Life Among Dinosaurs

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Tales of Shieldtails

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Shieldtails are primitive burrowing snakes found mostly in southern India and Sri Lanka, with only one species ever reported elsewhere – from the Eastern Ghats, on the other side of India. So named because of their flattened tail – resembling, you guessed it, a shield – we spotted this still-unidentified individual on a cool, leech-infested morning in the Western Ghats.

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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?

Open Wide

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When at Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, we got scarily close to this appropriately-named mugger crocodile. Believe it or not, its open mouth was not a gesture of defiance or defense but rather the position it was in the entire time. These crocodiles tend to be frighteningly still for long periods, before a sudden flash of movement signals their descent into the water or their attack. Trust me, you don’t want to be on the wrong end of those teeth.