Fierce, gigantic and boasting a Top Trump Deadliest Predators killer rating of 79, Komodo dragons are not quite Smaug standard, yet, although they're about as close as you're going to want to get.
Heading into the wilderness alone to search for these prehistoric-looking beasts is not something we’d recommend. However, if you find yourself within Indonesia's Komodo National Park, to the southeast of Bali and Lombok, venture across these landscapes with an experienced park ranger and you'll be sure to seek out your quarry from a much safer perspective. In the meantime, we've compiled a few facts and figures relating to our forked-tongued friends, as well as advice on how you can undertake a Komodo dragon tour in the most responsible way possible.

Where do Komodo dragons live?

There are around 5,000 Komodo dragons living on the Indonesian islands of Komodo, Rinca and Flores within Komodo National Park. There are also thought to be somewhere in the region of 100 dragons on the island of Gili Motang but these are rarely glimpsed by visitors. These islands provide an ideal setting for dragons, who prefer hot, dry conditions within open grasslands and low-level tropical forests.
Justin Vieregge, from our supplier Odyssey World, offers advice on where to see Komodo dragons:
"Dragons on Komodo Island are bigger and more impressive, so this would be my first recommendation if you want to see them. It does, however, take longer to reach Komodo from Labuan Bajo (4hr cruise), so people on a tight schedule usually only visit Rinca Island (2.5hr cruise)."
What do Komodo dragons eat?

What do Komodo dragons eat?

Komodo dragons are carnivorous and also cannibalistic with a small percentage of their diet coming from recently hatched newborns. Pigs, deer and goats are considered fair game, although thanks to a keen sense of smell, stemming from their forked tongue, dead or dying animals are a Komodo dragon’s main meal.
What do Komodo dragons look like?

What do Komodo dragons look like?

Fully grown Komodo dragons are the largest lizards on the planet with a tail to tongue length of more than three metres and a body weight of over 90kg. Adults are a grey, brown, russet red colour whilst youngsters are greenish yellow with black stripes. An adult's saliva is said to feature 50 strains of bacteria which is used to poison the blood of prey in one bite. It's thought that Komodo dragons can live up to 30 years in the wild.

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Komodo dragon behaviour

What's typical Komodo dragon behaviour?

Komodo dragons are solitary creatures and only meet up for mating and feeding. They can run, in short bursts, at speed of up to 20km per hour, are really good swimmers, and have been known to dive to a depth of five metres. On land, young dragons can climb trees thanks to their sharp claws, and once they're older they use their back legs and tail to stand up against trees in order to reach climbing prey.
As cold blooded reptiles they enjoy time in the sun, although will seek out shade during the hottest part of the day and sleep at night in shallow, underground burrows. Throughout the rainy season, from January to March, they'll conserve warmth by lying in their burrows and only come out in search of food. Nests are also dug after the mating season, between May and August. Up to 20 eggs are laid in a camouflaged nest or shallow hole in September in order to incubate them for hatching the following April, which coincides with an increased insect population.
Young Komodo dragons often scuttle up trees to avoid being eaten by adults or other predators and take around nine years to reach maturity. Mating rituals, from May to August, consist of fights between males who stand on their hind legs and tails in order to dominate their rival suitors with sharp, talon-like-claws as they attempt to pin each other to the ground. Vomiting and defecating are both common pre-scrap rituals with the eventual winner flicking his tongue over the ‘lucky’ female which allows the male to learn more about her willingness to mate. Female Komodo dragons won't often mate without a fair amount of ‘playing hard to get’ which can result in ferocious biting and scratching wounds to the male.
Are Komodo dragons dangerous?

Are Komodo dragons dangerous?

In short: yes. Komodo dragons can be dangerous, very dangerous, but it’s also extremely rare for them to attack humans without provocation. You can only take a Komodo dragon tour of the islands with a national park ranger who will often come equipped with a large, Y-shaped stick that can be used to slap on the floor to keep a dragon at bay, or to pin a dragon down on the ground in the unlikely event of an attack.
How can I go on a Komodo dragon tour?

How can I go on a Komodo dragon tour?

There is more than one way to see these incredible creatures within their natural surroundings. Kayaking expeditions with nights spent in safari tents on private islands; liveaboard a boat cruises; day trips from an eco-lodge on Flores to Komodo or Rinca; you name it and we can help take you on a Komodo dragon tour of Jurassic proportions. Grab your map and compass and set sail for uncharted waters because this is a wonderfully unique opportunity to seek out a species that has survived on our planet for over four million years.
Written by Chris Owen
Photo credits: [Page banner: Poppet Maulding] [Topbox: Benjamin Hollis] [Intro : Adhi Rachdian] [Where live: Markofjohnson] [Quote: jeffrey manzini] [Eating: Jorge Láscar] [Look like: Shanker s.] [Behaviour - water: Benjamin Hollis] [Behaviour - sleep: oliver.todd] [Behaviour - mating: Partha Chowdhury] [Dangerous: Bryn Pinzgauer] [Tour: Partha Chowdhury]