A genomic study of Komodo dragons has shed light on their crucial genetic adaptations that have enabled them to become powerful apex predators.

Komodo dragons are native to the Indonesian Islands, where they are top of the food chain. They can be up to 3m long, run at speeds of 20 kph and can take down prey as large as water buffalo with a single bite.

As these physiological abilities are rare among reptiles, scientists compared the fully sequenced genome of the Komodo dragon to other reptile species to understand how the Komodo dragons differ genetically.

The Komodo dragons showed unique genes for muscle metabolism, cardiovascular function and mitochondria function. These genes explain the high aerobic capacity of Komodo dragons, which are not found in other reptiles. The metabolism of the Komodo dragons strongly resembles mammals.

When Komodo dragons bite their prey, their venom contains an anticoagulant that causes their prey to bleed to death. However, male Komodo dragons frequently fight with and bite each other without dying. The genome study revealed that Komodo dragons are immune to the affects of their own anticoagulant.

The genome study also found genes coding for chemical sensors, allowing the dragons to have an extremely sensitive sense of smell and detect pheromones from their prey. This explains how they have the ability to hunt down prey from over 9km.

As Komodo dragons are endangered, further understanding of their physiology and adaptations can aid conservation efforts.

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