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GRAPPLE | WITH ISSUES AND IDEAS

Smart-Meter Backlash | Year of the Draco | Water, Water Everywhere | Summer Barbecues |
Superbugs | Up to Speed

Year of the Draco


Tim MacMillan/John Downer Pro/Nature Picture Library

It doesn't breathe fire, nor is it ridden by aspiring Na'vi warriors. And despite its name, Draco volans ("flying dragon") doesn't technically fly. But in this, the Year of the Dragon, the foot-long gliding lizard, native to the tropical rainforests of southern India and Southeast Asia, is the closest thing to living myth that we have.

Unlike the furry membranes that stretch from wrist to ankle on flying squirrels and other mammalian gliders, Draco's brightly colored "wings" are flaps of skin (called patagia) between its upper ribs. To descend from the trees, where the lizards spend most of their time, they expand their ribs and launch themselves into the air.

This may not be nature's most efficient means of aerial locomotion—it doesn't seem to work in rain or wind, for instance—but it does give them a glide path of about 30 feet, sufficient for these proto-dragons to make the rounds of the two or three trees that make up their territories. Give them a few million more years of evolution, though, and hide your gold. —Paul Rauber


NEXT: Water, Water Everywhere


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