The computer model showed that the skull of the giant lizard varies in density.
Some sections are composed of spongy bone, giving it an elasticity that, not unlike a snake's jaw, allows the Komodo's mouth to open wider. It also gives leverage to its sharp, serrated teeth.
"This system appears beautifully adapted to bite and pull, so when it bites and pulls together it requires less force than if it was to bite and not pull," Wroe said.
Maneuvering its shark-like teeth, flimsy skull, and strong neck muscles in concert, the Komodo dragon "uses its head like a can opener," he added.
"It opens up major and traumatic wounds, and the prey dies of blood loss."
It's this precise killing method, called inertia eating, that allows the lizards to take down much larger prey, including wild pigs, deer, and buffalo.
"It has a more efficient way to kill larger animals than a cat does," Wroe said.
From Dragons to Dinosaurs
The findings confirm what zoologists already know about Komodo dragon behavior, said Peter Harlow, a reptile specialist at Sydney's Taronga Zoo.
"We didn't expect that [lizards] would have big, crushing jaws, but no one's ever really studied it in detail, so it's good that someone's quantified it."
"You can use the same technology and apply that to animals that are no longer living," said the study's lead author, Karen Moreno, also from the University of New South Wales.
The researchers are now working on analyzing the bite of the Komodo's ancient relatives: dinosaurs such as the Allosaurus and Giganotosaurus.
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