Draco Lizards and Flying Dragons - Strange Rainforest Reptiles

Draco spilonotus is a gliding lizard that lives in the forests of Sulawesi, an island in Indonesia. The male has beautiful yellow wings and a yellow dewlap.
Draco spilonotus is a gliding lizard that lives in the forests of Sulawesi, an island in Indonesia. The male has beautiful yellow wings and a yellow dewlap. | Source

Draco lizards are strange and interesting reptiles that have folds of skin on each side of their bodies. When the skin folds are extended they look like wings. These "wings" enable a lizard to glide for long distances in its forest habitat.

Draco lizards are often known as gliding lizards or, in the case of some species, as flying dragons. The scales covering a Draco lizard’s body and the fact that it seems to have wings remind some people of a dragon. In fact, draco is the Latin word for dragon.

There are over forty species of Draco lizards, all of them native to Southeast Asia. They belong to the genus Draco, which is classified in the family Agamidae. Members of this family are often referred to as agamids or as agamid lizards.

A male flying dragon, or Draco volans
A male flying dragon, or Draco volans | Source

A Draco Lizard Glides to Escape from a Snake

The Flying Dragon

The scientific name of the flying dragon is Draco volans. Unlike their mythical counterparts, flying dragons are tiny reptiles. Their bodies are łong and slender. They are about twenty centimeters in length (around eight inches). They have a very long tail compared to the length of the rest of their body.

Like many Draco lizards, flying dragons have a mottled appearance and are generally a mixture of brown, grey, black and green in colour. Their colours help to camouflage them against the trunks of the rainforest trees.

The wings are coloured and patterned differently from the body. The scientific name of the wings is "pantagia" (or patagium when one wing is being discussed). The upper surface of the pantagia of male flying dragons is orange-red in colour and has black blotches. The upper surface of the female's pantagia is yellow with black blotches, although there may be some orange present as well.

Draco lizards have a loose flap of skin called a dewlap or gular flap hanging below their neck. Like the wings, the dewlap can be extended and is a different color from the body. The male flying dragon has a yellow dewlap while the female has a smaller, blue-grey one.

Some people think that flying dragons and other Draco lizards are poisonous, but this isn't the case. The animals are actually harmless to humans (as far as scientists know).

A Flying Snake Hunts a Draco Lizard

Flying Dragon Wings and Gliding Ability

A flying dragon's wings extend from just behind the front legs to just in front of the back legs. The last five to seven of the lizard’s ribs are elongated and extend into the wings. Muscles attached to the ribs cause the ribs to move and the wings to unfurl like an opening fan when the animal wants to glide.

Some reports state that flying dragons can glide as far as sixty meters (just under two hundred feet), or even further, and that they lose one foot in height for every five feet traveled through the air. Most flights seem to be around thirty feet, however. The lizards have better control of their motion than other reptiles that take to the air, such as flying geckos and flying snakes (which are also gliders, despite their names). Flying dragons can move their patagia as they glide. They can also move their tail, which acts like a rudder for steering. The lizards have a flattened appearance while they are gliding.

The Southern Flying Lizard or Draco dussumieri

The wings or pantagia of a Draco lizard
The wings or pantagia of a Draco lizard | Source

The Life of a Flying Dragon

Flying dragons are active during the day. They glide from one tree to another, or sometimes from one branch to another in the same tree, in order to find food or a mate or to escape from predators.

Males also glide to chase away other males. A male patrols a territory of a few trees, gliding around the trees to protect them from invading lizards. When the males land they often flash their dewlaps to advertise their territory, which unfortunately also makes their presence more visible to predators. They do have one advantage over many of their predators, though - the ability to take off into the air and control their direction with precision.

Small lizards tend to live lower in the tree canopy than large lizards, since when the heavier lizards take off from a tree they need to develop speed before they extend their wings to glide.

When they’re not gliding, the animals often travel rapidly up and down tree trunks and along branches. They may also stay motionless for a while, becoming very hard to see as they blend in with their background.

Most of a flying dragon's diet consists of ants, but they also catch termites and other insects. They often feed as they ascend a tree trunk. The only time a lizard comes to the ground seems to be when a female is ready to lay eggs.

It's thought that the lizard's chief predators are arboreal (tree-living) snakes, large birds and monitor lizards. Despite the presence of their predators, though, most flying dragons are very successful in their habitat.

The southern flying lizard
The southern flying lizard | Source

Reproduction

There is still much to be learned about the lives of flying dragons in the wild, including information about their reproduction.

It is known that the flying dragon has an interesting mating display. During courtship, the male displays his dewlap and his wings to attract females and also bobs his body up and down.

After mating, the female lizard digs a hole in the ground with her snout. She deposits up to five eggs in the hole, which she covers with soil. She guards the eggs for about a day and then leaves them on their own. The estimates for the length of time between egg laying and egg hatching vary widely. The time likely depends on environmental factors.

A preserved Mindanao flying dragon
A preserved Mindanao flying dragon | Source
Draco dussumieri with its pantagia extended
Draco dussumieri with its pantagia extended | Source

The Mindanao Flying Dragon

The Mindanao flying dragon lives in the Philippines and has the scientific name of Draco mindanensis. It's been found on the island of Mindanao and on neighbouring islands, but none of the populations seem to be dense.

The Mindanao flying dragon's body is pale grey-brown in colour. The upper surface of the body has both large and small white spots. The upper surface of the male's plantagia is red white the female's is dark grey. The dewlap of the male is an attractive orange colour. The female's is duller and has a yellow tip.

Like other gliding lizards, the Mindanao flying dragon lives in the forest, eats insects and is active during the day. The lizard is larger than many of its relatives, however, and can glide further and faster.

Unfortunately, this species of flying dragon is threatened by deforestation. The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) classifies the population as "Vulnerable". Efforts are being made to protect the lizard's rainforest habitat, which will hopefully allow the lizard population to grow or to at least stabilize. It would be a great shame to lose this animal from the Earth.

Draco lizards and flying dragons are fascinating little creatures. They are well adapted to their forest habitat and are fun to observe. The flight of a Draco lizard is a beautiful sight. Hopefully we will be able to see this flight for a long time to come.

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Comments 37 comments

thougtforce profile image

thougtforce 5 years ago from Sweden

Such amazing animals! I didn't even knew that they existed! They look like an animal from another time:) Thanks for sharing this fantastic hub, it is filled with interesting information and the videos are fantastic! I would love to see them in real. voted up, interesting

Tina


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the great comment and the votes, Tina! I would love to see draco lizards in real life, too. A flying dragon would be great fun to watch!


Kimberley Lane profile image

Kimberley Lane 5 years ago from N.W.Pacific Coast, USA

Nice article, Alicia. Great variety of information. Thumbs up!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks for the visit and the comment, Kimberley. It's nice to meet you!


drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida

The Draco Lizard really is an amazing animal. Thanks, Alicia, for the introduction. Their camouflage in the video is perfection. It's very difficult to distinguish the lizard from the tree to which it is attached. Voted up, m'dear.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you for the comment and the vote, drbj. Yes, draco lizards do have excellent camouflage when their "wings" and dewlaps are hidden. They blend in very well with the tree trunks.


Movie Master profile image

Movie Master 5 years ago from United Kingdom

What an amazing lizard, I had never even heard of them, really interesting hub thank you.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks for the comment, MM. I think that draco lizards are amazing, too!


Chatkath profile image

Chatkath 5 years ago from California

Amazing Alicia! My brother used to catch the ordinary blue-belly lizards and make them little apartment homes :-) Unfortunately for him but fortunately for the lizards, most of them got away! These guys are quite equipped! Good Job.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Chatkath. Thanks for the visit and the comment. Yes, draco lizards are certainly well equipped! Their ability to glide through the air is very useful. I'd love to see more lizards near where I live, but I don't see them very often.


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 5 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

There are some amazing reptiles on this beautiful planet of ours, so thanks for the great information on draco lizards Alicia


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much, CMHypno. I agree with you - reptiles are very interesting, and there are some amazing ones alive today.


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

So well presented and so very inetresting.

Here's to so many more to share on here and your hard work has certainly paid off.

Take care and enjoy your day.

Eddy.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you for the visit and the comment, Eddy! I hope that you have a good day too.


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

Hi, fascinating article on Draco lizards, I never realised how small they were, I have seen them on TV but you can't get the scale from that, rated up!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks for the comment and the rating, Nell. Yes, these lizards are small. When someone's hand is shown by them it's surprising to see how little they really are!


TheNerdyGardener profile image

TheNerdyGardener 4 years ago from Brisbane, Australia

Interesting article, there are so many beautiful and unique creatures that inhabit the earth's rain-forests. I've read of species of gliding frogs and snakes too.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, TheNerdyGardener. Yes, all the gliding animals are very interesting, and rainforests are fascinating places. Thank you for commenting.


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 4 years ago from malang-indonesia

This was very strange lizard. Thank you very much fro showing this information to us. I learn many things about this reptile. Keep on writing. Rated up!

Prasetio


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Prasetio. The draco lizard is strange. I can see why some people call it a flying dragon! Thanks for commenting and for the vote.


monkey face 4 years ago

cool lizards


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks for the comment, monkey face. I agree with you - they are cool lizards!


wilderness profile image

wilderness 4 years ago from Boise, Idaho

Fascinating animals, aren't they? There are so many creatures out there that we know so little about and that so many people have never heard of, let alone seen, just like the Draco Lizard.

A neat hub, Alicia - thanks. There is sooo much to learn in this world!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you, wilderness. Yes, draco lizards are fascinating animals. I never get tired of exploring the animal kingdom and learning about unusual creatures!


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

Thanks for another interesting hub Alicia. In the first video the flying draco lizards could almost look like falling leaves as they glide from one tree to another. In the second video, it truly blended in with the tree. It is almost prehistoric looking in its appearance. Voted up, interesting and will share.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you for the comment, the votes and the share, Peggy! Draco lizards are certainly very strange creatures. I agree with you - they do have an almost prehistoric appearance!


ignugent17 profile image

ignugent17 4 years ago

This is really interesting. I remember in the Philippines when my brothers used to play with sling shots. They would try to hit a flying lizard. I am not sure if it is a Draco lizard but it looks the same.

Thanks for the information.

Voted up and more. :-)


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks, ignugent17. I appreciate the comment and the votes. Draco lizards are certainly fascinating little creatures!


micheal 4 years ago

i thick that dracos are cool lizard and the can extend their ribs cool


devon arthur aka dj 4 years ago

draco lizard are the best lizard in the world the can glid from tree to tree


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you for the visit and the comment, michael and dj. I think that draco lizards are interesting reptiles, too!


Anonymous247365101 3 years ago

What is the flying dragons habitat like?


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Anonymous247365101. Draco lizards live in tropical rainforests. They inhabit warm areas that receive a lot of rain and contain many trees.


nazryyy 3 years ago

i kept this d.volan as a pet, but i still don't know how to kept them,anyone here with experience to kept this guy?


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

I'm afraid that I have no experience with keeping a draco lizard as a pet, nazryyy. I imagine that in most cases the lizards would be happier if they were left in the wild.


Jade.a@dicsovery.school.nz 2 years ago

It is very cool


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

I agree, Jade.a! Flying dragons are cool.

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    Linda Crampton (AliciaC)1,250 Followers
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    Linda Crampton is a teacher with an honours degree in biology. She loves to study nature and write about animals and plants.



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