London Zoo 2: Komodo dragons

Yesterday evening I made it back to Berlin – for once, the flight was quite empty (as had been the flight to London). I wonder if that’s because of the flight times or because I was flying British Airways, Decidedly less nice looking airplanes for a higher fare than Lufthansa. Don’t believe me on the airplanes? Well, look!

BA_02 BA_01

two seat headrests, chosen at random from where I sat. And each row had different types of seats, and so on. Seems BA is looking at hard times and doing their best to save money. I can understand that some people are reluctant to fly with them, although I expect (and hope) that they do their saving where it is optics only, and not safety.

Anyways, I made it back home safely and now have a tiny bit of time to post some more photos from the London zoo. The coolest thing they have, in my opinion, are two Komodo dragons! Varanus komodensis, the largest living non-archosaurian reptile. A length of 3 m (10 ft) feet is not really that much compared to crocodiles (recently, the largest croc kept in captivity died, an individual with a length of 6.4 m!), but even when you take into account that much of the length is tail the animals are very impressive up close. And lethal, which many people tend to forget. The wounds you suffer when they attack are one thing, the ton of problems with wound infections that results are quite another. Don’t approach – or if you do, be safe behind a thick glass partition, like the one in the London Zoo. It makes photography harder, but that’s a small price to pay for health.

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Komodo dragons look like your average tiny lizard scaled up – admittedly a rather boringly coloured one. Considering how diverse and in some cases outright weird lizards (members of the Lacertilia) can be, Komodo dragons are in fact rather average. They have four complete unreduced limbs, they live on the surface, they have moderate climbing abilities, and they dig and rest in burrows. Nothing too special. Additionally, they have the typical bifurcated tongue, which in combination with Jacobson’s organ makes them able to track prey much better then the ordinary sense of smell via the nose allows. Contrary to what many people believe, this organ is not only found in lizards, but fairly widespread in mammals, too! For it work, it is necessary to transport molecules from the ground to the mouth, and that’s why snakes and lizards flick their tongues out all the time. Komodo dragon, due to their size, do many things a lot slower than smaller species, and therefore slow enough for humans to watch.

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There goes the tongue! Sitting still or walking around, it goes in and out almost all the time.

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This is the London Zoo’s male Komodo dragon – and no, I won’t write his “name” here; I dislike this eternal, commercially driven and ill-fated anthropomorphising. Obviously, the keepers should have names for the animals to make them easily identifiable, but the hype created around names of zoo animals (need I say “Knut”?) is stupid. Anyways, this male is a whopper, at (my estimate) a good 2 m in length. He was quite active, walking around, tossing up dust with every step. If you want to get a good impression of how these animals come across at shirt distance I recommend the late Douglas Adams’ and Mark Carwardine’s Last Chance to See. I won’t try competing with DA’s literary genius here.

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The female in the London Zoo is roughly the same size as the male, I guess, and equally impressive. She was resting the whole 10 minutes I had available for the Komodo Dragon House (which is very nicely done, btw!).

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I am sure I will have more to say on these amazing animals. Later. :)

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About Heinrich Mallison

I'm a dinosaur biomech guy working at the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin.
This entry was posted in Douglas Adams, Lacertilia, lower vertebrates, Travels, Varanidae, Zoos. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to London Zoo 2: Komodo dragons

  1. Pingback: more London Zoo | dinosaurpalaeo

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