VIRGINIA BEACH — The two Komodo dragon babies, whose heads emerged from the dirt surprising Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center staffers last August, are males.
The father — 13-year-old, 100-pound Komodo dragon Teman — formally introduced his boys to the world at the aquarium Thursday morning after lab results confirmed their gender.
“Komodo dragons are an endangered species, so this is a really big deal,” Chip Harshaw, senior curator of husbandry, said.
While the hatchlings’ cages don’t have red car beds for them to sleep in yet, the little lizards live in a room behind the exhibit. The room is kept at about 90 degrees, where they eat insects, small birds, mice and play in trees all day.
The pair of boys are almost three feet in size and grow about six inches every month. They have long tails and glow with black and yellow tones.
“If you look at adult Komodos, if they’re not covered in dirt or dust, they’re pretty colorful animals, they just tend to have more of an earthy color,” Harshaw said. “A lot of species of reptiles and animals in general, when they’re younger animals, the colors just pop more.”
Though they look identical, don’t call them twins.
“When they first hatched out, one was significantly larger and heavier than the other,” Harshaw said. “They’ve kind of caught up to each other now.”
Harshaw said the lizards are kept apart to eliminate competition for food and to correctly identify them, but when more Komodo dragons are involved, painting their fingernails can distinguish them.
Now that the world knows the lizards are males, what will their names be?
“We plan to ask the public to help us name these new little boys,” aquarium spokesperson Matt Kleispz said. “Anyone who wants to come to the aquarium today, we’re going to be soliciting some of those names.”
Similar to how the aquarium named its harbor seal Rudder in 2015, it will soon crowdsource the task to the public. There will be a list of names people can vote for, as well as an option to submit a custom name, Kleispz said.
There are plans to feature the hatchlings in an exhibit in aquarium’s conservation station section, too.
The exhibit, which could open late this summer, plans to house the two lizards, but one of them technically belongs to a zoo in Texas.
“One of these dragons is the San Antonio Zoo’s,” Harshaw said. “It demonstrates how important for zoological facilities to cooperate together with reproduction. In this case, I’d say, it’s been very successful.”
Harshaw said Komodo dragons are endangered, and several zoological institutions work together to increase through the species survival plan program.
The program paired Jude, a female Komodo dragon from the San Antonio Zoo, with Teman for the sole purpose to make babies.
“Jude was identified as an ideal genetic reproductive candidate for Teman,” Harshaw said. “They were paired together because their genetics were good, for reproduction and the conservation of their species.”
After four years of waiting for a spark, the two reproduced, but Jude developed an infection in her reproductive system shortly after and became sick.
“We noticed a behavioral change in her,” Harshaw said. “She stopped eating, became very lethargic and eventually we had to do surgery in an effort to help her.”
About three months after the surgery, the aquarium made the call to euthanize her after failing to recover.
“It got to a point where it was quality of life and we couldn’t allow her any type of suffering at that point … that was extremely difficult for us,” Harshaw said. “But she did leave us two presents, two very special ones.”
Follow Justin on Twitter @Justinbmmj or send a story idea to Justin@SouthsideDaily.com