A pair of Komodo dragons at the Bronx Zoo welcomed adorably scaly babies last month. This is a first in the zoo’s 122-year history and a boon to the dwindling population of the world’s largest lizard.
The dragons bred in March, the female laid her eggs in April, and 212 days later, the hatchlings emerged. “The first dragon pipped its egg by using a special egg tooth on the tip of its snout,” Don Boyer, curator of herpetology at the Bronx Zoo, described in his blog. “The dragon did not emerge right away – at times just an eye was visible through the slit openings in the egg. Sometimes the head (above), neck, and front limbs emerged only to retreat into the egg. Within 20 hours, the neonate dragon fully emerged.”
In the wild, hatchlings would quickly take to the trees, staying arboreal for their first few years to avoid predators, including cannibalistic larger dragons. In the Bronx Zoo, staff transferred hatchlings to moist paper towels. There they stayed until their umbilical cords, which had been connected to yolk sacs, detached. Now they’re in a larger space with branches and bark slabs.
“This is an important achievement for zoo staff and a significant milestone for the Bronx Zoo,” said Boyer in a statement. “Komodo dragons are one of the planet’s most fascinating species and these hatchlings represent a hopeful future for the species. They will be wonderful ambassadors for their wild counterparts as they help us raise awareness about conservation needs.”
Expert estimates range from 1,400 to 2,500 dragons left in the wild. The species, which can grow up to 10 feet long, is only native to Komodo and a few neighboring islands in Indonesia. Last year, the IUCN Red List reclassified Komodo dragons from vulnerable to endangered. Loss of habitat and rising seas threaten their island home.
But it’s been a good year for captive Komodo dragon breeding. The San Antonio Zoo welcomed 10 baby dragons in October, born to a dragon named Kristika and her long-distance love Boga of the Houston Zoo. Captive dragons are matched through the Species Survival Program, a database that determines strong genetic matches.
The Surabaya Zoo in Surabaya, Indonesia, has been especially successful in captive breeding. As of early November this year, the zoo had built up a population of 108 adult dragons, 35 youth, and 40 eggs in the incubator. The zoo staff hopes to return some captive-bred dragons to the wild.
Images via Julie Larsen Maher © Bronx Zoo/WCS