I have enjoyed the Komodo exhibit at the Zoo on many occasions. I always found it especially interesting that the dragon had more than teeth in its bite–it had bacteria. You see, the exhibit and everything I had ever read about the Dragons told me that they had evolved to grow a particularly lethal brew of bacteria in their mouths and that victims would die of nasty infections if the initial bite did not do the deed.
From the Wikipedia article:
Komodo dragons also possess virulent bacteria in their saliva, of which more than 28 Gram-negative and 29 Gram-positive strains have been isolated. These bacteria cause septicemia in their victim; if an initial bite does not kill the prey animal and it escapes, it will commonly succumb within a week to the resulting infection. The most harmful bacterium in Komodo dragon saliva appears to be a deadly strain of Pasteurella multocida, from studies performed with laboratory mice. There is no specific antidote to the bite of a Komodo dragon, but it can usually be treated by sterilizing the wounded area and giving the patient large doses of antibiotics. If not treated promptly, gangrene can quickly develop around the bite, which may require amputation of the affected area. Because the Komodo dragon appears immune to its own microbes, much research has been done searching for the antibacterial molecule(s) in the hopes of human medicinal usage.
Fascinating, isn’t it? A creature evolving a mutualistic relationship with bacteria as an alternative to evolving venom glands is really interseting and cool.
A couple of years ago some scientists suggested that the Dragons might have a weak venom production ability to supplement the bacteria cocktail.
Further scientific research (discussed in today’s New Scientist) has now shown that the Dragons are, in fact, extremly venomnous. So venomnous that the actual bite inflicted does little–it is the venom that does the job. Indeed, the Komodo’s bite, previously thoguht fiersome, is not all that strong at all. From the New Scientist:
You have got to love the scientific method. Never content to sit and consider learned opinion the truth, science always strives to find out that accepted truths are false, and finds potential new pharmcudicals, to boot!
Tsar Bomba is currently wondering about the physics of beer carbonation. You can listen to him on the Dogma Free America Podcast.