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Australia the first home of giant komodo dragons

March 2, 2021 7:00PM Kids News

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A komodo dragon on Rinca Island, Indonesia. Picture: iStock media_cameraA komodo dragon on Rinca Island, Indonesia. Picture: iStock

animals

Reading level: green

The giant komodo dragon, the largest living lizard still on Earth, likely originated in Australia from a mix of parents, according to new research.

The komodo dragon – which can grow to 3m long, weigh up to 90kg and is known for preying on buffaloes, deer, and even the occasional human — is famous for its homeland in Indonesia.

But a new reproduction study builds on earlier fossil records to indicate the massive lizard likely originated millions of years ago in Australia.

Australian National University researcher Carlos Pavón Vázquez said it’s the first clear evidence of this type of interbreeding, known as hybridisation, happening in wild monitor lizards and the komodo is thought to have been derived from mating with an ancestor of the sand monitor, a type of Australian goanna.

“Sand monitors* only occur in Australia and southern New Guinea, whereas the komodo dragon is only found on a handful of islands in Indonesia. For them to have interbred they must have lived together some time in (the) past,” Mr Pavón Vázquez said.

“Our data supports the theory that komodo dragons originated in Australia and then crossed over to Indonesia before becoming extinct here.”

A Japanese Komodo dragon prowling in the sand media_cameraKomodo dragon, the largest lizard in the world.

Earlier fossil evidence uncovered in Queensland also suggests the previous “island rule” about the komodo’s emergence in isolation in Indonesia, growing larger from a smaller species, was misplaced and hybridisation was the more likely genesis*.

“Our findings offer more strong evidence the komodo dragon was already huge when it originated in Australia,” Mr Pavón Vázquez said.

“We also showed how to use different kinds of data to detect hybridisation. This is crucial* because when it took place millions of years ago it can be hard to detect. Now we can tell by looking at the animal’s morphology* and genes*.”

The research is published in the journal Systematic Biology.

VIDEO: Young male komodo Raja gets a sponge bath at Perth Zoo in 2017 as part of his training to help keep zoo staff safe when he’s an adult

GLOSSARY

  • monitors: large lizards in the genus Varanus; includes komodos
  • genesis: beginning
  • crucial: absolutely essential
  • morphology: study of how animals look and function
  • genes: inheritedinformation in the cells of living things that determine how the thing looks and functions

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. What is the largest living lizard?
  2. What is the main point of this story?
  3. Where do komodo dragons live in the wild?
  4. Where do sand monitors live in the wild?
  5. In which journal are the results of this research published?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Do the Komodo!
Create a small group to choreograph and perform a small dance titled “Do the Komodo!”. Find some backing music and create some moves to represent the huge komodo dragon. You could even come up with a chorus. Who knows, it could be the next big dance craze!

Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: Music, Personal and social, Critical and creative thinking

2. Extension
What do you think Indonesia would have to say about the discovery that their famous komodo dragon originated in Australia? Do you think Australia will be claiming rights to it now in zoos and wildlife programs?

Do you think there is any chance we could breed them back in the wild in Australia?

Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Critical and creative thinking

VCOP ACTIVITY
Connective Collection
After reading the article, with a partner, highlight as many connectives as you can find in pink. Discuss if these are being used as conjunctions, or to join ideas and create flow.

HAVE YOUR SAY: What is the largest lizard you’ve seen? Where was it?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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