A sleeping but terrifying Komodo dragon is greeting everyone who heads to Google today. And for good reason.

While the animals have become known as perhaps the most fearsome creature that walks the Earth – inspiring legends and terror around the world – they have also become much loved.

That's in large part because they are under threat, and environmental activists have had to work hard to keep them around. They are in danger of being wiped out for a number of reasons, including volcanic activity and earthquakes as well as human behaviour like poaching, tourism and the destruction of their habitats.

It's that conservation work – which is ongoing at the Komodo National Park – that is commemorated in the Google Doodle.

Where is Komodo National Park?

The Komodo National Park is in Indonesia, taking up three big islands and 26 smaller ones. It was created in 1980 to help protect the habitat of the Komodo dragon – which doesn't live anywhere else, and came to be so strange because of the environment of the islands – but it doesn't just contain them, also taking up parts of the water that include a hugely diverse set of marine life.

The park is officially part of Indonesia and is part of the Lesser Sunda Islands. Those are located just north of Australia.

Tourists can visit there, and around 4,000 people live on the islands.

It is the conservation area's 37th birthday today, which is what led it to be featured on the Google Doodle.

Are they endangered?

The park was created precisely to help the dragons – and eventually a range of other animals – survive the threat that they are under. But despite that, they are still threatened, and are defined as "Vulnerable" by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

On some of the islands on which they once lived, they have been completely wiped out. But on others their population is small but stable – while they appear to be safe for now on the bigger islands, the populations are still falling because of shrinking numbers on the smaller ones.

How heavy and fast are they?

The international and lingering obsession with the Kimodo dragon is in large part a result of their huge size and fearsome characteristics. They are huge, heavy and fast – and can put all of those to work in attacking and killing their prey.

An average male can weigh up to 200 lb, and a female will weigh up to 160 lb, and the animals can be as long as 2.6 metres. The biggest ever wild dragon found weighed 366 pounds, including the undigested food inside of it, and was 3.13 metres long.

That huge size makes them easily the biggest species of lizard. Their huge size is the result of where they live – on the islands that they continue to inhabit, they became huge, an effect known as "island giganticism" that also gave rise to a number of other huge species, like the famous tortoises that live on the Galápagos Islands.

Despite their huge bodies, they can run as fast as 11mph over short distances on land.

Comments