The island where dragons are real

PHOTO: Reuters

On an archipelago of the Lesser Sunda Islands, which sweep arc-like through the Java Sea, maps can legitimately be marked with the archaic warning used by medieval cartographers: here be dragons.

These dragons might not breathe fire or fly, but they are no less awe-inspiring or dangerous than their mythical counterparts. Up to 3m long and weighing as much as 70kg, these beasts can run 18mph (29km/h) to catch their prey. Once they have a water buffalo, or deer, between their jaws, they inject anti-coagulant containing venom into deep wounds, speeding up blood loss. The victim simply bleeds its way to an excruciating death - perhaps a fate worse even than being seared by the flames of a mythical beast.

"It is a combined arsenal system," says Bryan Fry of the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. "You have the teeth as the primary weapon and, if you don't die outright from cutting a femoral artery, you are going to keep bleeding until you are out of blood and then you are dead."

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