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Komodo, Bearded, and Frilled Dragons: Impressive Lizards

Linda Crampton is a writer and teacher with an honors degree in biology. She loves to study nature and write about living things.

Dragons in Our World

Dragons do exist! A number of lizards are known as dragons, including the Komodo dragon, the bearded dragon, and the frilled dragon. It's not hard to think of the mythical beasts when we see some of these animals' activities. They are interesting reptiles with some surprising characteristics.

Komodo dragons are the heaviest lizards in existence. They may be as long as ten feet and weigh over 300 pounds. Their saliva is loaded with bacteria and may be venomous as well. Bearded dragons expand the spiny pouch on their throat when they feel threatened. The pouch turns black and gives the lizards their name. When a frilled dragon feels threatened, it opens its mouth in a gape and displays a frill of skin around its head and neck.

Komodo Dragons

Like the other lizards described in this article and like us, Komodo dragons belong to the phylum Chordata. Unlike us, they belong to the class Reptilia, the order Squamata, and the family Varanidae, which is often known as the monitor lizard family.

The animals live in Indonesia. One of their habitats is the island of Komodo, which gives them their name. It's also the reason why their name begins with a capital letter. Komodos are the largest lizard alive today. Despite their huge size, they weren't discovered by western scientists until 1910. Their scientific name is Varanus komodoensis.

The lizards are strong animals with very muscular bodies, a long tail, and short, stocky, and bowed legs. The largest Komodo ever measured was 10.1 feet long and 365.9 pounds in weight. Most animals weigh up to 150 pounds, however.

Smaug is the name of the fearsome dragon in J.R.R. Tolkien's book "The Hobbit". The name seems appropriate for the popular Komodo dragon who lived at the Houston Zoo. Unfortunately, he died in 2015 after major health problems.

Detecting Prey

Komodo dragons are carnivorous. They hunt for live prey and also eat carrion. They can reportedly detect chemicals coming from carrion located as far away as six miles. They do this by using their forked tongue and the Jacobson's organ. This organ is made of two pits and is located in the roof of the mouth.

A Komodo frequently flicks its tongue out of its mouth as it explores its environment. The tongue picks up molecules from the air and places them in the Jacobson's organ. This organ contains cells that bind to the molecules and then send a message to the lizard's brain, enabling it to detect the chemicals.

Hunters and Scavengers

Komodos prey mainly on mammals, especially deer, wild pigs, and water buffalo. When they aren't actively hunting, the lizards look quite awkward as they move over the ground in a lumbering fashion. Anyone near a Komodo dragon should be aware that the animals can accelerate suddenly and rapidly and that they do attack humans in self defence. The lizards can run up to thirteen miles an hour. They usually approach their prey with stealth, though, or they hide and wait patiently for the prey to approach them.

A Komodo uses its powerful body to hit the legs of a large prey such as a deer and force the animal to the ground. The reptile then lunges at the deer with its teeth and claws, tearing the body and causing the deer to bleed to death. The lizards sometimes fell smaller prey by lunging at the animals' necks.

Komodos frequently eat carrion instead of hunting for food. They are generally solitary animals. Unusually for lizards, the reptiles sometimes scavenge for food in a group. They have a hierarchy and take turns eating carrion. The largest males feed first. The smaller males and the females take their turn at the carcass once the big males have finished. The young Komodos have to wait until everyone else has fed before they can eat.

Unlike the older lizards, the youngest Komodos spend most of their time in trees. They leave the trees to live on the ground when they are large enough to avoid becoming prey for the adults.

Temperature Regulation

Like other reptiles, Komodo dragons are ectothermic. They regulate their temperature by their behavior instead of by processes inside their body. They absorb heat from a sunny spot in their environment in order to raise their body temperature and retreat to the shade in order to lower it. The dragons are often said to be "cold blooded", but this term isn't accurate. On a hot day they are warm blooded, just like us.

Komodo Reproduction

Male Komodos often fight for the right to mate with a female. The two copulatory organs of the male are known as hemipenes. They are actually branches of the same structure. Each branch is known as a hemipenis. Only one hemipenis is inserted into a female's cloaca during mating.

After mating, the female either digs a depression in which to lay her eggs or lays them deep inside a nest built by a ground-dwelling bird called a megapode. The visible part of the bird's nest is a mound on top of the ground. About 30 eggs are present in each clutch laid by the dragon.

The female may leave the eggs to develop on their own during the seven to nine month incubation period. Some females have been observed lying on top of the nest, however, presumably to protect the eggs. To date, though, no adults have been seen caring for the youngsters once they hatch. The youngsters must protect themselves as soon as they emerge from the egg. The lizard has an estimated lifespan of thirty years or more (if it survives its infancy).

Scientists have discovered that a few captive Komodos have reproduced by parthenogenesis, a process in which a female produces offspring without obtaining sperm from a male. Genetic tests have confirmed that all the genes in the offspring of these Komodos came from their mother.

Are Komodo Dragons Venomous?

There is no doubt that the bite of a Komodo dragon is very dangerous to its prey and to humans. There is some controversy about why it's dangerous, though (apart from the physical wound and blood loss that it creates).

The lizard will follow an animal that it's bitten but not killed for a long time. When the animal dies from the bite, as it often does, the lizard eats it. For a long time, it was thought that the prey died due to infection by bacteria in the Komodo's saliva. Researchers have discovered more than 50 different kinds of bacteria in the saliva. At least seven of these are very dangerous (but not to Komodos). While these bacteria may play a role in the prey's demise, there may be a more important factor at work.

Some scientists have concluded that the Komodo dragon is venomous and that their lower jaw contains two venom glands. They say that the glands produce toxic proteins that reduce the ability of the prey's blood to clot, lower blood pressure, and cause the prey to go into shock. Other scientists have disputed these claims, however. Further research is needed to reach a definite conclusion.

Bearded dragons and frilled dragons belong to the same phylum, class, and order as Komoda dragons, but they belong to the family Agamidae. This is sometimes known as the dragon family. A number of lizards in the family have "dragon" in their common name.

Bearded Dragons

The most common species of bearded dragon kept as a pet is Pogona vitticeps, also known as the inland or central bearded dragon. Some other species in the genus Pogona are also known as bearded dragons and kept as pets.

The inland bearded dragon lives in dry areas of Australia. It has a wide body and is one to two feet long, including its tail. The lizard is light tan to brown in color. Its head is triangular in shape and bears a pouch on the underside. The scales on the pouch look like spikes, especially along the sides of the pouch. The lizard also has a row of spikes along each side of its body and on the back of its head. Its legs are strong and are capable of lifting its body up so that it doesn't absorb heat from hot ground.

Bearded dragons live in a wide variety of habitats, including desert, scrubland, woodland, and grassland. They're classified as semi-arboreal and divide their time between trees and the ground. The animal is an omnivore and eats insects, spiders, small lizards, small rodents, and plant parts. Its predators include birds of prey, snakes, goannas (lizards in the same genus as the Komodo dragon), dingoes, foxes, and cats.

Bearded Dragon Reproduction

The lizards are reproductively mature when they are one to two years old. Females are able to store sperm after mating so that fertilization can occur later. A female may lay several clutches of eggs from a single mating.

The female digs a burrow in the ground in which to lay each clutch, which often consists of around twenty-four eggs. The number varies considerably, however. Neither the female nor the male take care of the eggs. As in many lizards, the incubation time depends on the temperature. The eggs usually hatch after sixty to eighty days.

The young dragons live in trees until they mature. They are more vividly colored than the adults and often have yellow, orange, or red-brown markings, like the youngster in the video above. Bearded dragons live for about ten to twelve years in captivity.

Interesting Displays

Bearded dragons are territorial and perform several interesting displays to assert their dominance or to express their submissiveness when they meet other members of their species. Even when they are the only lizard pet in a home, they still perform these behaviors.

The Hand Wave

One display is a graceful, slow motion hand wave. The "fingers" are extended as the arm moves in a circular motion. The hand wave is used as a sign of submission, but it may have additional meanings, such as species recognition.

The Head Bob

Another interesting behavior is the head bob, which may be rapid or slow. Head bobbing is generally a sign of dominance and is often performed when two lizards approach each other. Males head bob more than females.

The Beard Display

Bearded dragons are named for their most famous behavior—displaying their beard. The "beard" is an expandable throat pouch that not only enlarges but also turns black. Both males and females have a beard. The inflated beard is a sign of aggression and is also used as a mating display. A lizard may open its mouth in a gape as well as inflate its beard, which makes it look even more threatening.

Bearded Dragons as Pets

Bearded dragons are often bred as pets due to their generally calm and friendly personality. They seem to enjoy being stroked, as long as they're handled from an early age and are used to humans. Pet owners say that the animal is quite intelligent compared to other lizards. It shows curiosity and often likes to explore.

The dragons are generally kept in glass tanks or terrariums. It's important that this is set up properly for a pet's needs. The lizard is clever enough that it shouldn't be left in its terrarium all day, however. It needs to perform activities outside of its enclosure and to interact with humans in order to maintain its confidence and friendliness. It shouldn't be allowed to explore a room unattended due to the presence of potential dangers.

Anyone who keeps a lizard as a pet should have access to a knowledgeable veterinarian who has experience in treating reptiles.

The Frilled Dragon or Lizard

The frilled dragon (Chlamydosaurus kingii) lives mainly in Australia and New Guinea. It's also called the frilled lizard or the frill-necked lizard. It may be as long as three feet and as heavy as two pounds. Males are generally bigger than females. It's generally brown or grey in color and has a mottled appearance that camouflages its body when it's clinging to tree bark.

The frilled dragon spends most of its life in trees but descends to the ground at times. It eats insects and spiders. Very occasionally, it eats smaller lizards and small mammals. The lizard is in turn eaten by other animals, including birds of prey, snakes, larger lizards, and mammals such as dingoes and feral cats.

A frilled dragon performing its threat display

A frilled dragon performing its threat display

The Threat Display

The lizard's main claim to fame is its behavior when it's threatened. During the threat display, the animal stands on two legs, opens its mouth, which has a yellow or pink lining, and then unfurls its pleated hood. The hood covers the lizard's head, neck, and upper chest and makes the animal look much bigger than it really is. In addition, it often has brightly colored scales, which adds to the drama of the situation. The lizard may jump on its hind legs and hiss at the same time as displaying its hood. Males erect their hoods during mating displays as well as during territorial disputes.

If the lizard's threat display doesn't work, it usually runs away on its two back legs, still erect and with its frill still unfurled. It only relaxes when it finds a tree to climb. The frill then collapses and hangs around the animal's neck and shoulders. If the animal feels that it's in danger while it's on a tree trunk it may freeze, relying on its camouflage to protect it.

Reproduction

Frilled dragons lay their eggs in an underground nest. The clutch consists of anywhere between eight to twenty eggs. Adults provide no parental care for the eggs. Interestingly, the gender of the hatchlings depends on the temperature at which the eggs are incubated. When the environment is very hot, all the youngsters are females. When the environment is slightly cooler, the number of females and males is approximately equal. Incubation lasts from eight to twelve weeks.

The babies are independent as soon as they hatch and will erect their hoods if necessary. The lizards seem to live for ten to fifteen years in captivity, although there have been reports that they can live as long as twenty years.

Frilled Dragons as Pets

Frilled dragons are bred for pets in some areas. They seem to lack the amiable disposition of bearded dragons. I've read far more reports of people developing a close relationship with a "beardie" than with a frilled dragon. A pet frilled dragon may accept being handled and can be "reasonably friendly", as one report says. Some animals don't enjoy being taken out of their enclosure, though. If one is kept as a pet, it should never be deliberately stressed in an attempt to force it to display its hood.

Like the bearded dragon, the frilled dragon performs head bobs and hand waves, as shown in the video of pet animals below. The animals are feeding on live crickets in the video.

Population Status of the Three Reptiles

According to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), the Komodo dragon population is classified as "Vulnerable". This status is based on 1996 data. As the IUCN Red List entry says, the classification badly “needs updating.” 1996 is a very long time ago with respect to the status of an animal's population. Many changes could have taken place since then.

The Red List classifies animals according to their nearness to extinction and also gives other information about the animals. Some people familiar with the Komodo dragon say that it's facing population stresses. Conservationists need to know whether this is the case.

The status of Pogona vitticeps (wild and captive) was assessed by the IUCN in 2017. The species has been placed in the “Least Concern” category. The Chlamydosaurus kingii population was assessed in 2014. Like the bearded dragon, this species has been placed in the “Least Concern” category of the Red List.

Other Kinds of Dragons

There are other dragons in nature, including the flying dragon, which is another lizard, the leafy seadragon, which is a relative of the seahorse, the blue dragon, which is a type of sea slug, and the black dragonfish. The female of the last species has fang-like teeth. The dragons of myths have captured people's imagination and encouraged them to see these creatures in the natural world. Studying the animals is an interesting and enjoyable pursuit.

References

  • Information about the Komodo dragon from the Smithsonian National Zoo and Biological Conservation Institute
  • The Komodo dragon's remarkable physiology from PBS (the Public Broadcasting Service)
  • Varanus komodoensis Red List entry from the IUCN
  • Information about the central bearded dragon from the Australian Museum.
  • Facts about caring for bearded dragons from Vetstreet
  • Information about the frilled lizard from National Geographic
  • Care sheet for frilled lizards (or frilled dragons) plus animal information from Reptiles Magazine
  • Chlamydosaurus kingii Red List entry from the IUCN

© 2013 Linda Crampton

Comments

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 02, 2015:

Thank you very much for the comment and the vote, Alun. It is a shame that some people are repulsed by reptiles. They are definitely fascinating creatures!

Greensleeves Hubs from Essex, UK on August 02, 2015:

Attractive page Linda with well chosen photos and videos (I especially like the comic one of the game-playing bearded dragon!) These lizards are fascinating creatures, and they deserve to be better known - too many people are fearful or repulsed by lizards and snakes, and pages like this can help to educate. Voted up. Alun

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 12, 2013:

Hi, mythbuster. I'm interested in knowing the final decision about whether the Komodo dragon is venomous, too! I agree with you about the two videos that you mention - they are amusing. Thank you very much for the comment.

mythbuster from Utopia, Oz, You Decide on November 12, 2013:

Hi AliciaC, I really enjoyed this hub and found some of the bearded/frilled dragon vids very amusing (the baby bearded dragon waving and the bearded dragon playing a vid game). I learned here that (some) scientists have actually found venomous komodo dragons now. I thought it was just the bacteria from a bite (like with gators and crocs) that could seriously harm. I hope you'll update if you find scientists end the dispute over venomous/not venomous. Thanks for sharing!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 19, 2013:

Thank you so much, DDE. I appreciate all your kind comments!

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on September 19, 2013:

Komodo, Bearded and Frilled Dragons - Interesting Lizards wow! You have put in lots of effort to create such quality hubs and I must say you are good at what you put out, an excellent hub with many facts thanks for sharing such interesting hubs.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 20, 2013:

Thank you very much, Eddy. I hope you have a great day.

Eiddwen from Wales on August 20, 2013:

Brilliant hub; interesting and useful.

Thank you for sharing.

Eddy.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 18, 2013:

Thank you very much for the comment, Dianna. I appreciate your visit, especially as you don't like lizards!

Dianna Mendez on August 18, 2013:

Here in South Florida we have so many lizards. Truthfully, I do not care for them as they scurry around the paths. Still, your post is educational and done with excellence.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 14, 2013:

Hi, Deb. Thank you very much for such a lovely comment. I love lizards. After publishing this hub I went to a PetSmart store to buy bird food and couldn't resist looking at the bearded dragons. There was one in particular that I would have loved to have taken home! Having any more pets in my home is out of the question, though. I already have seven to look after!

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on August 14, 2013:

Absolutely gorgeous lizards. Enjoying nature as much as I do, I found this fascinating, as well as the information thrilling and invaluable. Great work!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 11, 2013:

Thank you very much for the comment and the vote, SavannahEve! I love reptiles, too. They are so interesting!

Suzi Rayve from California on August 11, 2013:

Great Hub! I do so LOVE these reptiles! Thanks for this! Voted up!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 11, 2013:

Thank you, Tom! I always appreciate your lovely comments and votes!

Thomas Silvia from Massachusetts on August 11, 2013:

Hi my friend great interesting information on these beautiful creatures, i learned a lot about them today thanks !

Vote up and more !!!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 11, 2013:

Thank you so much, drbj! I appreciate your lovely comment and the vote.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 11, 2013:

I wouldn't want a Komodo dragon to chase me either, Bill! That would be a very scary experience. It's a fascinating creature, though. Thanks for the vote and the shares!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 11, 2013:

Thank you for the comment, Martin.

drbj and sherry from south Florida on August 11, 2013:

Not only is studying 'dragons' a fun pursuit as you state, Alicia, but reading what you have written about these dragons is even more fun. Trust me. I enjoyed reading every word and viewing every video. Thanks for putting all this together. Voted up!

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on August 11, 2013:

Hi Linda. Fascinating look at some amazing creatures. If there is any creature on this planet that looks like a dinosaur it's got to be the Komodo Dragon. Sure wouldn't want one chasing me. Great job, voted up shared, pinned, etc...

Martin Kloess from San Francisco on August 11, 2013:

Fascinating. Thank you for this.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 10, 2013:

Hi, Cynthia. Komodo Dragons certainly have patience! It's amazing that they followed the buffalo for a whole week! Thanks for the comment and for sharing the interesting story.

CMHypno from Other Side of the Sun on August 10, 2013:

Interesting hub on dragons Alicia. One of the things I really enjoyed when I was travelling in Australia was the wide variety of reptiles you saw out in the bush. I saw a documentary once about Komodo dragons once where a couple of them attacked a buffalo, bit it in the hind quarters and then followed the poor beast for a week until it dropped dead. They can certainly play the long game!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 10, 2013:

Thank you for the visit and for being the first commenter, Bill! I appreciate them both.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on August 10, 2013:

Suffice it to say I am not a big fan of lizards. If I were in the vicinity of a komodo I would probably drop dead of fright. :)

Great information as always. Thanks for the education.

bill