The cost of living large: comparative gliding performance in flying lizards (Agamidae: Draco)

Am Nat. 2005 Jul;166(1):93-106. doi: 10.1086/430725. Epub 2005 May 2.


Despite exhibiting considerable interspecific variation in body mass, flying lizards of the genus Draco are isometric in their area-mass scaling relationships and exhibit no significant compensatory variation in wing aspect ratio. Thus, larger species are expected to be relatively poor gliders, in lieu of behavioral or physiological compensation, when compared with smaller congeners. Here we tested this hypothesis by conducting gliding performance trials for 11 Draco species spanning virtually the entire size range of the genus. We considered three primary performance variables: maximum velocity adjusted for wind conditions, height lost over a standard horizontal glide distance, and glide angle. Comparative analysis confirmed that larger species are relatively poor gliders and do not compensate substantially for their higher wing loadings via either behavioral or physiological mechanisms. Flying lizards were found to exhibit substantial context-dependent variation in glide performance, with smaller species often exhibiting extensive variation in height lost and glide angle between trials. Variation also was observed in empirically derived velocity profiles, with only a subset of individuals appearing to perform equilibrium glides. Such size-dependent variation in performance has important consequences for the ecology and evolution of flying lizards and other glissant taxa.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Size / physiology*
  • Flight, Animal / physiology*
  • Lizards / physiology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Species Specificity