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Monday
Jan232012

Into The Wild: Enter the Dragon for Chinese New Year

In the spirit of Chinese New Year, Into the Wild will today be celebrating the Year of the Dragon. So in honour of this we thought we would bring you a veritable feast of ‘dragon’ species from land, sea and even the plant world. In terms of the Chinese zodiac, the dragon represents hard work, wisdom and power and is known as a symbol of success and happiness – and these are certainly some of the characteristics exhibited by these species. With the Year of the Dragon said to bring good luck to everyone, we hope it will be bringing good fortune to all of our readers..  

Komodo Dragon

As the largest lizard in the world, the Komodo Dragon is certainly a sight to behold. With a long heavy set body, stocky legs, a long muscular tail and forked yellow tongue the Komdo Dragon is almost ancient in its appearance – visually a relic harping back to the age of the dinosaurs. This Dragon is indeed a powerful predator ambushing deer, water buffalo and wild pigs and can eat an astonishing 80% of its own body weight at one time as its large powerful jaws allow it to rapidly devour its prey.

The Komodo Dragon is actually venomous and has a set of complex venom glands in its jaw which excrete a variety of toxic substances that prevent blood clotting and lower blood pressure in its prey. This venom is crudely administrated seeping through large wounds made by the teeth ensuring that even if injured prey escapes, it will shortly succumb to venom induced shock and blood loss. It was previously believed that toxic bacteria found in the Komodo dragon’s mouth help to take down prey by infecting bite wounds, leading to fatal blood poisoning. However, studies have indicated that the venom is the main agent by which prey is subdued.

The Komodo dragon also has an extremely well developed sense of smell and is able to detect carcasses from up to 10km away. The Komodo dragon is found roaming the lower monsoon forests and savannahs of the volcanic islands of Komodo in Indonesia - from which it takes its name - and the neighbouring islands of Rinca and Flores. Law has protected the Komodo Dragon since the 1930s, yet despite this the population today is estimated to be a mere fraction of its size 50 years ago due to widespread habitat loss throughout the region, a loss of prey species and hunting. With 18,000 people visiting the islands each year it is hoped that this economic incentive will help to safeguard the future of this awesome species. Let’s hope that the Year of the Dragon 2012 will bring good news for the Komodo dragon population.

Leafy sea dragon

These masters of camouflage are in fact members of the seahorse and pipefish family. A strange little species, the leafy sea dragon is yellowish-brown to green in colour has an elongated snout; a bony-plated body and a number of leaf-like appendages which help it merge in with its seaweed surroundings. Using their snouts like a straw, they suck up small organisms like plankton and mysids.

Elegant but slow moving, these creatures rely on their camouflage to protect them against predators but also have several defensive spines along the sides of the body. Found in the shallow coastal waters off the coast of Southern Australia the leafy sea dragons inhabit rocky reefs, seaweed beds and seagrass meadows.

The greatest threat to the leafy sea dragon comes in the form of habitat loss as there coastal homes become increasingly damaged by urban and agricultural run-off, industrial pollution and other human activities and impacts such as being captured for the aquarium trade. Still little is known about the population distribution or behaviour of leafy sea dragons and these mysterious little creatures are now fully protected in Australian waters.

Dragon’s Blood Tree

It may sound made up, but the dragon’s blood tree is in fact a real species and is the most famous and distinctive plant on the island of Socotra - just off the coast of Yemen in the Indian Ocean. The species gets its name from the dark red resin it releases – a substance which has been prized since ancient times. This not the only bizarre thing about the tree; it also has a very unique appearance with its upturned densely packed crown in the shape of an up-side down umbrella.

Unsurprisingly many myths surround the unusual tree: found mainly in the Haggeher Mountains and adjacent limestone plateaux in the centre and east of the island, the trees are now a major commercial source of this resin. The “dragon’s blood” resin exudes naturally from fissures and wounds in the bark, and is commonly harvested by widening these fissures with a knife. The resin has had many different uses since ancient times, including to colour wool, varnishes and plaster, to decorate houses and pottery, in ritual magic and is also used for many medicinal purposes.

Socotra remains one of the best preserved semi-tropical islands in the world, with most of its habitats still relatively intact. As a result of its unique flora and fauna, the Socotra Archipelago is designated as a World Heritage Site, a WWF Global 200 Ecoregion, a Centre of Plant Diversity and an Endemic Bird Area, and it also lies within the Horn of Africa biodiversity ‘hotspot’, so hopefully the Dragon’s Blood Tree will be with us for many years to come.

By Hannah Jones

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