Brief Summary

The genus Draco is a remarkable radiation of about 45 arboreal lizard species, wide spread throughout Southeast Asia.  They are known as the flying dragons or flying lizards (although they do not fly, they glide), and are amongst the best of the gliding vertebrates, with several adaptations for generating lift and airfoil in order to move among tall trees in their native forests.  Especially important adaptations are elongation of their thoracic ribs to support a gliding membrane, called a patagium, which allows them to glide for long distances, throat lappets to enhance lift and assist in balance, and long streamlined hind limbs with aerodynamic scaling, which also contribute to lift.  

Patagium structures are also found in at least two other extant lizard lineages, both geckos, but patagium in Draco species are far larger and supported by active and highly modified musculature.  Lizards in this genus show a large size range, spanning a 10-fold difference in body mass between largest and smallest species (between 3-35 grams).  However patagium shape is highly conserved among them and scaled allometrically.  Recent research finds that larger species of flying dragons are poorer gliders than smaller species, indicating that they do not have behavioral or biomechanical adaptations to compensate for the decreased ratio of lift generation to body size.  The four instances of evolution of larger size in Draco lizards occur where multiple species live in overlapping ranges, an observation leading McGuire and Dudley (2005) to hypothesis that the disadvantage of increased size upon gliding ability is only overcome when needed to partition microhabitats among more than one sympatric species.

Draco lizards are highly territorial.  Males actively patrol their territories, which include up to several trees, by gliding and never come down to the ground.  Females glide through male territories and also do not descend from trees except to lay eggs on the ground.  In addition to its use for gliding, the dorsal surface of the patagium is opened and used as a flag in territorial disputes and in courtship, along with a brightly colored dewlap and throat lappets.  In general males are more brightly colored than females, although some species have similar coloring of their patagium, and in some species females have stronger coloration.  The ventral patagium surface is also sexually dimorphic in coloration; some researchers have proposed that this is so individuals can distinguish flying males and females from below.  

A phylogenetic framework of relationships among species was generated in 2001.  Ongoing research includes biogeographical studies of the radiation, as well as flight mechanics and evolution, and prediction of gliding performance and capabilities of now extinct Permian and Triassic reptiles that share similar morphological adaptations for flight with the Draco lizards (McGuire and Dudley 2011; McGuire and Heang 2001; McGuire and Dudley 2005).

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Draco (genus)

Draco is a genus of agamid lizards that also are known as flying dragons. The ribs and their connecting membrane may be extended to create a wing, the hindlimbs are flattened and wing-like in cross-section, and a small set of flaps on the neck serve as a horizontal stabilizers. Draco are arboreal insectivores. While not capable of powered flight they often obtain lift in the course of their gliding flights. Glides as long as 60 m (200 ft) have been recorded, over which the animal loses only 10 m (33 ft) in height, which is quite some distance, considering that one of these lizards is only around 20 cm (7.9 in) in total length (tail included).[1]


The only time a flying lizard ventures to the ground is when a female is ready to lay her eggs. She descends the tree she is on and makes a nest hole by forcing her head into the soil. She then lays 2–5 eggs before filling the hole. She guards the eggs for approximately 24 hours, but then leaves and has nothing more to do with her offspring.[1]


Linnaeus derived the name of this genus from the Latin term for mythological dragons.


The following 42 species are recognized:[2][3]

Nota bene: A binomial authority in parentheses indicates that the species was originally described in a genus other than Draco.


The lizards are well known for their "display structures" and ability to glide long distances using their wing-like, patagial membranes supported by elongated thoracic ribs to generate lift forces.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Piper, Ross (2007), Extraordinary Animals: An Encyclopedia of Curious and Unusual Animals, Greenwood Press.
  2. ^ The Reptile Database. www.reptile-database.org.
  3. ^ Dahms Tierleben. www.dahmstierleben.de.
  4. ^ Beolens B, Watkins M, Grayson M. (2011). The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. (Draco beccarii, p. 21).
  5. ^ Herre, Albert W. (1958). "On the Gliding of Flying Lizards, Genus Draco". Copeia 1958 (4): 338–339. JSTOR 1439979. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Goin CJ, Goin OB, Zug GR. 1978. Introduction to Herpetology, Third Edition. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman & Company. xi + 378 pp. ISBN 0-7167-0020-4. (Genus Draco, pp. 41, 86, 112, 279, 288).
  • Linnaeus, C. (1758). Systema naturæ per regna tria naturæ, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, diferentiis, synonymis, locis. Tomus I. Editio Decima, Reformata. Stockholm: L. Salvius. 824 pp. (Genus Draco, p. 199).
  • McGuire, J. A.; Dudley, R. (2011). "The Biology of Gliding in Flying Lizards (Genus Draco) and their Fossil and Extant Analogs". Integrative and Comparative Biology 51 (6): 983–90. doi:10.1093/icb/icr090. PMID 21798987. 
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