Varanus komodoensis Essay

Submitted By jmnspooner
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Varanus komodoensis, more commonly known as the Komodo dragon, is the largest lizard in the world (Laver et al., 2012). The Komodo dragon exists in the Kingdom Animalia, Phylum Chordata, Class Reptilia, Order Squamata, Family Varanus (www.redlist.org). Komodo dragons are usually a uniform light brown, brownish-grey, or grey color. They were first discovered in 1910 and first scientifically described by Major Peter A. Ouwens, Director of the Zoological Museum and Botanical Gardens in Buitenzorg, Java, in 1912 (Forth, 2010). In Ouwens’ 1912 article, “On a large Varanus species from the island of Komodo,” he describes how the Komodo dragon was discovered and provides many details of its most prominent features and characteristics. Ouwens had heard reports of a strange Varanus species on the island of Komodo before. One of Ouwens’ colleagues, Mr. van Steyn van Hensbroek, visited the island of Komodo to obtain evidence of such a peculiar creature. Upon capture and examination of a specimen, Hensbroek sent evidence to Ouwens, which Ouwens used to write the first description of Varanus komodoenis: “Teeth acute, compressed. Snout short, depressed at the tip. Nostril oval, three times as far from the orbit as from the tip of the snout. Digits strong. Tail compressed, keeled above. The caudal keel with a low five-sixtoothed crest. Head- and neck-scales large and very strongly keeled 3). Abdominal scales keeled, in 97 transverse rows. Caudal scales also keeled and in 218 transverse rows. Scales on upper surface smaller than the neckscales and strongly keeled. Dark brown above. Tongue very long and yellow. Tympanum large,” (Ouwens, 1912). The Komodo dragon, also known to locals as “Boeaja darat” (land crocodile), is native to ecotonal zones between savannah and monsoon forest areas of the small eastern Indonesian island of Komodo, the smaller neighboring islands of Rinca, Gili Dasamiand, Gili Motang, and parts of the large island of Flores (Forth, 2010). Komodo dragons show typical ‘gorge and fast’ feeding behavior (Sunter, 2008). Though carnivorous, Komodo dragons also are scavengers, feeding mostly on carrion whenever possible. This is not to say they do not hunt. Komodo dragons are avid hunters, often ambushing their prey, which consists of large mammals, sometimes up to three times their own size. Due to the great size difference between predator and prey, Komodo dragons have developed a very distinctive characteristic to aid in killing large prey. Dragons’ saliva contains septic pathogens mixed with toxic venom that cause symptoms in bitten prey such as inhibition of blood clotting, lowering of blood pressure, muscle paralysis, and the induction of hypothermia (Auffenberg, 1981). A bite from a Komodo dragon will usually render prey immobile soon after being bitten, allowing the dragon to kill and consume it more easily. Once a dragon has found or killed its next meal, it rips the prey’s flesh apart with its ziphodont (saw-toothed) teeth. These teeth are highly specialized for the sole task of ripping flesh from a carcass. Being considered a ziphodont consumer, Komodo dragons have a very specific way of eating. The “crowns” of their teeth are believed to function as one like on a “curved scalpel blade” (D’Amore, 2009). The back crown cuts the flesh first and then the other crowns, which are longer, cut deeper and deeper as the head is pulled back. This process is known as defleshing. Komodo dragons have never been seen ripping limbs from their prey or biting bone. Their teeth are not meant to crush bone (D’Amore, 2009). As previously mentioned, Komodo dragons are the largest lizards in the world, reaching lengths of up to three meters long, and weights of 130 kilograms (Forth, 2010). From 2002 to 2010, scientists carried out experiments in ten different locations throughout Komodo National Park in order to study the growth rates of Komodo dragons and what factors may play a role in their development. To measure growth rate,…