Dragons are among the most popular and enduring of the world's mythological creatures. Dragon tales are known in many cultures, from the Americas to Europe to India to China. Some have suggested that because dragons are known around the world, they really existed at some point in the distant past — otherwise how could different cultures on different continents describe the same thing?
Richard Dawkins from The Richard Dawkins Foundation
says “It has been suggested that the Komodo dragon is well named as the real-life origin of all our dragon myths, and it is certainly plausible that Chinese sailors would have brought back awestruck tales of them.” They don't breathe fire but their mouths are so riddled with festering bacteria that one bite is fatal. Their preferred method of hunting is to deliver that fatal bite, then follow the prey around until it dies from the resulting bacterial infection, then eat it.
“They are confined to a handful of Indonesian islands, including Komodo itself and also Flores, home of the recently extinct Homo floresiensis on which they, and an even larger species of giant lizard, now extinct, perhaps preyed (if, that is, H.floresiensis was a real species of miniature human at all),” says Dawkins.
Komodo hunts live prey and are capable of ambushing creatures much larger than themselves. They have a thickly muscled tail and a strong bite. Even a slight graze can be lethal and cause severe infection because of the septic bacteria that live in their saliva. Western scientists verified their existence around 1910, but stories of these fearsome beasts circulated long before that.
Komodo dragons were termed “Prehistoric Monster” back in 1926 after a much publicized expedition to Komodo island of Indonesia, led by William Douglas Burden
, resulted in the capture of two live specimens; this expedition inspired one of the most famous movies of all times, King Kong (1933). The movie’s director even wanted to have Komodo dragons in the movie. But this was ultimately not possible and he replaced them with animation. In New York, the giant lizards met a captivated audience.
says Komodo dragons have thrived in the harsh climate of Indonesia for millions of years, although amazingly their existence was unknown to humans until about 100 years ago. Animals that escape the jaws of a Komodo will only feel lucky briefly. Dragon saliva teems with over 50 strains of bacteria, and within 24 hours, the stricken creature usually dies of blood poisoning. Dragons calmly follow an escapee for miles as the bacteria takes effect, using their keen sense of smell to hone in on the corpse. A dragon can eat a whopping 80 percent of its body weight in a single feeding.
Strangely, according to Live Science
, the Komodo bite is not deadly to another Komodo. Dragons wounded in battle with their comrades appear to be unaffected by the otherwise deadly venom. Scientists are searching for antibodies in Komodo blood that may be responsible for saving them. They would have been a great candidate for the inspiration behind the mythical dragons in Europe – except that Europeans didn't discover them until 1910. Scientists now find
that Komodo dragons were most likely evolved in Australia and dispersed westward to its current home in Indonesia.