9 Amazing Facts About Komodo Dragons

USO/iStock via Getty Images
USO/iStock via Getty Images

Apart from being Earth’s largest living lizard, behavior like man-eating and grave-robbing are the Komodo dragon’s biggest claims to fame. But did you know that these guys are also surprisingly intelligent—even playful—creatures gifted at both long-distance swims and virgin births? Read on to learn more. 

1. Komodo dragons are also known as oras.

Western scientists didn't find out about the giant reptiles until 1912, but long before they finally showed up on academia’s radar, Komodo Island natives had given them the name ora, which means “land crocodile.”

2. Komodos are excellent swimmers.

Traveling between Indonesian islands is often a necessity for hungry Komodo dragons; the animals are sometimes spotted paddling along miles off shore. 

3. No carcass is safe around a komodo dragon.

Komodo Dragon Eating a Mouse
mjf795/iStock via Getty Images

Snakes and many lizards have forked tongues to pick up microscopic, airborne taste particles. After being exposed to air, the tongue gets retracted and its prongs are inserted into the animal’s Jacobson’s organ (located on the roof of its mouth). This enables the reptile to identify whatever flavors it’s just picked up, which allows Komodo dragons to start tasting a scrumptious carrion dinner from more than two miles away.  

4. George H.W. Bush received a komodo dragon as a gift.

Halfway through his only term, Bush 41 was given an ora male, courtesy of Indonesia’s government, named Naga. While the idea of letting a giant lizard prowl around the Oval Office sounds pretty awesome, the president instead chose to hand him over to the Cincinnati Zoo. After fathering 32 youngsters, the illustrious critter passed away in 2007 at the respectable age of 24.

5. Komodo dragons are venomous.

Ten years ago, scientists believed Komodo dragons had saliva laden with really deadly bacteria, and that bites containing the spit were potent enough to bring down a water buffalo. But that wasn't actually the case: In 2009, biochemist Brian Fry tested this conventional wisdom by hunting for dangerous microorganisms inside several Komodo dragon mouths. Fry learned that, contrary to popular opinion, their chops have proportionally fewer bacteria than most meat-eating mammals do. Furthermore, Fry found no trace of any especially-hazardous ones. What he did find was venom glands. Situated in the lower jaw, these release a nasty cocktail that causes paralysis, extreme blood loss, inadequate clotting, tissue damage, and excruciating pain. Those poor buffalo never stood a chance.

6. Komodos can consume 80 percent of their body weight in one sitting.

Having freakishly-flexible jaws really helps these creatures gorge. As you can see in the clip above, Komodos can swallow smallish animals (like mid-sized piglets) whole.

7. Komodo dragons have killed at least four people in the last five decades.


JudyKennamer/iStock via Getty Images

Mortal encounters between Komodo dragons and humans were documented in 1974, 2000, 2007, and 2009. The 2009 attack involved a man who fell from an apple tree and was mauled by two dragons while lying dazed on the ground. As a general rule, Komodo dragons prefer raiding graves to killing people, so natives frequently pile rocks over their loved ones’ tombs as a deterrent.

8. Female Komodo dragons can reproduce without having sex.

Two Komodo dragons
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Wannabe Komodo dragon moms needn’t wait around for a male to help them. On multiple occasions, captive females have laid eggs that produced healthy babies despite not copulating first. In fact, one mother had never even shared an enclosure with a member of the opposite sex before. Here’s how it works: When no males are around, female Komodo dragons—like certain other lizards—may practice something called parthenogenesis. Basically, this means that, in lieu of sperm, certain egg cells can fertilize each other.

9. Smaller Komodo dragons roll around in feces to avoid getting cannibalized.

Close up head shot of a Komodo Dragon.
davidevison/iStock via Getty Images

Adults are anything but picky eaters and won’t think twice about devouring their own offspring. Until they grow large enough to fend for themselves, young Komodos keep away from hungry grown-ups by taking to the trees, where they become nimble, branch-climbing predators. Still, this isn’t always enough. When close encounters are imminent, juveniles make themselves as unappetizing as possible by rolling in dung, which not even the most ravenous dragons can stomach.

Fish Tube: How the 'Salmon Cannon' Works and Why It's Important

PerfectStills/iStock via Getty Images
PerfectStills/iStock via Getty Images

If you’ve been on the internet at any point in the past week, you’ve certainly come across footage of wildlife conservationists stuffing salmon into a giant plastic tube and shuttling them over obstacles. It’s so bizarre—even by the already loose standards of the web—that it briefly ignited discussions over fish welfare, its purpose, and the seeming desire of people to be similarly transported through a pneumatic tunnel into a new life.

Naturally, the “salmon cannon” has a mission beyond amusing the internet. The system was created by Whooshh Innovations, a company that essentially adopted the same kind of transportation system featuring pressurized tubing that's used in banking. Initially, the system was intended to transport fruit over long distances without bruising. At some point, engineers figured they could do the same for fish.

The fish payload is secured at the entrance of the tube—acceptable species can weigh up to 34 pounds—and moves through a smooth, soft plastic tube that conforms to their body shape. Air pressure behind them keeps them moving. The fish are jettisoned between 16 and 26 feet per second to a new location, where they emerge relatively unscathed. Because there’s no need for a water column, the tubing can cover most terrain at virtually any height.

The tubing solution is a human answer to a human problem: dams. With fish largely confined to still bodies of water thanks to dams and facing obstacles swimming upstream to migrate and spawn, fish need some kind of assistance. In the past, “fish ladders” have helped fish move upstream by providing ascending steps they can flop on, but not all fish can navigate such terrain. Another system, trapping and hauling fish like cargo, results in disoriented fish who can even forget how to swim. The Whooshh system, which has been in used in Washington state for at least five years, allows for expedient fish export with an injury rate as little as 3 percent, although study results have varied.

The video features manual insertion of the fish. In the wild, Whooshh counts on fish making semi-voluntary entries into the tubing. Once they swim into an enclosure, they’re curious enough about the tube to go inside.

If all goes well, the system could help salmon be reintroduced to the Upper Columbia River in Washington, where the population has been depleted by dams. Testing of the device there is awaiting approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

[h/t Popular Mechanics]

Virginia Zoo Is Auctioning Off the Chance to Name Its New Red Panda Triplets

bbossom/iStock via Getty Images
bbossom/iStock via Getty Images

The red panda population at the Virginia Zoo grew significantly earlier this summer, The Virginian-Pilot reports. On June 18, mother Masu and father Timur welcomed a brood of triplets into the world, bringing their total number of offspring up to five. The three red panda babies are currently without names, but the zoo is giving a few lucky bidders the chance to change that.

Red pandas are endangered, with fewer than 10,000 of them living in their natural habitat in the Eastern Himalayas. Red panda breeding programs, like the one at the Virginia Zoo in Norfolk, are a way for conservationists to rebuild the species's dwindling numbers.

In 2017, Masu relocated to Virginia from the Denver Zoo as a juvenile. Zookeepers paired her with a male red panda there named Timur, and in June 2018, she delivered twin cubs named Adam and Freddie. Red pandas typically breed in the spring and summer months and usually have just two babies at a time. But when Masu gave birth again this past June, she had three tiny cubs.

The three new red panda babies each weighed about 5 ounces when they were born and weigh roughly a pound today. Masu has been moved to a private, climate-controlled den to care for her young and will be returned to her original exhibit with her cubs sometime this fall.

By the time they make their debut, the youngest red pandas at the Virginia Zoo will have names, chosen not by the zoo, but by members of the public. Starting yesterday, August 19, and ending August 30, the zoo is holding an online auction for the naming rights of each of the three red panda cubs. As of press time, the honor of naming the two boy red pandas has already been sold for $2500 each, and the current bid for the girl stands at $1000. All the money that's raised will be donated to the Zoo’s conservation partner, the Red Panda Network.

Perhaps due to the results of previous public naming contests, the Zoo did lay out a few stipulations for the winning bidders. It won't accept any repeat names of red pandas that have lived there in the past. Additionally, "any racial, religious or ethnic slurs, explicit language, obscene content, reference to alcohol, drugs or other illicit substances or otherwise unlawful, inappropriate, objectionable, or offensive content" will be rejected. All name submissions from the winners are due to the zoo by September 9.

[h/t The Virginian-Pilot]

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