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A fresh look at a foul-mouthed lizard

By Mike, 20 January 2014 News

Komodo Dragon

The Komodo dragon of Indonesia has had an unhygienic reputation, but is it deserved?
Image: Thinkstock

January has been a busy month for CSIRO’s dragon experts, so we thought you might also enjoy reading about a living dragon found in the real world: the Komodo dragon!

The Komodo dragon has had a reputation as a potty-mouthed creature. But, there’s no need to wash its mouth out with soap – it seems it was a misunderstanding.

For the past few decades, scientists believed a single bite from the world’s largest lizard would leave a wound so full of deadly bacteria, you’d quickly keel over from the infection. Now, researchers from the University of Queensland have found the Komodo dragon’s mouth is no dirtier than any other carnivore’s.

The research shows the Indonesian lizard is actually rather clean, licking its lips and wiping its mouth after eating. The levels of deadly bacteria aren’t high enough to cause such quick-killing infections.

The myth stems from the death of water buffaloes bitten by the dragon. The cause of death, it seems, is the water buffalo’s own behaviour. When attacked, the animal runs into water to escape. Any wounds are quickly swamped with contaminated water worse than the Komodo dragon’s bite.

Since the lizard drinks from these same water holes, small amounts of the same bacteria would be found in its saliva. The researchers plan to check this hypothesis by testing water samples.

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