Thursday, 27 June 2013

Here Be Dragons: The Mythic Bite of the Komodo

To a mediaeval mapmaker, the world was a vast and scary place. Explorers that braved the seemingly endless oceans in search of new worlds often didn’t return, and those that did carried with them nightmarish tales of monsters and serpents. It was the mapmaker’s task to warn future travelers of the dangers that awaited them in far-off lands. Based on their drawings, I cannot even begin to imagine the beasts that haunted these cartographer’s dreams. Their creative expressions of fear were eventually distilled into a single, ominous phrase: here be dragons.

Lands that still deserve this cartographer’s omen, however, can be counted on one hand. They are the Indonesian islands of Rinca, Gili Motang, Flores, and Komodo — the only places in the world where dragons still roam.

I am, of course, referring to the infamous Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis). This gigantic species of monitor lizard grows up to ten feet long and can weigh in the hundreds of pounds. It’s no wonder, then, that for centuries Komodos have been feared by many, with tales of their deadly bite echoing through local cultures. It’s even thought the monstrous lizards may have inspired the mythical beasts that share their name. 

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