Stories tagged Komodo dragons

May
19
2009

It's dreaming about biting things: And then clawing them.
It's dreaming about biting things: And then clawing them.Courtesy Ltshears
I know that the title of this post subjects the deadliness of the Komodo dragon to the entire spectrum of relative notions of danger, but be assured that all of them are accurate.

Did you think that the Komodo dragon was not deadly at all? Wrong. It is at least somewhat deadly.

Were you under the impression that the Komodo is about as dangerous as a baby? No, sir. The Komodo is about as dangerous as a dog with a gun in its mouth.

Have you been operating under the notion that a Komodo dragon is no more potentially dangerous than a monkey with a box of grenades? The joke is on you. Komodo dragons are as dangerous as Rambo with a box of grenades.

And so forth.

Mostly, though, if you thought that the Komodo dragon was dangerous only for its filthy mouth, you’ll be surprised to discover that its venom is also quite dangerous.

You may remember some of Science Buzz’s extensive Komodo dragon coverage, in which we make mention of the Komodo dragon’s famously dirty mouth. Komodo dragons routinely say words so filthy and embarrassing that they could (and do) make sailors blush and feel ashamed of their sexuality. The disgusting language that passes through it makes the average Komodo an ideal home for all manner of dangerous bacteria. When the Komodo bites its prey, some of that bacteria is passed into the wound, quickly resulting in a severe infection. This has been a pretty standard explanation of how the Komodo dragon is able to take down animals as large as wild boar and deer (also, being a 150 pound lizard helps, of course).

The field of Komodo dragon research is booming, however, and that group is never satisfied with old answers. With the help of a zoo’s terminally ill Komodo dragon, researchers have now determined that the toxic bacteria in the Komodos’ mouths is only the beginning of the story. Or at least an interesting chapter that isn’t totally vital to the plot of the story. Nope, it’s the venom, they argue, that’s the real killer.

Komodo dragons have a much weaker bite than crocodiles of similar size, the study revealed. But crocodiles are adapted to hold onto their prey. (To drown it, or break it, or whatever. I’m not a crocodile.) Komodos bite and then release. Their teeth create a nice gash, and specially modified salivary glands introduce the lizards’ venom into the wound. The venom has both anti-clotting and hypertensive agents in it. That means that the bite would both increase an attacked animal’s blood pressure, and prevent the wound from closing up. So the animal would bleed to death. Or it wouldn’t necessarily bleed to death, exactly; it would actually probably just bleed until it went into shock and fell over. Then it would get 150-pound lizarded to death. If it managed to survive all the biting, poisoning, and clawing, then it might have the chance to get a fatal infection from the mouth bacteria.

The last time I saw the Komodo dragon in the news, it was for an attack on a Indonesian fisherman, who died of blood loss before his friends could get him to a hospital. That sort of makes sense with this new study, I guess.

After analyzing living Komodo dragons, the scientists looked for similar anatomical structures (for venomous salivary glands) on the fossils of its extinct relatives. They found them on Veranus megalania. The megalania was pretty much just like the Komodo dragon, except that it was probably about 25 feet long, and might have weighed as much as a couple thousand pounds. This means that it would have been one of the largest venomous animals to ever live. It’s interesting to think that an animal that large would even need venom (It seems to be combining a couple different killing strategies, you know?), but I guess it doesn’t matter much, because the megalania went extinct about 40,000 years ago. This is about the same time that humans first arrived in Australia (where the megalania lived), so if the world works anything like an action movie, humans and megalania might have had at least a few epic battles. (One is happening in my head right now. Trust me, it’s awesome. Oh, no! Arthur just got bitten!)

It feels pretty good, doesn’t it, finally being on the leading edge of Komodo dragon research again.

Mar
24
2009

A Komodo dragon gnaws on a water buffalo: The buffalo may or may not have been on a quest.
A Komodo dragon gnaws on a water buffalo: The buffalo may or may not have been on a quest.Courtesy Mats Stafseng Einarsen
In a classic case of life-imitates-art, a man on a quest was attacked by dragons early this week.

Although… appreciation of the above statement depends on your ability to accept “Harry Potter” as art, and your willingness to interpret a fatal animal attack as anything other than a tragedy.

Neither point is a problem for me.

Indonesian adventurer/fisherman Muhamad Anwar was questing on a forbidden isle at the time of the attack. Anwar’s quest mostly involved searching around for sugar-apples, but still, the whole thing is very Goblet of Fire, I’d say. So let’s say he was looking for dragon eggs, instead of sugar-apples.

Questing for dragon eggs on a forbidden island probably always involves some hazards, but this particular forbidden island happens to be forbidden because it’s part of Indonesia’s Komodo National Park. That means that it has actual dragons. Oooh.

Whether or not Anwar found any dragon eggs was not made clear in the article, but he certainly found some dragons. Or they found him. Anwar was severely mauled by a group of Komodo dragons, and bled to death as a group of fishermen took him to a clinic on a nearby island.

Komodo dragons are the heaviest lizards in the world (an easy 150 pounds in the wild, with captive individuals growing even larger), and they’re carnivorous, which makes them pretty frightening and fascinating right off the bat. There are a few additional characteristics of Komodo dragons, however, that should be taken into consideration when questing in dragon country.

1) Komodo dragons have poor hearing. So, when on an egg quest, be sure to sneak quietly. Note from the author to the author: John, This doesn't make any sense.
2) Komodo dragons do, however, have an exceptional sense of smell. Or, if not smell exactly, chemical analysis. Komodo dragons sample the air with their long forked tongues, and use a Jacobson’s organ like snakes. So be sure to sneak quietly and odorlessly.
3) Komodo dragons have huge teeth and bloody spit. Komodo dragon teeth can grow up to an inch long, but gum tissue covers most of each teeth. That means that when the dragons do much chewing… things get bloody. The bloody saliva, however, makes a nice environment for item number 4.
4) Komodo dragon bites are way toxic. Many monitors (the larger group of lizards that Komodo dragons belong to) have slightly venomous bites, which cause swelling, shooting pain, and disruption of blood clotting. The main danger from the bites, though, is the massive colony of toxic bacteria each Komodo dragon keeps in its mouth. Dozens of species of bacteria have been isolated in dragon mouths, and if an animal isn’t killed by a Komodo dragon’s initial attack, it will generally die within a week anyway, thanks to massive bacterial infection. So be sure to pack your protection from poison potions (or just a ton of powerful antibiotics).
5) Komodo dragons are capable of parthenogenesis. Think, “Jurassic Park,” and you’ve got it. In the absence of male individuals, a female Komodo dragon can still produce offspring. Where the sex of humans is determined by the pairing of X and Y chromosomes (you get one from each parent, if you’re XX, you’re a girl, if XY, you’re a boy), Komodo dragon sex is determined by “ZW” chromosomes. ZZ individuals are male, and ZWs are female. A mother dragon can give one Z chromosome to an egg, and the egg will duplicate that chromosome to become a ZZ individual, a male. If the mother passes on a single W chromosome, the egg may still duplicate it, but WW individuals aren’t viable, and never develop to hatching. So even if a forbidden island was cleared of male dragons, it still may not be safe for questing in the following generations.

All things considered, it’s probably best to avoid Komodo dragons entirely on quests. Unless you’re questing to the zoo.