Archive for June, 2013

Incredibly, this blog is now back; which I’m sure is a massive relief to the literally dozens of people, and thousands of spambots, that read this.

 

In fairness, I do have an excuse for not updating since before the Ordovician (ten points to who can tell what period came before, and after, this). Firstly, I was busy with my project, the dark fruit of which shall shortly ripen and cause Man to gnash his teeth and curse the uncaring God that rules over the universe, and hopefully also get me a 2:1. Secondly, and partially as a result of the first reason, I was somewhat…distracted after I handed the project in. I have little idea what actually happened, but the police, CPS and indeed myself would welcome clarifications on my whereabouts and actions over the past month; although on the plus side the 120 hour long alcoholic blackout I underwent at one point at least meant I spent much of the week sober.


But anyway, here we are again; and today we’ll be looking at a truly horrific lizard called the Komodo Dragon, which, as its name suggests, lives in Indonesia. (I’m sorry, but if you don’t know Komodo Island is in Indonesia, then I honestly cannot help you. Your parents obviously failed to educate you to a satisfactory standard). The term dragon, however, may be slightly misleading. ‘Dragon’ implies cunning reptiles, with a worrying amount of intelligence, and perhaps even the ability to breath fire and fly. However, these ‘dragons’ are really just big, exceptionally ugly and rather unhygienic lizards [we’ve heard of ‘scientific dispassion’, and want no part of it. Ed.]

 The Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis) is an example of the monitor lizards, and is the largest (living) lizard in the world, reaching lengths of up to three metres and weighing in at a decidedly hefty seventy or so kilograms. As such, they do, on occasion, attack humans, and the habit of burying bodies very deeply on the islands where the dragons live, and covering them with stones, is probably a response to the slightly nauseating habit these reptiles have of digging up a buried corpse and chowing down.

Therefore, never have a funeral performed by a Komodo Dragon priest. It will all end in tears. (Image from Wikimedia Commons).

Indeed, ‘nauseating’, ‘disgusting’ and ‘there is no God” are all common responses to some Komdo Dragon facts. For example, Komodo Dragon saliva is coloured red. This is not because of any special colouration, but rather because tissue covers almost all their teeth. Therefore, during feeding, this tissue gets lacerated; causing the saliva to have a blood red tinge. Additionally, adult Komodo Dragons are cannibalistic on their young; indeed 10% of the Komodo Dragon’s diet is made up of…other Komodo Dragons. When joining in group feeding, to prevent them being attacked and eaten, the young role themselves in faeces to prevent detection by adults. Finally, after eating, Komodo Dragons vomit up a mess of indigestible material, coated in stinking mucus.

Fun fact: The Komodo Dragon’s skin is covered in bony scales (osteoderms) that means you can’t make it into leather. So its not all bad. (Image credit Wikimedia Commons).

However, its feeding where the Komodo Dragon really stands out. Although they are not too proud to scavenge on carrion, they do actively hunt as well. They have a keen sense of smell; and can run at surprisingly fast speeds for short distances (up to 20 km/h) and have been observed standing up to catch out of reach prey.

 Even if a prey animal has escaped, if it is bitten it is still likely to succumb. For a long time it was thought this was due to sceptic shock; as Komodo Dragons have mouths filled with colonies of virulent and pathogenic bacteria. In one study, 57 varieties (much like Heinz beans) of bacteria were isolated from the saliva of Dragons, and mice infected with the saliva died from infection caused by one variety of bacteria, Pasteurella multocida (again, much like Heinz beans) (Montgomery et al 2002). However, recent research has cast doubt on this; pointing out that not every Dragon has this species of bacteria in its mouth; that these bacteria are likely transferred from prey to the mouths of the lizards during feeding, and that generally it is unlikely that such a mechanism would have evolved as an effective feeding strategy. However, it is now thought that Komodo Dragons are venomous to a degree; as their saliva contains various proteins that, among other things, stop the blood from coagulating; explaining why bites from these lizards bleed for a very long time (Fry et al 2009).

“You’ve got to admit that introducing bacteria into carrion is possibly not the safest method of eating”.

There was once a larger living lizard than the Komodo Dragon, and it was called Varanus Priscus, living, completely obviously, in Australia. There are plans to restore the outback to how it was before humans colonised Australia; and this would probably involve introducing Komodo Dragons as an apex predator; a policy we believe is possibly not the best one.

“My fellow Australians: I say we do not have enough venomous animals in our great nation. A great nation deserves thousands of great reptiles to roam our lands.”

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