Adult Komodo dragons are generally solitary, although groups may gather around a kill. They are powerful predators and their voracious appetite has further fuelled their ferocious image. Both carrion and live prey are consumed; adults ambush deer, water buffalo and wild pigs, and carcasses can be detected from up to 10 km away (2). The large powerful jaws tear at prey and large amounts can be eaten with surprising speed, only a small percentage of the kill is discarded (5). Komodo dragons can eat up to 80% of their own body weight at one time (2). Recent research into the feeding behaviour of the Komodo dragon has shown that it is actually venomous, possessing complex venom glands in its jaw, which excrete a variety of toxic substances that prevent blood clotting and lower blood pressure in its prey. In contrast to the elaborate venom injection system used by snakes, the Komodo dragon's venom is administered relatively crudely, seeping into the large wounds made by the teeth. This means that even if the injured animal escapes, it will rapidly succumb to shock and blood loss induced by the venom. It was previously believed that toxic bacteria found in the Komodo dragon's mouth help to take down prey by infecting bite wounds, leading to fatal blood poisoning. However, studies have indicated that this may not be the case, and that the venom is the main agent by which prey is subdued (6). The mating season occurs between May and June (2); males compete for access to receptive females by wrestling, rearing-up on their hind legs supported by their thick, muscular tail (5). In July and August, females lay and then incubate their clutch of around 25 eggs in depressions dug into the ground (4). Eggs incubate for up to nine months before hatching (2). Juveniles are extremely vulnerable to predation and spend their first year of life in the relatively protected habitat of the trees (7). Young dragons will feed on snakes, lizards and rodents (4).
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