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Komodo Dragon Bacteria Less Toxic Than Previously Thought, Research Suggests

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Komodo dragons are the largest lizards in the world. This detailed head shot shows a komodo dragon with mouth wide open.
Komodo dragons are the largest lizards in the world. This detailed head shot shows a komodo dragon with mouth wide open.

Is the world's largest lizard the victim of a big misunderstanding?

The komodo dragon, a species of monitor lizards native to the Indonesian islands, is widely believed to harbor mouth germs so dangerous that its bite can cause a lethal infection.

But a new study published in the current issue of the Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine suggests that it's all a big myth -- and that the lizard's oral bacteria are quite ordinary.

"Komodo dragons are actually very clean animals," study co-author Dr. Bryan Fry, associate professor of biology at the University of Queensland in Australia, said in a written statement. “Unlike people have been led to believe, they do not have chunks of rotting flesh from their meals on their teeth, cultivating bacteria.”

So who is to blame for the errant belief about the strains of bacteria in a komodo dragon's mouth?

Blame water buffalo. When they're attacked by komodo dragons, the water buffalo that get away instinctively seek refuge in warm, stagnant water that may be full of animal feces and bacteria, according to Dr. Fry.

"So they are basically going to the bathroom directly onto their wounds," he said in the statement. "This is an ideal scenario for infection, but a situation that is man-made and thus entirely artificial.”

Ironically, Dr. Fry knows from personal experience the dangers of dirty water -- having come down with a nasty bacterial infection after a boating mishap in Flores, Indonesia, Discover reported. Ouch.

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