus species of an unusual size" from Komodo Island

Common Names

  • Komodo Dragon ("Komodo" is the name of one of the islands on which they are found.)
  • "Ora" is a local name in the Mangarrai dialect.
  • The Hindi name "biscobra" implies that it is twice as deadly as the cobra.
  • The Malaysian name "buaja darat" means land crocodile.
  • Members of the Varanidae family are commonly referred to "varanids," "monitors," or (in Australia) "goannas."


Evolutionary History

  • The oldest varanoid fossils (95 million years ago, Cretaceous) are related to the early monosaurs and snakes.
    • Lived in Europe and Asia
  • Genus Varanus first recognized in the fossil record from about 34 million years ago (Late Eocene) (Homes et al. 2010)
    • Fossils found in Egypt; dispersals followed into Europe, Asia, Australia
  • A direct ancestor of the Komodo Dragon is the gigantic Pleistocene fossil Megalania prisca from Pleistocene deposits in eastern Australia.


Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Reptilia (Laurenti, 1768) - reptiles

Order: Squamata (Oppel, 1811) - amphibians, lizards, snakes

Family: Varanidae - monitors, monitor lizards

Genus: Varanus (Merrem, 1820)

Species: Varanus komodoensis - Komodo dragon

Source: Integrated Taxnomic Information System (2017)

Page Citations

Ciofi (2004)
Green & King (1991)
Molnar (2004)
Molnar & Pianka (2004)
IBL Reptile Database (1997)
Zug (1993)

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