The Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) holds the title of the world's heaviest lizard, with a body length of up to 10 feet and a weight of over 300 kilograms. This reptile has an elongated flat head, rounded snout, scaly skin, curved legs, and a large muscular tail.
Equipped with the ability to sniff out prey from up to 9 kilometers away, the Komodo is classified as a fierce predator with the potential to attack even deer and humans.
This species of lizard is endemic and can only be found in the Nusa Tenggara region of Indonesia, including Komodo Island, Rinca Island, Gili Motang, and Padar Island.
Then why is this reptile only found in Nusa Tenggara?
Despite their remarkable abilities, Komodo dragons have a natural tendency to be "couch potatoes," or comfortable at home, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Although these reptiles possess great strength, they tend to be reluctant to take risks and prefer to remain in their birthplace throughout their lives.
Meanwhile, IFLscience notes that despite being powerful giant reptiles, Komodos have a laid-back side, showing little interest in exploring distant places and opting for a comfortable zone near their home. In fact, in their natural habitat in East Nusa Tenggara, Komodos have a special ability to pinpoint exactly where they can easily find prey.
According to the New York Times, Tim Jessop, a professor of ecology at Deakin University in Australia, found that after reaching and exploring an island, Komodos decided to stop and not continue their adventure. Jessop conducted two experiments in his research.
First, they moved seven Komodos from their original habitat to a distant location on the same island, some about 22 km away. Second, another group was relocated to another island that was only 1.6 km away but required a sea crossing to return home.
Within four months, all of the Komodos that were moved to a very distant location successfully returned home, demonstrating their ability to travel long distances over a variety of challenging terrains. One Komodo, however, struggled after being relocated to a new island, as it couldn't find local mates and struggled to find prey. This illustrates that while Komodos can swim relatively long distances, they may not consider the effort of returning to be worth the risks.
Interesting fact: Komodo dragons are from Australia, not Indonesia
Although this animal is an endemic species to Indonesia, it is not native to Indonesia. Komodos are thought to have appeared in Asia about 40 million years ago when the region was still connected to Australia. They later migrated to Southeast Asia and reproduced there. Although Asia and Australia were united tens of millions of years ago, they are separate tectonic plates. Research published in 2021 by the Australian National University (ANU) backs this up by claiming that Komodo dragons originated in Australia, migrated to the Lesser Sunda Islands (Indonesia), and became extinct in Australia millions of years ago.
The claim arose after a team of researchers examined evidence of prehistoric hybridization between the Komodo and the sand monitor, a type of goanna. Hybridization, the crossing of two species, plays a crucial role in evolution. This finding marks the first hybridization in wild monitors that has been identified through various data sources.
Lead researcher Carlos J. Pavón-Vázquez revealed that his team used a comprehensive workflow involving over 300 nuclear loci, mitochondrial genomes, phenotype data, fossils, contemporary records, and past/present climate data to find evidence of ancient hybridization between Komodo and Sand Monitor. The results of the analysis indicate that Komodo shares alleles with four species of sand monitors, a number that exceeds expectations based on phylogenetic complexity.
This is most likely due to hybridization between the last species and the common ancestor. Biogeographically, the analysis shows that Komodo dragons and sand monitors once coexisted in northern Australia, before the Komodo dragons finally ended up in the Indonesian.