Tiny Dragons in Asia: The Draco Lizard

Dracos use their ribcage to glideWhen it comes to the mythical flying beast of old, the dragon is by far one of the most famous and beloved. Dragons of course, are the stuff of myth and do not exist in the real world. However, the little Draco lizard is perhaps one of the closest animals we would ever have to the magical beast of folklore.

The Draco Lizard or Draco Volans is one of the few lizards that have adapted to glide. Just like their mythical brethren, the tiny lizards are capable of some sort of flight, but are actually just gliders. They jump from tree to tree and use specialized structures to catch the air and glide for longer distances.

The Draco lizard evolved by developing specialised rib cages that extend when it is in flight. The rib cages have a sort of flap of skin binding them together, which help propel the lizard through the air. It has a long, lithe tail that it uses for steering, and strong legs that help with the launch.

The animal developed this unusual flying trait as a mechanism for survival. In the dark, dank rain forests, scurrying on the ground would be too dangerous, putting the lizard at risk for predators. However, staying in the trees might not be enough, so the animal developed a way to be able to travel from tree to tree without ever having to touch the ground.

The Draco lizard uses its flying capabilities for everything from escape, attracting a mate, and for hunting small prey such as insects. They are typically avoided in certain tropical forests, most notably in the Philippines, because the locals erroneously believe that the tiny animal is poisonous.

However, the animal is admittedly poisonous in appearance because of its bright colours. The animals are a mottled brown in appearance, but can sport bright yellow colours as well as flecks of blue, which is particularly prominent among young males.

Draco lizards are smaller than teacupsThe adult animal can reach up to 8 inches in length and are roughly smaller than a tea cup. Their elongated rib cage and flattened body make them well suited for gliding through the air. They are even aerodynamic enough to turn in mid-flight, allowing themselves to change direction at a moment’s notice.

These tiny lizards also sport an unusual flap of skin on the bottom of its neck. This flap is called the dewlap, and is noticeably yellow in males and blue grey in females.

The males are extremely territorial and aggressive to any other lizard that crosses into their territory. Their territory usually spans two to three trees and they use their impressive gliding abilities to chase off any intruders except for females and potential mates.

Females on the other hand, require the ground to deposit their eggs. The adults of the species almost never touch the ground, so the female Dracos are risking a lot to be able to lay their eggs. She uses a pointed snout to dig a hole into the ground, where she makes a small nest. The eggs eventually hatch after some time.

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