The infamous Komodo Dragon is making a lot of news these days. First, news came of residents of southeastern Indonesia running for their lives after a slew of dragon attacks. Then news broke about a new study that says the dragons kill using their teeth and venom and not bacteria, which had been the conventional scientific wisdom.Venom, not teeth
Scientists have long thought that the dragons infected their prey with bacteria, which would fell their prey later. The dragon would then find the infected prey and have an easy meal. But now scientists at the University of Melbourne have found that dragons actually use venom from a gland in their mouth to down their prey.
According to their research, the dragon's bite weakens and immobilizes the prey. It then injects venom from special glands in the mouth.
The venom keeps blood from clotting around the prey's wound. And it causes a drop in the blood pressure. The blood loss and the blood pressure drop combine to weaken the animal.
The theory is consistent with what happens to the prey soon after it's bitten, the scientists said. The prey becomes still and unusually quiet, and it bleeds profusely.
"The combination of this specialized bite and venom seem to minimize the dragon's contact with its prey, and this allows it to take large animals," Fry said in a statement released by the University of Melbourne.
Komodo attacks on humans are rare, but some have been reported.
People and dragons have lived together for centuries with nary an incident, but since 2007 there have been a number of reported attacks. A fisherman and a young boy are known to be fatal dragon victims and many others have been attacked. No one knows why incidents have spiked, but some are suggesting that the lack of available dragon food may be the root cause.
From the AP:
Komodos, which are popular at zoos in the United States to Europe, grow to be 10 feet (3 meters) long and 150 pounds (70 kilograms). All of the estimated 2,500 left in the wild can be found within the 700-square-mile (1,810-square-kilometer) Komodo National Park, mostly on its two largest islands, Komodo and Rinca. The lizards on neighboring Padar were wiped out in the 1980s when hunters killed their main prey, deer.
Though poaching is illegal, the sheer size of the park — and a shortage of rangers — makes it almost impossible to patrol, said Heru Rudiharto, a biologist and reptile expert. Villagers say the dragons are hungry and more aggressive toward humans because their food is being poached, though park officials are quick to disagree.
The giant lizards have always been dangerous, said Rudiharto. However tame they may appear, lounging beneath trees and gazing at the sea from white-sand beaches, they are fast, strong and deadly.
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