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Scampering across the forest, flying Draco lizards are a spectacular sight. Unlike the common lizards, these creatures have wings or flaps on each size that allow them unpowered flight.
Read Which Mammals can fly here.
But, we don’t happen to stumble across them over the sidewalks, or in the garden, or even in the park. So, where do they live? This is what we’ll discuss in this post, but before we jump straight to it, let’s have a ‘textual” look at what Draco lizards look like.
What does a Draco Flying Lizard generally look like?
Draco Lizards, also referred to as flying lizards, flying dragons, or gliding lizards are the lizards that are capable of gliding with their extended membrane, which acts as wings, and this membrane is actually their enlarged set of ribs. This set of wings is located on either side of their body, supported by elongated ribs.
These lizards also have a gular flap located under their head. They have a depressed, elongated, and flat body, which also aids in flight. Sexual dimorphism is common in these lizards; the males are slightly smaller in length than the females. Draco Lizards generally grow about 8 inches long in length, including the tail. They have a long slender tail, and a row of rectangular brown spots on top, and black spots on the bottom of their wing membrane, which helps their identification.
The gular flap, called a dewlap, is long, pointed, and bright yellow in colors in the males and in females; the dewlap is small and bluish-gray colored. The underside of the Draco Lizard’s wings is blue in males and yellow in females.
Habitat of different species of Flying Draco Lizards
Flying Draco Lizards share a commonality in habitat, and they are found only in tropical rainforests. They are usually found in densely wooded areas and are populated across the range of SouthEast Asia, Southern India, and tropical forests of the Philippines and Borneo.
However, different species of Draco Lizards occupy different tropical forests; for example, the giant gliding lizards mark their territories near rivers, the black-bearded gliding lizards live at low elevations in tropical forests, and so on.
Below we’ll discuss the habitat and the range of 7 different species of Flying Draco Lizards out of the 40 species known so far.
Sumatran Gliding Lizard
Sumatran Gliding Lizards are found in tropical montane forests and are endemic to Southeast Asia, commonly found in Southern Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra, Borneo, and Singapore. Apart from these ranges, the Sumatran Gliding Lizards are also found in the adjacent Philippine island of Palawan.
Since most of Sumatran tropical forests are now regarded as natural parks, the Sumatran Gliding Lizard can often be encountered in man-made habitats or disturbed habitats, rather than the densely wooded forest, in the shade of primary or secondary forests.
Sumatran Gliding Lizards prefer habitats near the forest edge, easily encountered in parks, gardens, wayside trees, and other similar habitats. Since Singapore houses a wide array of reptiles, Sumatran Gliding Lizards are densely populated from Singapore to Sumatra.
Lasell’s Flying Dragon
Lasell’s Flying Dragon, also known as Draco biaro, is a species of flying lizards endemic to Indonesia. WEven in Indonesia, the Lasell’s Flying Dragons can only be found on the Sangihe Islands in North Sulawesi of Indonesia. Draco biaro prefers the lowland rainforests of Biaro Island and the complete Sangihe Archipelago.
The ecoregion of the Lasell’s Flying Dragon’s habit includes the lowlands of Sulawesi that is characterized by tropical moist lowland forests with areas of freshwater swamp and peat swamps. The habitat of these flying lizards can be described as lowland rainforests that are evergreen, with main plant communities being evergreen or semi-evergreen.
Two-spotted Flying Lizard
The Two-spotted Flying Lizard, also known as Draco maculatus, is endemic to Southeast Asia and a few parts of India. In India, the Two-spotted Flying Lizards are spread across the Eastern Himalayas to Assam’s four-layered rainforests that are rich with exotic orchids and bromeliads, ferns, arums, climbers, etc. Rich in biodiversity, Assamese rainforests are home to 47 reptile species, including Draco maculatus.
Besides Indian tropical rainforests, Two-spotted Flying Lizards are also found in the Southern parts of China, including Hainan, Yunnan, Tibet, and Guangxi. In Bangladesh, this lizard species is endemic to Satchari National Park, Sylhet. Besides China, India, and Bangladesh, the Two-spotted Flying Lizards are found in tropical rainforests of Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, and West Malaysia.
Blanford’s Flying Dragon
Blandford’s Flying Dragon, named after English geologist William Thomas Blanford, is a species of Flying Draco Lizards occurring in habitats of cloud forests and montane forests, both of which are tropical rainforests commonly found in Bangladesh, China (SW Yunnan), India, Thailand (East), Vietnam, Malaysia (West), and Myanmar.
Blanford’s Flying Dragons live in montane forests that consist of both coniferous and broadleaf forests where they fly, or rather glide, from tree to tree and are rarely found on the ground. These forests, including the cloud forests, exhibit mossy dominance, with moss covering plants and vegetation in these forests.
In Yunnan, Blanford’s Flying Dragon is commonly found in Xishuangbanna, which has biodiversity hotspots and over 5000 species of vascular plants.
Indian Flying Lizard
Indian Flying Lizard or Draco dussumieri, as the name suggests, is endemic to the tropical rainforests of India. The range of Indian Flying Lizards spreads across the Western Ghats of India, principally occurring in Karnataka, Goa, Tamil Nadu, and other southern parts of India such as Kerala.
Although not as densely populated in the Eastern Ghats as it is in the Western Ghats, the Indian Flying Lizard is sometimes spotted in certain wooded areas of Talakona and to the north of Trivandrum.
This species prefers living on coconut trees and near forests with betel-nut plantations. Its habitat is characterized by palm plantations in hill forests where it glides from tree to tree in forage of insects and other food.
Indochinese Flying Lizard
Native to southeastern Cambodia, southern Vietnam, and eastern Cambodia, Indochinese Flying Lizards prefer higher altitudes in tropical evergreen rainforests. Indochinese lizards are hardly ever seen on the ground, and they glide from tree to tree, marking their territory, mating, and looking for food – primarily ants and small insects.
These lizards are found at an elevation of at least 500 meters; the habitat is distinctly characterized by multi-layered open structured, tall forests. The climate in these forests is humid, with the recorded average annual rainfall ranging between 1200 to 2200 mm. The ecoregion of the habitat of these lizards has a significant proportion of deciduous canopy trees with waterlogged areas in the southern slopes of the mountains.
Do Draco ‘Flying’ Lizards really fly?
Although the Draco Lizards are called flying dragons or flying lizards, they don’t actually fly, but they glide. They are one of the best-known gliding vertebrates, and they have different kinds of adaptations that help them in generating lift an airfoil in order to move from one tree to another tree in their habitats.
They aren’t capable of powdered flights. Thus, the unpowered flight is limited to gliding from one tree to the other. Flying Draco Lizards can glide as long as 60m and 10m in height.
Adaptations for flight in Draco Lizard:
Elongated ribs are one of their important adaptations – there is a fold of skin in between their ribs that rest flat against their body and acts as wings when unfurled and helps them to catch the wind and glide.
Their long and slender tail helps them to steer themselves while gliding. The patagial membrane supported by the elongated ribs helps them to generate lift forces that help them to travel long distances and be in the air for a longer period of time.
Flying Draco Lizards use gliding as a primary means of moving in their habitats and to escape predators. They jump and descend their headfirst at the beginning of a flight and keep the lower side of their body parallel to the ground.
The long streamlined hind limbs and the aerodynamic scaling help them to get to an excellent gliding speed of 5-8 meters per second. In the landing process, the Draco Lizards glide horizontally, and the forelimbs release the patagium and land with their forefeet first, followed by the hind feet.
The shape of their patagium is highly conserved and scaled allometrically.