Body temperature and thermoregulation of Komodo dragons in the field

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Henry J. Harlow, Deni Purwandana, Tim S. Jessop, John A. Phillips
Journal of Thermal Biology
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Komodo dragons from hatchlings (≈0.1 kg) to adults (≤80 kg) express the full magnitude of varanid species size distributions. We found that all size groups of dragons regulated a similar preferred body temperature by exploiting a heterogeneous thermal environment within savanna, forest and mangrove habitats. All dragons studied, regardless of size, were able to regulate a daytime active body temperature within the range 34–35.6 °C for 5.1–5.6 h/day. The index of effectiveness of thermoregulation (a numerical rating of thermoregulatory activity) was not different among size groups of dragons. However, the index of closeness of thermoregulation, which rates the variability of body temperature, suggests a greater precision for regulating a preferred body temperature for medium compared to small and large dragons. Reference copper cylinders simulating small, medium and large Komodo dragons heated and cooled at the same rate, whereas actual dragons of all size groups heated faster than they cooled. Larger dragons heated and cooled more slowly than smaller ones. The mean operative environmental temperatures of copper cylinders representing medium sized dragons were 42.5, 32.0 and 29.4° C for savannah, forest and mangrove habitats, respectively. The index for average thermal quality of a habitat as measured by the absolute difference between operative environmental temperature and the dragon’s thermal range suggests the forest habitat offers the highest thermal quality to dragons and the savannah the lowest. The percent of total daytime that the operative environmental temperature was within the central 50% of the body temperatures selected by dragons in a thermal gradient (Phillips, 1984) was 45%, 15%, and 9% for forest, mangrove and savannah, respectively. Forest habitat offers the most suitable thermal environment and provides the greatest number of hours with conditions falling within the dragon’s thermal activity zone.


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