When the Komodo is hunting and catches its prey, such as a deer, it attacks the feet first, knocking the deer off balance. When dealing with smaller prey, it may lunge straight for the neck. The dragon's basic strategy is simple: try to smash the quarry to the ground and tear it to pieces. Strong muscles driving powerful claws accomplish some of this, but the Komodo's teeth are its most dangerous weapon. They are large, curved and serrated and tear flesh with efficiency. If the deer fails to escape immediately, the Komodo will continue to rip it apart. Once convinced that its prey is incapacitated, the dragon may break off its offensive for a brief rest. The deer is now badly injured and in shock. The dragon then launches the final blow, a belly attack. The deer quickly bleeds to death and the Komodo begins to feed.
Its tooth serrations harbor bits of meat from the Komodo's last meal, either fresh prey or carrion. This protein-rich residue supports large numbers of bacteria. They have found some 50 different bacterial strains, at least seven of which are highly septic, in the saliva. If the prey somehow maneuvers away and escapes death at this point, chances are that its victory, and it, will be short- lived. The infections it incurs from the Komodo bite will probably kill it in less than a week. In addition to the bacteria in their saliva, researchers have recently documented that Komodos do have a venom gland found in their lower jaw. In addition to the damage the bacteria in their saliva do, the venom prevents the blood from clotting.
The Komodo bite is not deadly to another Komodo, however. Dragons wounded in battle with their comrades appear to be unaffected by the otherwise deadly bacteria and venom. Scientists are searching for antibodies in Komodo blood that may be responsible for saving them from the fate of the infected prey.
Large mammalian carnivores, such as lions, tend to leave 25 to 30 percent of their kill unconsumed, declining the intestines, hide, skeleton and hooves. Komodos eat much more efficiently, forsaking only about 12 percent of the prey. They eat bones, hooves and swaths of hide. They also eat intestines, but only after swinging them vigorously to scatter their contents. This behavior removes feces from the meal.
Komodo dragons eat almost any kind of meat. They scavenge from carcasses or stalk animals ranging in size from small rodents to large water buffalo. The young feed on mostly small gecko lizards or insects. They are tertiary predators (predator at the top of the food chain) and are cannibalistic. They can detect carrion from a considerable distance, about 2.5 miles (4 km), and actively seek it out. When hunting, Komodos hunt along game trails, where they wait for deer or boar to pass by. They then attack the prey most attempts are unsuccessful in bringing down an animal. However, if the dragon is able to bite the prey, toxic bacteria and venom in the saliva will kill the prey within the next few days. After the prey animal dies, which may take up to four days, Komodos use their powerful sense of smell to locate the dead animal. A kill is usually shared by many Komodo dragons and very little is wasted.
The Smithsonian's National Zoo's Komodo dragon eats rodents, chicks and rabbits weekly. Occasionally, he gets fish.