Komodo dragons (Varanus komodoensis) demand attention. They're big; in fact, they are the largest living lizards in the world. They have long, forked tongues, scaly skin, great vision and lots of teeth. Komodo dragons have sharp claws and love to dig. Indonesians call the dragons "ora." Hindi people called the lizards "biscobra," meaning twice as deadly as a cobra. Seventy percent of the lizard's body weight is water. In summary, the Komodo dragon is one cool animal for third grade students to study in a variety of subjects.
Hang a world map on a wall or a bulletin board, and create a larger, inset map of Indonesia to hang nearby. Pose the question: "Where in world can we find Komodo dragons?" Have two colors of push pins; one color for locating Komodo dragons in the wild, the other color for zoos housing Komodo dragons. Wild Komodo dragons live on the Indonesian islands of Komodo, Flores, Padar, Rinca and Gili Montag. You can also research zoos in the U.S. and beyond that house Komodo dragons and mark some examples on the maps.
Nothing says huge like Komodo dragons. According to officials at the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park, the largest verified lizard was 10.3 feet long and weighed 366 pounds. The average weight for a komodo is closer to 150 pounds. Use a hallway or one full length of the classroom; have the students measure and tape the length of a typical Komodo dragon. Using a scale, see how many students equal the weight of the largest lizard and the average size lizard and then have them chart the data. Komodos can see a distance of 985 feet. Use the playground or a sidewalk area to map the distance. Komodo dragons can sense and smell carrion 2.5 miles away. Using a mapping program, have students figure out what is 2.5 miles away from school.
Scientists once believed deep bite wounds and mouth bacteria of Komodo dragons killed prey. In some cases, 53 different bacteria were discovered in the mouths of wild Komodo dragons. Researchers were wrong. Komodo dragons kill with venom. Ask the students to define the words venom and bacteria. Venom is produced by the body. Bacteria in the mouths of Komodo dragons likely comes from the carrion they eat. Ask a dentist to come for the day and talk about bacteria in the mouths of humans who do not brush properly and compare that to the mouth of the Komodo dragon, which has 60 teeth. Third grade curriculum usually discusses animal habitats, so you can also discuss the environment in which Komodo dragons live and thrive and build dioramas to give a hands-on element to the project.
Make a timeline about the history of Komodo dragons. The first was documented by Western scientists in 1910. In 1969, Walter Auffenberg led an expedition to Komodo island to examine the lizards up close. Auffenberg proposed the death by deadly bacteria hypothesis of the Komodo dragon. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush received a komodo dragon as a gift from the President of Indonesia. Named Naga, the Komodo dragon went to the Cincinnati Zoo and sired 32 offspring. Naga died in 2007 at the age of 24. Ask students to find the name of the Indonesian president who gave President Bush the Komodo dragon. In 1992, the first Komodo dragons to hatch outside of Indonesia were born at the Smithsonian's National Zoo. In 1996, Komodo Dragons were listed as vulnerable due to habitat loss and hunting by humans. You might also want to talk about the possibility of extinction and what that means, tying the information back into the science curriculum.
- Smithsonian National Zoological Park: Reptiles & Amphibians: Fact Sheet: Komodo Dragon
- San Diego Zoo Global: Komodo Dragon
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America: A Central Role for Venom in Predation by Varanus Komodoensis (Komodo Dragon) and the Extinct Giant Varanus (Megalania) Priscus
- Science Daily: Ancient Komodo Dragon Has Space-Age Skull
- Tree of Life Web Project: Komodo Dragon: Varanus Komodoensis
- IUCN Red List: Varanus Komodoensis
- Washington Post: Bush's Komodo Dragon Dies at Ohio Zoo
- Smithsonian Magazine: The Komodo Dragon is an All-Purpose Killing Machine
- Mysteries of the Komodo Dragon; Marty Crump
- PibBurns.com: Komodo Dragon Stamps
- Komodo Dragons; Ruth Bjorklund
- PBS: Wild Indonesia: Enter the Dragons
- Mail Online: Should We Really Be Scared of the Komodo Dragon?
- Discovery School: The Jeff Corwin Experience Asia: Land of the Komodo Dragon Teacher’s Guide
- British Broadcasting Company: Archive: David Attenborough: Zoo Quest for a Dragon: Seeking the Komodo Dragon in Indonesia
- National Geographic Kids: Videos: Reptiles: Komodo Kids
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images