- Komodo dragons have venom that contains an anticoagulant.
- They also have deadly bacteria living in between their teeth. If their prey gets away, it will likely die of an infection in a few days.
- Komodo dragons are opportunistic hunters and will eat any animal that crosses their path. Even animals bigger than themselves!
Komodo dragons (Varanus komodoensis) are the largest lizards on earth. They top out at ten feet long and nearly 200 pounds. These giant monitor lizards only live on the islands of Komodo, Gili Motang, Flores, and Rinca, in Indonesia. They prefer hot, dry, lowland grasslands and are currently listed as endangered due to habitat loss and poaching. Komodo dragons have a lifespan of nearly thirty years and take almost eight years to reach full maturity.
The mouth of the komodo dragon is famous for its lethality, but just what do its teeth look like? Here, we’ll go in-depth on everything there is to know about the teeth of the world’s largest lizard. Then, we’ll explore human-komodo dragon interactions and whether or not these magnificent creatures pose a threat to people.
Do Komodo Dragons Have Teeth?
When crocodiles or alligators open their mouths, their teeth are easily visible and terrifying. But when a komodo dragon airs out its gums–you see just that; gums.
This leads many people to think that komodo dragons don’t actually have any teeth. This is incorrect; komodo dragons do have teeth–wicked ones, at that. It’s just that they’re buried beneath thick, fleshy gums.
The gums of a komodo dragon are so thick that they actually completely obscure the teeth, giving this carnivorous creature the appearance of a toothless lizard. Their gums are so thick that, when they bite, they often pierce the chunky flesh with their own teeth. These frequent injuries lead to lots of blood and wounding in the mouth–more on that later.
Komodo dragons are what’s called ‘ziphodonts,’ meaning ‘sword-tooth.’ The characterization is appropriate; they have 60 razor-sharp, sickle-shaped teeth lining their jaws.
Komodo dragons don’t have huge teeth for their body size, only about an inch long or less. They may not be large, but what they lack in size, they make up for in lethality. Komodo dragons have laterally compressed teeth (narrow from side to side and longer front to back) that are serrated on the backside.
These teeth resemble the teeth of creatures like great white sharks more than they do the teeth of other lizards. They’re not designed to crush, like an alligator or a crocodile, but rather to cut. When a komodo dragon bites down, its teeth act like synchronized scalpels, all working together.
Regrowing Their Teeth
Komodo dragons frequently break or lose teeth. Not to worry, though. They have backups. Like many lizards, komodo dragons regrow their teeth throughout their lives, going through as many as four or five sets.
In most lizards, teeth regrow below the lost or broken tooth and push up into place in the empty socket. In komodo dragons, however, the process is a little different. Rather than growing in from below–their teeth regrow behind the lost or broken teeth, the same way a shark’s teeth regrow.
What Do Komodo Dragons Use Their Teeth For?
Komodo dragons are, fittingly, carnivorous. They eat birds, mammals, and carrion. They’re one of the few species of lizard to hunt prey larger than themselves. But just what role do their teeth play in all of this?
Komodo dragons only have one type of tooth, and it’s designed for cutting, not chewing. These lizards don’t chew their food. Instead, they swallow it, and regurgitate the indigestible parts later.
When a Komodo dragon latches onto a piece of flesh (like the leg of a deer, one of their frequent prey species), their razor-sharp teeth sink in deep. Then, the great lizard shakes its head from side to side. The tooth-filled jaw acts like one big steak knife and cleanly removes a chunk of flesh, ready for the komodo dragon to swallow.
Unlike other large predators, komodo dragons don’t use their fearsome jaws to crush. In fact, they have strikingly lightly built jaws and skulls that aren’t designed to deliver whopping bite force.
The Komodo dragon’s skull, bones, and neck muscles are specially adapted to work smarter, not harder. When they attack (whether the target is alive or dead), they utilize what’s called a ‘hold and pull’ bite. By biting in this way, they circumvent the need to have strong bite force, relying instead on the sheer efficiency of the cutting tools in their mouth.
Venom, Or Just Bad Breath?
Komodo dragons have notoriously toxic mouths. Some even contend that they’re venomous, though scientists are divided on this. Venom or not, the mouth of a Komodo dragon is not a clean place.
First: meat often gets stuck behind the teeth, left to rot in the mouth. Then, the frequent wounds to the gums that komodo dragons inflict with their own teeth tend to bleed and breed bacteria. Further, komodo dragons produce unique proteins in their saliva that cause sepsis in wounds. So, with such a dirty, bacteria-ridden mouth–and teeth that cleanly slice through flesh, it’s no wonder the bite of the komodo dragon is so deadly.
Do Komodo Dragons Bite Humans?
Komodo dragons don’t normally hunt humans, but they will defend themselves if threatened or trapped. Young Komodo dragons usually run from humans and from bigger lizards who will eat them if given the chance.
That’s not to say that attacks on humans haven’t happened. There have been numerous reports of skirmishes between people and komodo dragons throughout history. A few of these attacks have even been fatal, though these instances are extremely rare.
Komodo dragons, like many animals, would rather avoid people than interact with them. If you do encounter a komodo dragon (whether in captivity or in the wild), remember that it is a wild animal and will act to defend itself if it feels vulnerable.
What is the Biggest Thing a Komodo Dragon can Eat?
Komodo dragons start out by eating bugs and small lizards, but as they grow, they consume larger prey such as rats, birds, goats, pigs, deer, and even other Komodos. The biggest animals they can eat are horses and water buffaloes. In addition to these large meals, they also eat insects, rabbits, and rodents. These creatures can reach speeds of 11 mph and prefer to stalk their prey rather than chase after it by hiding in tall grass or shrubs near trails or sneaking up on their target. They will attack any living thing, including humans, regardless of size.
Komodo Dragons are renowned for their incredible size and power, which make them one of the most feared apex predators in the world. It has been observed that a Komodo Dragon can easily consume animals much larger than itself in one sitting. This was proven when a 101-pound dragon devoured an entire 90-pound wild pig without leaving any evidence behind! It is believed that this immense strength and appetite help to ensure that no other animal can challenge its dominance in its environment.
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