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Too Much Housework Cuts Lifespan Of Female Komodo Dragons By Half

Researchers have found that female Komodo Dragons live half as long as males on average, seemingly due to their nest-building and egg-guarding duties.

| October 22, 2012 | In the Lab

AsianScientist (Oct. 22, 2012) – Researchers have found that female Komodo Dragons live half as long as males on average, seemingly due to their physically demanding ‘housework’ such as building huge nests and guarding eggs for up to six months.

The Komodo dragon is the world’s largest lizard. Their formidable body size enables them to serve as top predators, killing water buffalo, deer, wild boar, and even humans.

A research team which included scientists from Australia, Indonesia, and Italy studied 400 individual Komodo Dragons for ten years in eastern Indonesia, their only native habitat. The team then published a model of the Dragon’s growth rate in the journal Plos One.

Males and females start off at the same size until they reach sexual maturity at around seven years of age. From then on, males live to around 60 years of age, reaching an average 160 cm in length and 65 kg at adulthood. However their female counterparts live a significantly shorter lifespan of 32 years and reach only 120 cm in length, and 22 kg.

“The sex-based difference in size appears to be linked to the enormous amounts of energy females invest in producing eggs, building and guarding their nests. The process can take up to six months during which they essentially fast, losing a lot of weight and body condition,” said co-author Dr. Tim Jessop from the Department of Zoology at the University of Melbourne.

The research team was keen to understand the growth rate of the Komodo Dragons as this critical process can indicate how the species prioritizes its energy use in lifestyle and reproductive strategies. The results suggest that females have high energy ‘costs’ for reproduction resulting in their smaller size, whereas to reproduce successfully, males must keep increasing in size.

The results could have dramatic consequences for the endangered species as early female deaths may be exacerbating competition between males over the remaining females, possibly explaining why males are the world’s largest lizards.

“These results may seem odd to humans when the life span between Australian men and women differ by five years,” said Jessop. “But each species has different strategies to pass on their genes. For example humans invest a lot of energy in few children as raising them is very energy intensive, whereas insects will have hundreds of offspring with no input into their rearing.”

The article can be found at: Laver RJ et al. (2012) Life-History and Spatial Determinants of Somatic Growth Dynamics in Komodo Dragon Populations.

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Source: University of Melbourne.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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