Who needs wings when you have ribs mmmmmmm

Sorry no, this blog post isn’t about buffalo wings or barbecue ribs. It does involve flying though. But wait! Okay, maybe wings have to do with flying, that’s for sure but what do ribs have to do with flight?

From Wikipedia. Image in the public domain.

If I were to ask random people on the street to name animals that could glide, they would probably answer with flying squirrels, flying fish, maybe even flying snakes, who knows? In any case, most people overlook a special member of the gliding club, the Draco volans, better known as the Flying Dragon.

And no, it is most definitely not a dragon but it is a lizard. It can grow up to about 20 centimeters long but its most outstanding features are, you guessed it, its ribs! They can be found in Southeast Asia and feed on insects and spiders.

What makes the Flying Dragon unique is that it doesn’t just have flaps of skin between its appendages like the flying squirrel does but instead, has evolved its ribs specifically for gliding.

But how exactly do they use their ribs to glide?

Well, first of all, the dragon’s “wingspan” is 3/4 of its body length and creates some sizable wings to glide with. The skin stretching across its ribs are what compose its wings and when required it flares open its ribs like an umbrella.

If it senses any danger it opens up its ribs and jumps, pointing its head towards the ground before take-off. It then balances its body like a parachute and “flies” from there. Once in the air, the lizard uses its ribs a lot like how a bird uses its wings, balancing on the air and actively controlling its descent by shifting its position and its “wings”.

Indeed, the Flying Dragon seems to have evolved a very sophisticated system of gliding but it still isn’t foolproof. Its “hang time” is impressive, averaging five feet forward for every foot of height lost. It can also turn mid-air and even return to the tree it jumped from. However, its wings aren’t very robust and the lizard isn’t able to fly in the rain or in windy weather.

Regardless, the Flying Dragon is an incredible creature and there still hasn’t been a whole lot of research done on them. They are beautiful creatures and we need to keep in mind that if we wish to continue studying them, we need to conserve their environment and ensure that they never come under risk of extinction.


Wikipedia article on the draco lizard
Animal planet
Environmental Graffiti

One Comment

Lorena Barba posted on November 4, 2012 at 3:39 pm

Another post about the draco here: