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Laura Klappenbach

Komodo Dragons Pack a Venomous Bite

By May 19, 2009

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Research reported this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has revealed that Komodo dragons deliver a venomous bite to their victims, a fact that makes this already fearsome giant reptile even more formidable.

Komodo dragons are the world's largest species of lizard. Adults can grow to lengths of 3 meters and weigh as much as 165 kilograms. Previously, scientists thought the Komodo dragon's saliva was non-venomous and was instead laden with pathogenic bacteria which infected and immobilized their prey.

But now a team of scientists led by Bryan Fry of the Australian Venom Research Unit at the University of Melbourne have discovered that Komodo dragons possess a venom gland with ducts that feed into the lizard's teeth. When the Komodo dragon bites its victim, the venom drains through these ducts in their teeth and into the animals wounds.

Fry and his team used computer modeling techniques to analyze the Komodo dragon's bite. They discovered that the giant lizard's bite was weaker than the bite of a crocodile.

The Komodo dragon's skull is lightweight and is better adapted to hanging on to prey than it is to generating a powerful bite. The researchers performed an MRI scan which revealed the venom gland and analyzed samples of the venom which proved to contain similar toxins as the Gila monster and various snake species.

References

Fry, B. et. al. (2009). A central role for venom in predation by Varanus komodoensis (Komodo Dragon) and the extinct giant Varanus (Megalania) priscus Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0810883106

Photo © Dennis Hinaris / iStockphoto.

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