Thursday, 14 July 2011

Komodo dragon

The largest of all living lizards is the Komodo dragon, part of the monitor lizard family and the only lizard alive that will stalk and (occasionally) kill humans. Komodo dragons are one of the most feared lizards and because of their size and power some people consider them to be living dinosaurs. The Komodo has a unique way of tracking its prey.

Komodo dragons are the largest predator on the Indonesian islands, they can be up to 3 meters (9.8ft) long and weigh around 70Kg (150lb) - the heaviest ever found in the wild was 166Kg (370lb). The Komodo dragon’s tail is as long as their body and is very powerful, it would knock you off your feet if you were hit by it. The reason for their size is a biological phenomenon called "island gigantism". This happens when there are no large predators on an island; birds and lizards will grow to be larger than normal so they are able to hunt all prey on the island without competition or have problems with larger prey.

Komodo dragons have powerful legs armed with incredibly sharp claws, which are used to harm prey and rip apart food. Komodo dragon skin is usually a green colour and they have yellow forked tongues. You would know if you saw one in the wild, as they are rather large and can be clumsy on their feet. Something that big and beefy, how could you not notice it?

Komodo dragons are generally solitary creatures and only meet to eat or breed but have been reported to hunt together once in a while. Males will fight each other for courtship rights, they sometimes vomit or defecate before the fight and the reason is unknown; maybe they are nervous. The victor pins the other male to the ground and once he has won the victor will mate with the female (after he courts her some more). Courting may involve rubbing chins together and hard scratching on the females back. The female is resistant to mating, she will fight the male so the male will pin her down to mate with her. Once pregnant the female will lay up to 20 eggs in a cut borrow on the side of the hill or in an Orange-footed Shrubfowl’s nesting mount. The eggs will incubate for seven to eight months and the hatchlings will crack the egg with an egg tooth that will fall off later like the echidna puggle does.
The hatchlings will live in tree tops to avoid larger prey and cannibalistic adults that will eat them, they take up to eight or nine years to mature and will stay in the trees until they are too large for their claws to lift them into the trees anymore. The claws then become used mostly for defense and attacking.

The diet of the Komodo basically includes any thing it can kill, including other komodo dragons. Something unique about the way they hunt is that they have over 57 different strands of bacteria in their saliva, a germaphobes worst nightmare. When a Komodo dragon eats it actually cuts up its gums so that blood sits in their saliva with raw meat left over from eating as well, this creates the ideal world for bacteria to grow. When a Komodo dragon bites you it will pass the bacteria into your would which can cause rapid swelling, localized disruption of blood clotting, shooting pain up to the elbow, muscle paralysis, hypothermia leading to shock, loss of consciousness and these effects will last for hours; Komodo dragons can also smell the saliva they left in your bite for miles so you can you not hide from them. It is unknown why these bacteria do not affect the Komodo dragon as it lives in their saliva. Recently scientists have discovered that Komodo dragons and other monitor lizards have two small venom glands in their lower jaw but it is in dispute whether they use them or not, some believe that the symptoms of their bite is caused by the venom and others believe it is from the bacteria only.

It is also believed that the Tyrannosaurs Rex (T. Rex) had a similar bacterial environment in their saliva to the Komodo dragon, not surprising as the Komodo dragon and the T. Rex are both epic creatures and are similar type apex predators (top predators) of their times.

The Komodo dragon just goes to show how little we actually know of the epic creatures we share this planet with and how easily we humans can become prey. They show us how we are just another creature on this planet abiding by natures rules of survival. They are also a good example of why you should brush your teeth unless you want the kiss of death.

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