When it comes to dragons, the human imagination has been in gear for centuries. Be it Loong chinese astrology dragon, Hugs of Viking legend, JRR Tolkien’s Smaug, or the “flesh made of fire” of Westeros, the formula of flight, ferocity and volcanic spirit hardly changes. Which leads us to ask, do these storytellers have something?
HBO’s new drama House of the Dragon gave us an excuse to infect some reptile and dinosaur experts and have them share their scientific interpretations of these magical beasts of hell.
Riley Black, paleontology writer for PopSci and many others
of House of the Dragon reptiles look beautiful to me. They are your standard western dragon that we are all quite familiar with, pretty much the same shape and likely the same species, and are as different from each other as two Komodo dragons. In a show that boasts 17 dragons, I would have liked to have seen some of the many other forms that dragons have taken in mythology and folklore, be it a multi-headed hydra, a legless dragon, or an eastern dragon-like Chinese dragons. with fish horns and fins.
IN game of thrones, Reign of FireAND Heart of the Dragon, the dragon’s notable characteristics include a gigantic size, leathery wings, and the ability to breathe fire. Some of these traits are more reliable than others. Giant reptiles have soared across the skies, so large they can travel between continents. Quetzalcoatlus was a pterosaur with a wingspan about 33 meters wide. That’s pretty impressive, especially when you consider that this flyer was about the same height as a giraffe on land. It also flew on wings consisting of an elastic membrane stretched over an extremely elongated fourth toe, so it’s getting very close to traditional dragon territory. Of course, Quetzalcoatlus it was pretty light for its size – roughly 200 pounds – which means that they House of the Dragon stars seem a bit too massive to be airborne. Pterosaur bones are paper-thin, and they were likely much more fragile creatures than the burly dragons on our TVs.
Fire is more complicated. We know that some insects can release chemicals that combine to burn attackers, as the bombardier beetle does. This could be an evolutionary path a proto-dragon could take, combining chemicals in the body to create something that burns even if it isn’t technically fire. After all, many snakes and lizards produce venom, and it makes me wonder if there might be a way in which the venom can become more corrosive or take on a different character—with proper adaptations in the mouth and throat so as not to burn or damage the reptile itself. But, no surprise here, actual fire breathing is entirely fantasy and there is simply no biological pathway that could evolve such a breath of death.
whether House of the Dragon CGI designers are looking for inspiration, however, the fossil record offers many options. Mosasaurs, for example, were about as close as we’ll ever get to “sea dragons.” These marine reptiles were related to monitor lizards; some of them grew to 50 feet or more, and had simple tails and scales. They swallowed fish, scraped through ammonite shells, and even ate each other during the Cretaceous period (more than 66 million years ago). of Spinosaurus –with a sail along its back, a crocodile-like snout, and a paddle-tail Deinocheirus –a large herbivore with giant wings tipped with large claws, a hump on its back, and a duck-like face—it also looks similar to a dragon.
I’m just glad that House of the Dragon reptiles are technically wild in that they have two legs and hind wings as wings, rather than four legs and an extra pair of wings. The second interpretation would technically be a hexapod, and would require some sort of gene duplication event — as happened with our fish ancestors — to create another pair of appendages that can be modified into wings, which no vertebrate has done. . As fantastic as they are, the Targaryen dragons make a touch more evolutionary sense, even if they are very large and flaming.
Earyn McGee, herpetologist and founder of #FindThatLizard
Dragons would look really similar to lizards – we have many that are already named after the dragon. But they would serve in the role of larger reptiles and predators such as Komodo dragons and Nile monitors, and perform those functions in an ecosystem. A smaller dragon would potentially be half-aquatic. When water is available, he would swim and hunt native fish. But when the water dries up, it would go into a more earthy state. I could easily see them rippling.
Like dragons, lizards are interesting as a whole. People think they just eat insects, but they can be pollinators. In the Galapagos there are marine iguanas that dive into the water to eat seaweed. And then there are carnivores that eat birds, eggs and other lizards.
In the southwestern US, we have the Yarrow spiny lizard, which has beautiful scales and designs like a dragon. We also have the Gila monster with its beady scales and venomous bite. You can’t get any closer to a dragon than that.
Marine reptiles were undoubtedly sea dragons that evolved rapidly in the oceans in the Mesozoic Era (between 256 and 61 million years ago). For example, ichthyosaurs, long- and short-necked plesiosaurs, and mosasaurs were various top predators that had several morphological adaptations for locomotion and feeding. Sea dragons were toothed and efficient swimmers that filled a wide range of sizes and ecologies, reaching up to 45 to 60 meters in body length. Some were highly specialized cutters, crushers, borers, crushers and shredders that were part of complex food webs not seen in modern marine ecosystems. Some species used wavy (flattened or flushed) tails or paddle-like feathers; others had fish-like bodies and specialized flippers for swimming and hunting. In terms of reproduction, sea dragons did not lay eggs on land, but gave birth to live young.
If dragons were real, I would definitely imagine them living in an absolutely fascinating marine ecosystem just like the early Cretaceous oceans, where they would “fly” across continental oceans full of prehistoric creatures. They wouldn’t have to breathe fire underwater to finish a fight: Pliosaurs had one of the highest bite forces of any known animal and could have swallowed a person with just one bite.
Kai Wang, herpetologist at the Kunming Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences
Mythological dragons would be a very diverse group of organisms. Depending on their habitat and distribution range, there would be distinct species specializing in different environments and possessing different morphological adaptations. For example, desert-adapted terrestrial species may have flatter bodies to fit into rock crevices. Plateau species may be smaller in size with disproportionately shorter limbs and tails to accommodate high altitudes. Tropical, arboreal species may have strong claws and much longer limbs and tails. And finally, flying species can have a slender body shape.
Sebastian Apesteguia, paleontologist at the Natural History Foundation
It depends on what you call a dragon. Many dragon-like animals have existed in Earth’s history. Some were really large reptiles, similar to the large monitor lizards that live in the eastern hemisphere today. The others were clearly not lizards, although we have no physical remains. The giant sister snakes Train-Train AND Kai-kai from Mapuche legends probably came from real dinosaur bones in Chile and Argentina. of Mokele M’kufome from the Congo is clearly not a lizard, and has been proposed to be a living sauropod dinosaur. But we still have no more evidence than oral tradition.
Let’s remember that dragons were built into mythology as humans evolved. Most of them were imagined as lizards with similar characteristics and attitudes. However, there were probably no great, flying, fire-breathing dragons.