Flying Dragons Do Exist

October 19, 2015 | Sarah Tse

Draco spilonotus
Photo credit: A.S.Kono/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

If you journey to the tropical forests of Southeast Asia, you’ll find that flying dragons are far from mythical. But the jury’s still out on dragons that can breathe fire.

If you want to add an extra touch of authenticity to your Daenerys cosplay, you might want to get your hands on a lizard from the genus Draco. These were named after the mythological creature for a good reason — they can fly as far as 60 m by expanding the wing-like webbing between their limbs.

The lizards have a set of ribs extending from their sides, connected by thin membranes of skin that form highly effective gliders. Instead of wasting their time scurrying along the ground and risking attack by predators, flying lizards glide from tree to tree, using their long, prehensile tails to steer. They rarely touch down to the ground unless it’s time to breed, at which point the female lays her eggs in a hole in the ground before returning to the skies. The hatchlings are left to fend for themselves, without any nurturing Targaryens to care for them.

SEE ALSO: 6 Animals That Inspired Mythical Creatures

Fortunately, these lizards will never quite grow as large as the Valyrian dragons; they usually reach a maximum length of about 20 cm (8 inches), and like to gorge on ants and termites rather than sheep and the odd misbehaving human. But they can get pretty nasty about their territory. A single male dragon claims two or three trees, with a few females stationed at each tree. If any other males get close, he’ll erupt into fierce displays of fury by expanding his wings to their full might and bobbing up and down to draw attention to the colorful dewlap at his throat.

Draco dussumieri
Photo credit: Rajeev B/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

There are currently 42 recognized species, distributed throughout the tropical forests of Asia and its surrounding islands. While Draco volans is the most famous species, as its name directly translates to “flying dragon,” the other species are just as capable of gliding through the trees. Although these dragons are a bit too small to threaten us, their growing shadows would surely strike terror into the hearts of any hapless insects going about their business on the forest floor. And even though they can’t breathe fire — as far as we know — it would still be best not to get on their bad side.


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