Living on four remote islands in central Indonesia, Komodo dragons are the world's largest lizards. They can grow over nine feet long and weigh as much as 200 pounds, after a good meal. With their serrated teeth, powerful claws and surprising quickness, they are formidable predators as well as scavengers and will eat any meat including other dragons and, rarely, humans.
Despite their mythical name, it wasn't until the turn of this century that dragons were scientifically classified (Varanus komodoensis). Soon after, Komodo, the island with the largest density of dragons, was proclaimed a wilderness area. With 3,000 to 5,000 dragons in the wild and the world's smallest range of a large carnivore, the Komodo dragon is an endangered species. Since 1982, captive breeding, like that at the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park (NZP), has increased the number of dragons by 157.
Sponsored by the NZP, the author studied dragons on Komodo to see how they can survive in their tropical and often harsh habitat, where mammalian predators cannot. By attaching transmitters to the animals and then following them all day, the author found that adult as well as juvenile dragons vary their temperature according to their activities. Thus, they can survive on 10 percent of the energy needed by mammalian predators, allowing them to reign supreme over mammals as the dinosaurs did.