How Do You Differentiate a Komodo Dragon From an Asian Water Monitor?

They’re two giant lizards, but actually have several key differences!

Rachel Presser
5 min readJan 4, 2022


three-image layout with light green scales and green text on the left side that says “Meet these giant lizards!” with a photo of an Asian water monitor on top and a Komodo dragon on the bottom
Made by me in Canva

I decided to try something different for the new year: content I don’t normally publish or even see on Medium. Instead of boring content about new year’s resolutions or complaining about algorithms, why not tap into something you LOVE? One of my greatest loves after toads is gigantic monitor lizards!

As one of Twitter’s resident herpetology enthusiasts with some giant reptile husbandry experience, I get asked lots of questions about those big puppy lizards I love sharing. One of the most common questions is, “How do you tell the difference between a Komodo dragon and an Asian water monitor? What IS the difference?”

For starters, they’re both giant lizards from the same taxonomical family, the varanidae family. Most of the genera under varanidae have gone extinct, except for the varanus genus. This is why lizards in this family are also known as varanids and why you see “varanus” in the scientific names of giant lizards.

Asian water monitors and Komodo dragons share some features and behaviors, but they’re absolutely two different giant lizards.

The 5-Second Movie version is that Asian water monitors are thriving as a species for the most part, can make great pets, and they got a nasty bite and sharp claws but are generally not venomous (that’s lizards in the heloderma genus, like Gila monsters).

However, this isn’t the case for Komodo dragons! They’re highly endangered giant lizards, with less than 1,500 in the wild. Their bite is even nastier, as they’re the only known varanids that have a venomous bite. While Asian water monitors can be socialized even if they’re wild-caught, adult Komodo dragons in the wild definitely earned their ferocious reputation. Their venom can take down a water buffalo, and any cuts or bites from a Komodo dragon will absolutely send you to the hospital.

When you see a reptile in film or TV and it’s introduced as a Komodo dragon, it’s likely an Asian water monitor or crocodile monitor since they can be tamed, bred captively, and…



Rachel Presser

Game dev, writer, small biz & tax consultant to indie devs. That loud socialist Frog Slut from The Bronx, now in Angel City.