Photo: Close-up of a lizard

Draco lizards use their long, slender tails to steer themselves, and each sortie can carry them up to 30 feet (9 meters).

Photograph by Premaphotos, Alamy

Fast Facts

Type:
Reptile
Diet:
Carnivore
Size:
Up to 8.4 in (21 cm) (female; including tail)
Protection status:
None
Did you know?
Draco lizards are generally safe from human predators in the jungles of the Philippines because of a common but erroneous belief there that they are poisonous.
Size relative to a tea cup:
Illustration: Lizard compared with tea cup

For the tiny Draco lizard, moving among the trees in the jungles of Southeast Asia is an essential task—for escaping danger, attracting mates, and finding meals. Scampering across the forest floor, where predators lurk, can be perilous. So over thousands of years, the Draco lizard has taken the ground out of the equation by adapting the capacity for flight.

These so-called flying dragons have a set of elongated ribs, which they can extend and retract. Between these ribs are folds of skin that rest flat against the body when not in use, but act as wings when unfurled, allowing the Draco to catch the wind and glide. The lizards use their long, slender tails to steer themselves, and each sortie can carry them up to 30 feet (9 meters).

Dracos reach about 8 inches (20 centimeters) long, including tail. They have flattened bodies, which also aid in flight, and are a mottled brown in color. The undersides of their wings are blue in males and yellow in females. They also have a flap of skin on the bottom of their necks called a dewlap. This is bright yellow in males and bluish gray in females.

Males are highly territorial and will use their ability to glide to chase rivals from the two or three trees they claim as their own.

Although Dracos usually avoid going to the ground, females still must descend to deposit eggs. The lizard uses her pointed snout to create a small hole in the ground, where she lays about five eggs and then covers the hole with dirt. She remains on the ground for about 24 hours, fiercely guarding the nest, and then returns to the trees and leaves the eggs to their fate.

Flying dragons survive on a diet of almost exclusively ants and termites. The lizards are found in densely wooded areas in the Philippines and Borneo in the east, across Southeast Asia and into Southern India. They are abundant throughout their range and have no special conservation status.

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