Komodo dragons

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(Host) Dragons don’t have to breathe fire to be formidable. Commentator Ruth Page describes the world’s largest lizard, and why even it needs protection from human encroachment.

(Page) Kids love to learn about Komodo dragons. They discover the dragon name may have arisen because of their size and the fiery color of their very long, bright yellow, forked tongues. Komodos are the largest of the monitor lizards, surviving on only a couple of small islands in central Indonesia. People live there too, and dragons sometimes wander through their villages; even children will approach them, with caution.
Komodo dragons can grow up to nine feet long, and weigh as much as 200 pounds after a meal. They’re marvelous but not pretty. They have constantly drool a thick mucous packed with nasty bacteria. Scientists are experimenting to learn why the dragons don’t succumb to the poisons.

Like other wild animals, they don’t normally consider humans a food. They like deer, pigs, water buffalo, small mammals, and poisonous snakes; not fussy eaters, they’ll gobble anything dead they come across on the beach. Their method of killing creatures as large as deer and buffalo is ugly but effective. They lie in wait, grab, usually at a leg, and bite. They then subside and keep an eye on the bitten creature for a couple of days. The soup of poisonous bacteria in the saliva slowly kill the victim, and several dragons can have a feast.

The females are good parents, working tirelessly to dig deep nests in the sand for their eggs. Eggs must be protected from predators and from the intense heat.

Moms usually dig under large mounds built by mound-building birds on the island. These are essentially compost heaps of leaf, sand and forest debris, pro-viding warmth. Mama dragon digs deeply to hide her nest, her front clawed feet shooting earth out behind her in clouds.

Though she is smaller than male dragons, she protects the nest from all comers, whether large males, or females looking for free nest space. As with many animal species, mom’s patient in-sistence on protecting her eggs discourages all comers.

When the babies are born they instinctively climb out of the deep nest, cling together in the strange new world, and look for trees to climb. They’re small enough to be food for other crea-tures. Male dragons consider them a toothsome mouthful. The big males can reach pretty high up a tree-trunk, but are too massive to climb; babies climb high and stay in the trees until they’re big enough and quick enough to escape trouble on the ground.

You’d expect these great lizards to be slow, and often they are, but when there’s reason, they can race along at twenty miles an hour. They’re rare, they fascinate, and thousands of people, perhaps too many, visit their islands every year.

This is Ruth Page, reminding us that even the huge, powerful Komodo dragon needs habitat protection.

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