Thursday, October 27, 2011

Komodo Dragons & Lizards of Legend, by Sharon Powell

KOMODO  DRAGON                                   FRILED NECKED LIZARD

For centuries, dragons have been a significant part of life for various cultures around the world. Greek mythology, Ancient, and Middle Eastern cultures have portrayed the creature as symbols of wisdom, possessing supernatural powers and clairvoyant tendencies. Depictions of dragons date as far back as 600 B.C. Many movie and film series have also used the dragon as a symbol of fear, portraying them as evil creatures able to destroy entire cities and towns with a single breath of fire.

 A Japanese film classic, “Godzilla” sparked interest for many science fiction buffs of the 50’s. The film made its way into theaters during 1954 and has never stopped impacting the movie and film industry craze. The film is based upon a giant dragon caught in a turbulent storm descending upon the shores of “Tokyo Bay.” The dragon later wounds and kills hundreds of citizens before university scientists discover a method to kill the evil monster. The original film version was a low budget sci-fi for Japanese film makers, but has since made its way into contemporary movie theaters featuring sequels to the 1954 “Godzilla” classic. Believing that contemporary dragons are the dinosaurs of the past remains an essential characteristic into the mystical genre involving the world of mythology.

Komodo Dragons
     Although there are several species of reptile existing today, the “Komodo Dragon” pictured above is a fierce predator within the animal kingdom and is recorded for being the largest of reptile species in existence. The largest Komodo ever recorded weighed 336 lbs. and measuring 10.3 ft. in length. The Komodo are serious predators when hungry and often engage in cannibalism, consuming young hatchlings when food is scarce. According to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, Komodo Dragons are endangered species due to the excessive poaching by Bushman regarding alternate food sources the dragon depends upon for survival. Komodo dragons originate from the Islands of Indonesia, and Mediterranean regions. Although they are not territorial animals, adult dragons have been found to remain within the same area for several years. Records indicate the lifespan for an average Komodo in the wild is between 10 to 12 years. The oldest Komodo ever recorded survived in captivity for 24 years.

     Like all reptiles, Komodo dragons are cold-blooded creatures and must depend upon the ultra violet rays of the sun for warmth. Most reptile species prefer warm temperatures, and dry climates for basking in the sunlight in order to maintain moderate body temperatures throughout the day. Climates found within tropical settings provide the necessary relief from excessive heat. A temperate range for the Komodo is between 82 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures reaching higher than 108 F. are found to be lethal for the dragon. 

     Female species of Komodo dragons do not reach sexual maturity until 9 years of age, and 10 years for the male, so selecting a mate does not pose a problem during mating season. On average, there are three females for every male Komodo population. The male and female Komodo may spend hours hissing and wrestling about until blood is drawn. The male has very little problem overcoming the female in battle and will employ a flicking motion with his forked tongue to initiate courtship. Most Komodo unions are developed during the months of May and August and can last for weeks until actual mating occurs. Once consummation is complete, a “clutching” of eggs is released, usually within the earlier part of spring, or third and fourth months of every year. The dragon will release a “clutch” of between eighteen to thirty eggs, and will spend the remaining nine months incubating them within a dugout filled with twigs and soil for protection from other predators. Hatchlings weigh little more than 3.5 ounces when born and measure approximately 16” in length. Newborns will scurry about consuming insects and worms until larger animals can be digested.

Hunting and Food
     Komodo are serious carnivores and can consume up to 80% of their total body weight during one meal. Feasting upon Wild Boar, Deer, and Buffalo are a delight for the dragon and will often be shared among the komodo population. The dragons are also known for their keen hunting ability, depending upon chemical queues and visual advantages for locating food. According to James Murphy and Claudia Ciofi, Komodo Dragons, Biology and Conservation, the dragons are able to see approximately 986 ft., establishing them as a fierce hunters. Komodo draw upon chemical queues within their environment that are significant advantages to hunting for prey. Hostile and aggressive behaviors are also common among Komodo when food is scarce. Dragons will often engage in battle when defending their food source, wherefore, biting, hissing and tumbling about in order to overcome the challenges associated with survival.

     Komodo dragons are scavengers by nature, and will consume most of what is available during in gestation periods, including the bones, hoof, and hide of their prey. Dragons are equipped with a deadly row of serrated teeth, capable of acting like a large knife in order to slice and tear meat from the bone. If bitten by a Komodo, chances are you will not survive without quick medical attention. Bacteria contained within the dragon’s venom contain 54 species of deadly bacteria, which immediately enters the bloodstream of their victim. Once an animal is wounded, bacteria will begin to attack the vital organs and death will most often occur within one week. Like most carnivores, the Komodo are attracted to blood and may single out pregnant prey using chemical queues and then monitoring their movements. The dragon will “snatch” the newborn from between the mother’s legs at birth. Although this unseemingly vicious act is unfortunate, survival for the endangered Komodo is reduced and remains an integral part of the ecosystem…...S. Powell, 2010

James Murphy, Claudio Ciofi, Colomba de la Panouse, Trooper Walsh. Komodo Dragons, Biology and Conservation, Smithsonian Institution Press, Wahington and London, 2002. John Netherton, David Badger, Lizards, A natural History of Uncommon Creatures, Voyageur Press, Stillwater, MN 2002.

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