Komodo dragons are large, powerful lizards–the largest lizards in the world, in fact. With a distinction like that, you would probably imagine that these huge lizards have an appetite to match their size–and you would be correct. So, what does a Komodo dragon eat? How much can it eat at a time, and how does it kill its prey? Keep reading! In this article, we’ll answer all of these questions and more.
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What Do Komodo Dragons Eat?
Komodo dragons are opportunistic carnivores; they will eat nearly anything that doesn’t hunt and eat them first.
According to the San Diego Zoo’s Wildlife Alliance Library, Komodo dragons will eat both live prey that they hunt and carrion that they scavenge. Their bodies contain a serum that is resistant to the many kinds of bacteria found in carrion, so the dragons are unharmed from eating this bacteria-infested flesh.
Komodo dragons may eat different foods at different stages of their life. For example, newly hatched dragons will feed exclusively on insects such as grasshoppers and beetles, but will begin to add small lizards, birds, and bird eggs as they grow.
Mid-sized Komodo dragons will still eat some insects on occasion, but they will add a greater variety of lizards, birds, and rodents to their diet. Fully grown adult dragons will sometimes hunt the largest types of prey, including large snakes, deer, and even water buffalo.
Some adult Komodo dragons will eat younger dragons. This is especially true in times of food shortage or if the adult has acquired a taste for its own kind in the past.
How Much Does a Komodo Dragon Eat in a Day?
Komodo dragons have expanding jaws that allows them to consume large amounts of food at a time. Even their stomachs are able to expand to an impressive size which accommodates a maximum amount of food.
Because of these physical features, Komodo dragons can eat up to 80 percent of their own body weight in a single meal!
That said, Komodo dragons don’t have to eat every day. They can eat these impressive amounts of food any time they are able to make a large kill, but then they may go for as much as a month before eating their next meal.
What are the Eating Habits of a Komodo Dragon?
Komodo dragons often eat their prey alive rather than killing it first. That said, the animal most often dies long before the dragon has finished eating it.
When hunting, the dragon often injures the animal and eats part of it, then will continue to follow the wounded animal around until it dies. It will then feed on the carcass until it is gone, which may take several days.
While feeding, a Komodo dragon will bite down hard and rip the animal into smaller pieces. Komodo dragons have a bite strength of up to 600 pounds per square inch, which is impressive considering their skulls are relatively lightweight and their sharp teeth are made more for tearing than for crushing prey.
Moveable joints in the head and neck allow the Komodo dragon’s jaw to open impressively wide while it is eating. This saves the dragon time from having to rip the animal into smaller pieces and allows it to swallow impressively large bites at one time.
As noted above, a Komodo dragon’s stomach expands and stretches as it eats. This expansion happens rather quickly, allowing the dragon to pack an impressive amount of food in a single sitting.
The food digests slowly, allowing a Komodo dragon to go as long as a month before eating again. However, during that time period, if a dragon finds itself being hunted by another predator, it can gag itself and throw up whatever is left in its stomach, thereby making itself lighter and able to run faster to escape.
Check out this video of a Komodo dragon being fed at a zoo, and notice the way his keepers try to emulate an actual hunting scenario.
How Does a Komodo Dragon Kill Its Prey?
As noted above, Komodo dragons rarely kill large prey immediately. Instead, they will injure the animal and sometimes begin feeding on it while it is still alive, then allow it to die from its wounds within the next day or two.
Scientists used to believe that bacteria from previous kills living in the dragon’s mouth would enter the prey animal’s bloodstream, causing it to eventually die from blood poisoning. But while this may be one factor in what causes the animal to die, bacteria is not the principal killer.
Scientists now know that Komodo dragons actually inject venom into their prey when they bite them. This venom causes the animal’s blood to thin, leading the animal to bleed out more quickly and go into a state of shock.
This increased loss of blood is what actually kills a Komodo dragon’s prey.
Komodo dragons eat nearly any kind of meat they can consume–creatures as small as insects and as large as water buffalo. They eat both live prey and carrion, and there is really no type of meat they will turn down–some Komodo dragons even turn to cannibalism.
Komodo dragons kill their prey by injecting a blood-thinning venom into them. The venom doesn’t kill the animal immediately but causes it to bleed out over a period of a couple of days.