Thursday, July 26, 2012
The Tiniest Dragon
Photographs courtesy of Michigan Science Art
Do you long to live in a fantasy world filled with dragons? To look up and see colorful winged lizards flying overhead?
You don’t have to bury yourself in Anne McCaffrey novels to make that happen. Just hop the next plane (or steamer, if you’re intent on following the fantasy model) to Indonesia and you’ll be rewarded with real, live dragons.
Of course, there are a few caveats. The Draco lizard (Draco volans) isn’t really a dragon per se since it’s only about eight inches (20 cm) long. Of that, more than half is tail. Which means there will be no taming this beast for riding or knight-killing. And it doesn’t breath fire.
Instead it eats ants and termites, something that most homeowners will appreciate as a more useful skill. It also doesn’t really fly so much as glide. That’s because instead of true “wings” these lizards have elongated skin-covered ribs that can’t flap. What they can do is extend or retract, allowing the them to catch drafts of air and float for as far as 30 feet (nine meters), using their tails as rudders to steer them in the right direction.
Despite their diminutive size Dracos are every bit as territorial as their fairytale counterparts. Males will ferociously guard up to three individual trees, using their gliding ability to dive bomb any rivals that dare approach. But since they can’t take off from the ground the way a hawk or even a pigeon can, they confine themselves to the canopy and leave the forest floor between their trees to other animals most of the time.
The only exception is when a female is ready to lay eggs. She will make the long journey to the ground, dig a hole in the soft leaf litter with her snout, and deposit four or five eggs. She will then guard her nest for a full 24 hours before heading back to the treetops and leaving her offspring to their fate. If they are lucky, the young dragons will hatch before a predator finds them and head up to claim territories of their own.
Fortunately, a lot of the babies are successful. Dracos are a lot more abundant than one might expect for such an unusual animal. Their arboreal lifestyle keeps them safe from many predators, including humans. They are further protected by the mistaken idea that they are poisonous, a local myth that has somehow become attached to these very real dragons.
Posted by Brizel Handcrafts on Thursday, July 26, 2012