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J Zoo Wildl Med. 2013 Jun;44(2):262-72.

Anaerobic and aerobic bacteriology of the saliva and gingiva from 16 captive Komodo dragons (Varanus komodoensis): new implications for the "bacteria as venom" model.

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R. M. Alden Research Laboratory, Culver City, California 90230, USA.


It has been speculated that the oral flora of the Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) exerts a lethal effect on its prey; yet, scant information about their specific oral flora bacteriology, especially anaerobes, exists. Consequently, the aerobic and anaerobic oral bacteriology of 16 captive Komodo dragons (10 adults and six neonates), aged 2-17 yr for adults and 7-10 days for neonates, from three U.S. zoos were studied. Saliva and gingival samples were collected by zoo personnel, inoculated into anaerobic transport media, and delivered by courier to a reference laboratory. Samples were cultured for aerobes and anaerobes. Strains were identified by standard methods and 16S rRNA gene sequencing when required. The oral flora consisted of 39 aerobic and 21 anaerobic species, with some variation by zoo. Adult dragons grew 128 isolates, including 37 aerobic gram-negative rods (one to eight per specimen), especially Enterobacteriaceae; 50 aerobic gram-positive bacteria (two to nine per specimen), especially Staphylococcus sciuri and Enterococcusfaecalis, present in eight of 10 and nine of 10 dragons, respectively; and 41 anaerobes (one to six per specimen), especially clostridia. All hatchlings grew aerobes but none grew anaerobes. No virulent species were isolated. As with other carnivores, captive Komodo oral flora is simply reflective of the gut and skin flora of their recent meals and environment and is unlikely to cause rapid fatal infection.

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