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Draco Lizards and Flying Dragons: Strange Reptiles

Updated on July 18, 2017
AliciaC profile image

Linda Crampton is a science teacher with an honors degree in biology. She loves to study nature and write about animals and plants.

A male Draco lizard
A male Draco lizard | Source

Strange and Interesting Reptiles

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 the lizards to glide for long distances in their forest habitat.

Draco lizards are also known as flying or 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 are classified in the family Agamidae. Members of this family are often referred to as agamids or agamid lizards.

In this article, the term "Draco lizards" refers to all animals in the genus Dracus. The term "flying dragon" is used for Draco volans. Many of the facts about this animal apply to its relatives as well.

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

A Draco Lizard Glides to Escape From a Snake

Physical Appearance of the Flying Dragon

The scientific name of the animal known as the flying dragon (or sometimes the common flying dragon) is Draco volans. Flying dragons are tiny reptiles, unlike their mythical counterparts. They have łong and slender bodies and reach a length of about twenty centimetres or eight inches. The lizards 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 for the wings is "patagia" (or patagium when one wing is being discussed). The upper surface of a male's patagia is orange-red in colour and has black blotches, as shown in the photo above. The lizard in the photo is Draco sumatranus, or the common flying lizard. It was once considered to be a subspecies of the flying dragon. The upper surface of a female's patagia is yellow with black blotches, although there may be some orange present as well.

The 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 colour from the body. The male lizard has a yellow dewlap while the female has a smaller, blue-grey one.

A Flying Snake Hunts a Draco Lizard

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 animal’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. Research suggests that the "hands" of the lizard's forelimbs grab hold of the wings to help them unfurl.

The lizard has a smaller wing, or lappet, on each side of its neck. When the lappets are extended to the side, they act as mini-wings that help the animal to glide.

Some reports state that flying dragons can glide as far as sixty metres (just under two hundred feet), or even further, and that they lose one foot in height for every five feet travelled 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 animals have a flattened appearance while they are gliding.

The Southern Flying Lizard or Draco dussumieri

Life in the Trees

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.

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 it also catches termites and other insects. The lizard often feeds as it ascends a tree trunk. A male very rarely—if ever—comes to the ground. A female comes to the ground to lay her eggs, however.

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.

Small lizards tend to live lower in the tree canopy than larger ones. When the heavier animals take off from a tree they need to develop speed before they extend their wings to glide. Starting their journey from a higher point helps them to do this.

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. Researchers know that the animal 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 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.

Draco dussumieri with its patagia extended
Draco dussumieri with its patagia extended | Source

The Mindanao Flying Dragon

The Mindanao flying dragon lives in the Philippines and has the scientific name 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 lizard'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 patagia is red while 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.

A preserved Mindanao flying dragon
A preserved Mindanao flying dragon | Source

Some people think that Draco lizards are poisonous, but researchers say that this isn't the case. The animals are actually harmless to humans.

Population Status and Conservation

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) classifies animal populations according to their nearness to extinction. Unfortunately, the Mindanao flying dragon is classified in the "Vulnerable" category. The lizard is threatened by deforestation. Efforts are being made to protect the lizard's rainforest habitat, which will hopefully allow its population to grow or to at least stabilize. The status of the common flying dragon population hasn't been assessed by the IUCN.

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

References

Facts about the common flying dragon from National Geographic

Forelimbs and flight in Draco lizards from New Scientist

Information about the southern flying lizard from the IUCN Red List

Mindanao flying dragon report from the IUCN

The biology of gliding in flying lizards from Oxford University Press


© 2011 Linda Crampton

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    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

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      Jade.a@dicsovery.school.nz 3 years ago

      It is very cool

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      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.

    • profile image

      nazryyy 4 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
      Author

      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

    • profile image

      Anonymous247365101 4 years ago

      What is the flying dragons habitat like?

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

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      devon arthur aka dj 5 years ago

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

    • profile image

      micheal 5 years ago

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

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

    • profile image

      ignugent17 5 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
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      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!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 5 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
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      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

    • wilderness profile image

      Dan Harmon 5 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
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

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      monkey face 5 years ago

      cool lizards

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      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.

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 5 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
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

    • TheNerdyGardener profile image

      TheNerdyGardener 5 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
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      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!

    • 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
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      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

    • 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
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

    • 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
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      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.

    • Chatkath profile image

      Kathy 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
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

    • 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
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      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.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 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
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

    • 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
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      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!

    • thougtforce profile image

      Christina Lornemark 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