Fort Worth Zoo Welcomes First Dragon Hatchlings
December 01, 2017
For the first time in its 108-year history, the Fort Worth Zoo proudly announces the hatchings of eleven Komodo Dragons. Upon hatching, the juveniles were approximately 12 to 15 inches long and weighed less than half a pound each (about as much as a bar of soap).
The female Komodo Dragon arrived at the Zoo in 2012 from Prague. She is 7 years old, 6 feet in length and weighs 26 pounds. The male is 7 years old, 6.5 feet long and 44 pounds. This is the first clutch for both young parents. (Full-grown adult males can reach over 8 feet in length and weigh up to 200 pounds). The adult Dragons’ unique genetic material makes them valuable assets in the development of Komodo Dragons in managed populations in the United States. They have now introduced an entirely new bloodline of healthy, genetically diverse Komodo Dragons into the population, which contributes as a hedge against extinction of these vulnerable reptiles.
Typically, female Komodo Dragons lay about 20 to 30 eggs and the eggs incubate for about nine months. There is little research to support parental care of newly hatched Komodo Dragons; in fact, adults will often eat juveniles. For this reason, and to ensure the eggs were kept at a constant temperature and humidity, the Fort Worth Zoo herpetological team cared for the eggs in the incubation nursery housed inside the Zoo’s Museum of Living Art (MOLA) until they hatched. Each one of the hatchlings now resides in its own off-exhibit habitat; however, one is now on exhibit in MOLA, across from their parents’ exhibit.
The Komodo Dragon is the largest living lizard in the world, found in grasslands and monsoon forests of the Indonesian archipelago, including the island of Komodo. This reptile is currently listed as “Vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
A juvenile Komodo Dragon sports much brighter coloration compared to the grayish-brown adult. A juvenile is primarily brown with a spotted pattern ranging in color from green to yellow to orange covering its entire body. This vibrant coloration helps the reptile camouflage among tree limbs and leaves. At risk of falling prey, the juvenile will live in trees to avoid predation by the heavy-bodied adults who are no longer proficient climbers.
An arboreal hatchling will eat a more varied diet than a land-dwelling adult. A young Komodo will feed on grasshoppers, beetles, small geckos, eggs, birds, and small mammals. Eventually it will grow too large to be arboreal, and the animal will alter its diet and become fully terrestrial. Eggs, lizards and small animals are still easy meal options for adults, but larger animals like deer and even water buffalo are important sources of food.
The Fort Worth Zoo provides funding to researchers monitoring Dragons in Komodo National Park to learn more about their life history and to protect them from illegal poaching.