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Play Behavior Observed In Captive Raised Komodo

ooohh whee. My imagination runs over on this one.

The upcoming issue of 8/3 Science News had a short article on this from
a recent meeting of the Animal Behavior Society. I went to the ABS site 
to see what they had.

The abstract is at:


about an eighth of the way down.

 Gordon m. Burghardt*, Jennifer Manrod, James Murphy, Trooper Walsh & John
 Depts of Psych & Ecol Evol Biol, Un. TN, Knoxville, TN 37996, Dept. of
   Ecol. & Evol. Biol., Un. Tenn., Knoxville, TN 37996, National Zoological
   Park, Washington DC 20008 & National Zoological Park, Washington

 Program Abstract

 Play behavior has been little studied in non-avian reptiles, but
 anecdotal reports from over 50 years ago suggest that Komodo dragons
 (Varanus komodoensis) engage in playful activities. The first captive
 born Komodo dragon housed at the National Zoo (D.C.) engaged in much
 spontaneous interaction with objects and with familiar keepers that would
 be considered play if seen in a dog or cat, mammalian rather than
 reptilian carnivores. Subsequently, a series of 31 tests were performed
 with her over 2 years in which objects (e.g., shoe, ring, Frisbee) were
 introduced with or without the keeper present. The ring was also
 presented with different odors such as perfume, linseed oil, corn oil, and
 rat blood. The videotaped presentations were for 30 minutes each preceded and
 followed by 10-minute control periods. Behavior patterns were quantified
 (7 event, 9 state) with The Observer. Results to be presented document 
 among objects in their salience and the kind of manipulations employed,
 habituation, the importance of social interaction (and "social play")with
 the keeper, and also disprove the view that object play is just food
 motivated predatory behavior. 

Science News elaborated a bit:

 A young Komodo dragon will spontaneously mouth and paw at a Frisbee and
 make other gestures that "would be considered play in a dog or cat," says
 Gordon Burghardt of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

 Behaviorists wrestling with the problem of describing and explaining play
 haven't paid much attention to reptiles, Burghardt says. Yet for decades,
 observers have recorded anecdotes of young Komodo dragons doing things
 that lack obvious utility and suggest whimsical antics. When a Komodo
 dragon egg hatched at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., Burghardt
 jumped at the chance to make systematic observations as the youngster
 grew up. 
 Kraken typically nudged them with her snout, swiped at them with her paw,
 and carried them around in her mouth. She treated them differently from
 her food, and Burghardt says the tapes "disprove the view that object
 play is just food-motivated predatory behavior."

 The tapes also show Kraken seemingly eager for social play. In one
 session, she eased up behind caretaker Trooper Walsh, who managed to
 stand almost still. Kraken then reached up to his rear pocket, pulled out
 his handkerchief, and stood near him with it in her mouth. He reached to
 grab it, and the two of them both pulled at it in what Burghardt says
 looks, even to the trained eye, like someone playing tug-of-war with a