Are Komodo Dragons Venomous?
Komodo dragons (Varanus komodoensis) use sharp teeth to destroy their prey, which they occasionally swallow whole, and their venomous glands. Or do they? The jury is still out on whether Komodo dragons actually kill using venom.
Although there is a common belief that toxic bacteria in the Komodo dragon's mouth are the reason prey become incapacitated and die, and that therefore they kill through blood poisoning, this theory has been discredited.
Scientists have long observed the Komodo dragon, native to Indonesia, and they have found that it does secrete venom in its mouth. This venom lowers blood pressure and expedites blood loss, sending the victim into shock and making it to weak to fight back. They are not the only venomous lizards; in fact, legless lizards, monitor lizards and iguanas also share this trait.
However, there are doubts that Komodo dragons use their venom to kill, or that they are dangerous for that reason, which is what "venomous" usually implies. So, are Komodo dragons venomous? Stay with us at AnimalWised and find out!
What is a Komodo dragon?
The Komodo dragon can be found in five volcanic islands in South-East Indonesia: Flores, Gili Motang, Komodo, Padar and Rinca. This monitor lizard lives in tough, rugged terrain, teeming with grassland and forest cover.
They are the most massive lizard species on Earth, as they can reach 3 m (10 ft) long and 70 kg (150 lb) in weight. As they are at the top of the food-chain and the pecking order, Komodo dragons are the apex predators of their ecosystem.
They are carnivores, feeding both on carrion and large prey such as deer, water buffaloes or goats. They are stealthy hunters, catching their prey unawares. Komodo dragons swallow their prey whole and digest it for days, which allows them to feed about only fifteen times a year.
Are Komodo dragon's venomous?
Recent research has shown that Komodo dragons are like other monitor lizards in that they secrete venomous proteins in their mouths. Therefore, their saliva is venomous to some degree. However, Komodo dragon venom is unlike cobra venom, which can kill prey in just a few hours.
Some scientists hold that the saliva combines with bacteria to cause blood loss and infections to weaken and finally kill the prey. Different accounts state that a Komodo dragon's saliva includes a mixture of 53 strains of bacteria. However, Komodo dragons take good care of their oral hygiene, and other scientists argue that their saliva is not particularly infectious or venomous.
In 2005, University of Melbourne researchers noted localized swelling, redness, bruising and affliction at the place where the dragon bites. Low blood pressure, muscle paralysis, hypothermia are some of the symptoms associated with the Komodo dragon's bite, but whether it proves the lizard is venomous cannot be decided. Scientists wonder whether that substance has other biological functions beyond weakening prey; if so, it wouldn't simply be "venom".
Are Komodo dragon bites dangerous or deadly?
The use of antibiotics and clean environment ensures that the bacteria is lost, so bites by captive Komodo dragons are usually quite harmless - although if you are bitten by a Komodo dragon you should look for treatment even in the safest of situations.
Even in the case of wild Komodo dragons, the theory of septic bacteria that kills through blood poisoning has been disproved. An attack from this lizard is dangerous, but that is because of its strength and viciousness, not because of its venom.
How does the Komodo dragon attack?
Komodo dragons can smell prey at a distance of up to 4 km (2.5 mi) Their large size makes killing prey cumbersome, but with a top speed of around 18 km/h (11 mi/h) Komodo dragons move quickly enough to bite and wait for the meal to succumb.
As we pointed out, their victims die not because of blood poisoning but because of fast blood loss - enhanced by the venom - and occasional infections due to other reasons, such as running to dirty water to take shelter.
According to the Smithsonian Zoo website, the teeth of a Komodo dragon are its most powerful weapon. Serrated, curved and large, they can rip and tear flesh with ease. Once the prey is incapacitated, the dragon uses its teeth to launch the final attack and begins to feed, being strong enough to tear the animal apart.
To sum up, Komodo dragons have venomous glands and secrete venom, but scientists are not sure whether they should be classified as venom because the function of the secretions has not been clarified yet.
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