May
19
2009

However deadly you thought the Komodo dragon was, it’s more so.

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.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Thor's picture
Thor says:

Here's some interesting video of Komodo Dragon attacks in Indonesia. You can also truly appreciate the size of these lizards by watching this video.

posted on Wed, 06/03/2009 - 10:29am
Komodo dragon's picture

Well we may not have Komodo dragons as a problem in the USA, but we have large pythons and boas that are a problem. As seen in Florida, the state is having a problem in certain regions with the "now wild" Burmese pythons. Though get this, Burmese pythons aren't the only constrictors on the loose for sure. I have seen things where people are buying baby Anacondas and Reticulated Pythons. I am sure some of those are in the state of Florida as well. Reticulated Pythons are the world's largest snake species, which can get up to 30 feet in length. Anacondas are the heaviest, bulkiest and most muscular of all the pythons. There are possibly even African Rock Pythons loose in Florida. Florida has a nice climate for snakes, but so would California. I bet some irresponsible people let a few snakes go there as well. Irresponsibility happens anywhere. I wish Obama would outlaw the ownership of these snakes, and permit no more allowances of these snakes to be brought in, and that any breeding done will be terminated.

posted on Thu, 04/29/2010 - 11:52pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

the komodo is the real deal

posted on Thu, 11/18/2010 - 10:00pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I hate lizards and crocodiles and lizards. I goggled what is more disgusting Komodo dragon or crocodile and that's how I arrived to your article my friend. Did I mention I hate them? I hate them.

posted on Fri, 01/28/2011 - 5:13pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I enjoyed the article

posted on Fri, 04/13/2012 - 1:58pm

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