During the months of November 1996, August 1997, and March 1998, saliva and plasma samples were collected for isolation of aerobic bacteria from 26 wild and 13 captive Komodo dragons (Varanus komodoensis). Twenty-eight Gram-negative and 29 Gram-positive species of bacteria were isolated from the saliva of the 39 Komodo dragons. A greater number of wild than captive dragons were positive for both Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria. The average number of bacterial species within the saliva of wild dragons was 46% greater than for captive dragons. While Escherichia coli was the most common bacterium isolated from the saliva of wild dragons, this species was not present in captive dragons. The most common bacteria isolated from the saliva of captive dragons were Staphylococcus capitis and Staphylococcus caseolyticus, neither of which were found in wild dragons. High mortality was seen among mice injected with saliva from wild dragons and the only bacterium isolated from the blood of dying mice was Pasteurella multocida. A competitive inhibition enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay revealed the presence of anti-Pasteurella antibody in the plasma of Komodo dragons. Four species of bacteria isolated from dragon saliva showed resistance to one or more of 16 antimicrobics tested. The wide variety of bacteria demonstrated in the saliva of the Komodo dragon in this study, at least one species of which was highly lethal in mice and 54 species of which are known pathogens, support the observation that wounds inflicted by this animal are often associated with sepsis and subsequent bacteremia in prey animals.
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Vol. 38 • No. 3