Komodo Dragon most likely evolved in Australia 3-4 mln yrs ago

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Washington, September 30 (ANI): A team of palaeontologists and archaeologists, who studied fossil evidence from Australia, Timor, Flores, Java and India, has shown that Komodo Dragons most likely evolved in Australia around 3-4 million years ago and dispersed westward to Indonesia.

According to study author Scott Hocknull, Senior Curator of Geosciences at the Queensland Museum, Australia is a hub for lizard evolution.

New fossil discoveries show that the ancestor of the Komodo dragon evolved on mainland Australia, around 3-4 million years ago and then dispersed west to Indonesia.

"The fossil record shows that over the last four million years Australia has been home to the world's largest lizards, including a five metre giant called Megalania (Varanus prisca)," Hocknull said.

"Now we can say Australia was also the birthplace of the three-metre Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis), dispelling the long-held scientific hypothesis that it evolved from a smaller ancestor in isolation on the Indonesian islands," he added.

"Over the past three years, we've unearthed numerous fossils from eastern Australia dated from 300,000 years ago to approximately four million years ago that we now know to be the Komodo dragon," said Hocknull.

"When we compared these fossils to the bones of present-day Komodo dragons, they were identical," he said.

The varanids are a group of giant monitor lizards, which are the world's largest terrestrial lizards and which were ubiquitous in Australasia for over 3.8 million years, having evolved alongside large-bodied, mammalian carnivores, such as Thylacoleo, the 'marsupial lion'.

Growing to 2-3 metres in length and weighing around 70 kilos, the Komodo dragon is the last of the truly giant monitor lizards.

"This research also confirms that both giant lizards, Megalania (Varanus priscus) and the Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) existed in Australia at the same time," Hocknull said.

Scott Hocknull and his international team have compared fossil evidence of Komodo dragons and other giant varanids in order to reconstruct the palaeobiogeography of the world's largest land-based lizards.

The researchers hope this will have implications for the conservation of the Komodo dragon, which is now found on just a few isolated islands in eastern Indonesia, between Java and Australia, and vulnerable to extinction, probably due to habitat loss and persecution by modern humans over the last few millennia. (ANI)

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