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Be Like Pete: Here are 6 Places You Can Find Real 'Dragons' Today

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For children of the '70s and '80s, befriending a playful green dragon was the ultimate childhood fantasy. After all, if meek little Pete could have his own dragon, Elliot, why couldn’t we? Well, Pete’s Dragon is back on the big screen and this time we know better: Dragons do exist. Here are six places you can find them today.

1. KOMODO DRAGON // INDONESIA

Known as the "world’s largest dragon," Komodo dragons are the closest we’ll come to Pete’s Dragon, Elliot. They can grow up to three meters long and weigh up to 150 pounds. With razor-sharp teeth and a venomous bite (recent studies have shown that the "bacteria bite" is probably a myth and they are just regularly venomous), Komodo dragons kill pigs, deer, and water buffalo, so remember: This dragon is not your friend.

Indigenous to Indonesia, Komodo dragons can be found on the Komodo, Rintja, Padar, and Flores islands. But the safer way to see a Komodo Dragon is from afar, be it on an Indonesian Komodo Dragon Safari Cruise or at many zoos across the U.S., like Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo or the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington D.C., where the first-ever Komodo eggs were hatched outside of Indonesia.

2. RUBY SEADRAGON // WESTERN AUSTRALIA

Last year, biologists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography uncovered a new species of underwater dragon: the Ruby Seadragon. They found this ruby-red gem of a dragon accidentally while studying the similar Leafy and Weedy Seadragons.

Located in remote waters off the Western Australian coast, the Ruby Seadragons are still relatively new to the scene, and incredibly tough to spot. But, if you’re ready to accept the challenge, find inspiration in Scripps biologist Greg Rouse’s “Hunt for the Ruby Sea Dragon” Tumblr account.

3. BEARDED DRAGON // CENTRAL AUSTRALIA

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The bearded dragon may not breathe fire, but its evolutionary traits are quite impressive. The central bearded dragon’s external colors sync with its circadian rhythm; its body turns lighter as the day goes on and darker as dusk nears. Its spiky beard is also used as a defense mechanism, and becomes black during times of courtship and stress.

Central Australia is home to the bearded dragon, but they’re also available for purchase in most U.S. pet stores. If you’re not ready to take home a new, scaly friend, you can also view—not buy—bearded dragons at major U.S. zoos like the Louisville Zoo or Pittsburgh Zoo.

4. DRAGON SNAKE // SOUTHEAST ASIA

The dragon snake lives under the radar; scientists know little about it, other than that it burrows during the day and hunts frogs at night. Its peculiar, ridged scales also lend to its unusual, mythical appearance.

Given their nocturnal habits, it’s unlikely you’ll run into a dragon snake in the wild. But don’t let that tempt you to buy your own—dragon snakes do not survive well in captivity, so it’s best to just let them be.

5. FLYING DRAGONS // SOUTHEAST ASIA

For some, dragons don't count unless they can fly. Enter the flying dragon of Southeast Asia. This 8-inch-long lizard species—known as the Draco volans—has flaps of skin along its ribs that turn into bright blue or yellow wings. While their wings don’t have bird-like flying power, they help the lizard glide from branch to branch to escape predators or gather food.

For a personal flying dragon encounter, head to Southeast Asia’s densest forests where you can catch these creatures hopping around. Or, if you’re feeling super adventurous (and perhaps have a backyard aviary), you can adopt one as a pet.

6. TORPEDO DRAGONFISH // ATLANTIC OCEAN AND GULF OF MEXICO

This deep-sea fish is the exact opposite of a friendly dragon—the torpedo dragonfish is an absolutely terrifying species that is like something out of a sci-fi movie. With a mouth full of fangs, a light-producing "barbel" attached to its head, and built-in bioluminescence to help it attract prey and mates, the dragonfish is a six-inch reminder of the ocean’s freakish mysteries.

This dragonfish lives at depths of up to 5000 feet, right along the seabed. While scientists know little about the species, we do know that—at least for the time being—this one’s not ready to swap friendship bracelets with humans.

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Ted Cranford
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science
Scientists Use a CT Scanner to Give Whales a Hearing Test
Ted Cranford
Ted Cranford

It's hard to study how whales hear. You can't just give the largest animals in the world a standard hearing test. But it's important to know, because noise pollution is a huge problem underwater. Loud sounds generated by human activity like shipping and drilling now permeate the ocean, subjecting animals like whales and dolphins to an unnatural din that interferes with their ability to sense and communicate.

New research presented at the 2018 Experimental Biology meeting in San Diego, California suggests that the answer lies in a CT scanner designed to image rockets. Scientists in San Diego recently used a CT scanner to scan an entire minke whale, allowing them to model how it and other whales hear.

Many whales rely on their hearing more than any other sense. Whales use sonar to detect the environment around them. Sound travels fast underwater and can carry across long distances, and it allows whales to sense both predators and potential prey over the vast territories these animals inhabit. It’s key to communicating with other whales, too.

A CT scan of two halves of a dead whale
Ted Cranford, San Diego State University

Human technology, meanwhile, has made the ocean a noisy place. The propellers and engines of commercial ships create chronic, low-frequency noise that’s within the hearing range of many marine species, including baleen whales like the minke. The oil and gas industry is a major contributor, not only because of offshore drilling, but due to seismic testing for potential drilling sites, which involves blasting air at the ocean floor and measuring the (loud) sound that comes back. Military sonar operations can also have a profound impact; so much so that several years ago, environmental groups filed lawsuits against the U.S. Navy over its sonar testing off the coasts of California and Hawaii. (The environmentalists won, but the new rules may not be much better.)

Using the CT scans and computer modeling, San Diego State University biologist Ted Cranford predicted the ranges of audible sounds for the fin whale and the minke. To do so, he and his team scanned the body of an 11-foot-long minke whale calf (euthanized after being stranded on a Maryland beach in 2012 and preserved) with a CT scanner built to detect flaws in solid-fuel rocket engines. Cranford and his colleague Peter Krysl had previously used the same technique to scan the heads of a Cuvier’s beaked whale and a sperm whale to generate computer simulations of their auditory systems [PDF].

To save time scanning the minke calf, Cranford and the team ended up cutting the whale in half and scanning both parts. Then they digitally reconstructed it for the purposes of the model.

The scans, which assessed tissue density and elasticity, helped them visualize how sound waves vibrate through the skull and soft tissue of a whale’s head. According to models created with that data, minke whales’ hearing is sensitive to a larger range of sound frequencies than previously thought. The whales are sensitive to higher frequencies beyond those of each other’s vocalizations, leading the researchers to believe that they may be trying to hear the higher-frequency sounds of orcas, one of their main predators. (Toothed whales and dolphins communicate at higher frequencies than baleen whales do.)

Knowing the exact frequencies whales can hear is an important part of figuring out just how much human-created noise pollution affects them. By some estimates, according to Cranford, the low-frequency noise underwater created by human activity has doubled every 10 years for the past half-century. "Understanding how various marine vertebrates receive and process low-frequency sound is crucial for assessing the potential impacts" of that noise, he said in a press statement.

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Scientific Reports, Fernando Ramirez Rozzi
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Humans Might Have Practiced Brain Surgery on Cows 5000 Years Ago
Scientific Reports, Fernando Ramirez Rozzi
Scientific Reports, Fernando Ramirez Rozzi

In the 1970s, archaeologists discovered a site in France containing hundreds of cow skeletons dating back 5000 to 5400 years. The sheer number wasn't surprising—human agriculture in that part of the world was booming by 3000 BCE. What perplexed scientists was something uncovered there a few decades later: a cow skull bearing a thoughtfully drilled hole. Now, a team of researchers has released evidence that suggests the hole is an early example of animal brain surgery.

Fernando Ramírez Rozzi, a paleontologist with the French National Center for Scientific Research, and Alain Froment, an anthropologist at the Museum of Mankind in Paris, published their findings in the journal Nature Scientific Reports. After comparing the opening to the holes chiseled into the skulls of humans from the same era, they found the bones bore some striking similarities. They didn't show any signs of fracturing from blunt force trauma; rather, the hole in the cow skull, like those in the human skulls, seemed to have been carved out carefully using a tool made for exactly that purpose. That suggests that the hole is evidence of the earliest known veterinary surgery performed by humans.

Trepanation, or the practice of boring holes into human skulls, is one of the oldest forms of surgery. Experts are still unsure why ancient humans did this, but the level of care that went into the procedures suggests that the surgery was likely used to treat sick patients while they were still alive. Why a person would perform this same surgery on a cow, however, is harder to explain.

The authors present a few theories, the first being that these ancient brain surgeons were treating a sick cow the same way they might treat a sick human. If a cow was suffering from a neural disease like epilepsy, perhaps they though that cutting a hole in its head would relieve whatever was agitating the brain. The cow would have needed to be pretty special to warrant such an effort when there were hundreds of healthy cows living on the same plot of land, as evidenced by the skeletons it was found with.

Another possible explanation was that whoever operated on the cow did so as practice to prepare them for drilling into the heads of live humans one day. "Cranial surgery requires great manual dexterity and a complete knowledge of the anatomy of the brain and vessel distribution," the authors write in the study. "It is possible that the mastery of techniques in cranial surgery shown in the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods was acquired through experimentation on animals."

Either way, the bovine patient didn't live to see the results of the procedure: The bone around the hole hadn't healed at all, which suggests the cow either died during surgery or wasn't alive to begin with.

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