The saliva of the Komodo Dragon

Komodo dragon saliva hosts numerous pathogens

by Lorenzo Ciotti
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The saliva of the Komodo Dragon
© Christopher Furlong / Staff Getty Images News

Komodo dragon saliva hosts numerous pathogens, especially bacteria such as Escherichia coli, Proteus morgani, P. mirabilis and various species of the Staphylococcus and Providencia genera.

These germs disappear from the mouths of captive animals, following a cleaner diet and the use of antibiotics.

In saliva samples from the mouths of three wild specimens, researchers at the University of Texas found the presence of 57 different types of bacteria, including Pasteurella multocida. Fredeking noticed the rapid growth of these bacteria.

One study managed to explain why wounds inflicted by Komodo dragons in prey were often linked to sepsis and subsequent infections. How the Komodo dragon is immune to these virulent bacteria remains a mystery.

Komodo dragon
Komodo dragon© Christopher Furlong / Staff Getty Images News
 

In late 2005, researchers at the University of Melbourne discovered that giant monitors, as well as other monitors and agamids, can be poisonous. Researchers demonstrated that the bite of these lizards causes mild poisoning.

They carefully observed the fingers of people bitten by various monitor lizards, Komodo dragons and spotted tree monitors, realizing that the effect of such bites was similar in all observed cases: rapid swelling within a few minutes, localized interruption of blood clotting and stabbing pain extending up to the elbow which can last for a few hours.

In 2009, the same researchers published further evidence showing that the Komodo dragon has a venomous bite. MRI performed on a preserved skull showed the presence of two venom glands in the lower jaw. They extracted one of these glands from a dying specimen at the Singapore Zoological Gardens and found that it secreted a poison containing several different types of toxic proteins.

Among the known functions of these proteins are inhibition of coagulation, lowering of blood pressure, muscle paralysis and induction of hypothermia; in poisoned prey these factors lead to shock and loss of consciousness. After the publication of this discovery, the previous theory that bacteria were responsible for the deaths of Komodo dragon bite victims was called into question.

Komodo dragon
Komodo dragon© Cameron Spencer / Staff Getty Images News
 

The komodo dragon

The Komodo dragon is an endangered species and is included in the IUCN Red List. In nature there are around 1000-2000 specimens.

To safeguard the dragon, the Komodo National Park was established in 1980, including not only the island of the same name, but also Rinca and Padar. Subsequently, the Wae Wuul and Wolo Tado reserves were established in Flores.

Deforestation, fires, declining prey, tourism and poaching make the Komodo dragon's condition vulnerable. CITES Appendix I prohibits trade in skins or live specimens of this species.

The dragon population that once lived on Padar has disappeared since 1975. Their disappearance from the island is believed to be due to the decline of the large ungulates, which was in turn caused by poaching.