Flying Dragons

My blog’s title isn’t hyperbole. This is literally a flying dragon. Not kidding.

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Well, the ‘dragon’ part you may consider taxonomical license. The technical name of this particular lizard is the common gliding lizard – but it belongs to a family colloquially known as flying dragons. They’re rather smaller than the public’s general perception of dragons. But they deserve the moniker, because they can fly.

See, the traditional image of lizards is of them scurrying across the ground – maybe up a tree, at a stretch. This one literally jumps into the unknown and soars – for distances up to 8 meters, that is. It’s not sustained flight; rather, it’s a flight enabled by neat little flaps on their abdomen, visible in the above picture. Essentially, between its ribs is stretch a large membrane called the patagium – this membrane folds in when not in use. When they do, however, want to use it, they spread their ribs forward, thus increasing the surface area of their body and in due course transforming themselves into a lean, mean flying machine. Their long, slender tails act as a rudder, directing them on to new heights.

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The patagium isn’t the only flap hidden on their body. The second one is on the throat of males – in this species, it’s yellow, but it varies. During the breeding season males rapidly extend it when sitting below a female in a display of their manliness. The lizard above probably wasn’t trying to attract a female, though – sometimes they do it just for the heck of it, or, rather, to make themselves seem bigger than they actually are. In females, the throat flap is much smaller and blue-mottled: they don’t need to work to get the boys.

And before you sigh, and mutter, well, kudos for you, but I’m never going to see it, I have to tell you that you’re wrong. This species is a common inhabitant of parks and lightly wooded areas. Two more species are found in Singapore’s forests – the black-bearded and five-banded flying dragon, the latter only discovered in 2001.

Our little island holds more than we know.

Also, this is my 200th post. Who knew?

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