Komodo dragon

Komodo dragons resist the lure of the open road, according to a survey of the movements of more than 1,000 individuals. Credit: Mark MacEwen/NPL

Animal behaviour

A dragon that prefers a quiet life at home

The 70-kilogram lizards have little to fear, yet they seldom explore outside their natal valleys.

The world’s largest lizard is a homebody.

The ancestors of the impressive Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) must once have travelled long distances; otherwise, they could never have spread across the Indonesian islands where they live today. To see whether the lizards still have that wanderlust, Tim Jessop at Deakin University in Waurn Ponds, Australia, and his colleagues braved the lizards’ venomous bites to capture and microchip more than 1,000 individuals of varying sizes, allowing the researchers to record each animal’s movements over a period of up to a decade. The team also physically moved seven large, old dragons from one valley or island to another to see whether they would find their way home.

The results? Whatever peregrinations their ancestors might have undertaken, contemporary Komodo dragons almost never leave their home valleys, even if this means facing limited food supplies or an increased chance of inbreeding. If taken from their homes, they will return, unless an ocean stands in their way.