If dragons evolved

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a science-geek. While there are numerous topics in the sciences that fascinate me, biology and physics are the ones that seem to be able to hold my rapt attention for the longest times. Evolution especially is a fascinating thing that inspires awe in me time and again.

We can probably all agree that the dragons of fairy-tales and fantasy epics require magic to be able to function on any level. But what if something like a dragon had evolved right here on Earth? What would they look like? Here’s what I think.

Wing configuration

So far we have yet to see anything other than insects or cephalopods having more than four limbs. Assuming that dragons should evolve from either dinosaurs or lizards, their skeletons would not be able to support wings and arms simultaneously. So, like every other flying vertebrate, their arms/front legs would have evolved into wings.

Spitting fire

While spitting actual fire is quite unlikely, there are several ways this part of the myth can become almost plausible. Especially snakes and other reptiles have many different ways of getting different poisons and chemicals on prey and/or predators. Some of the chemicals cause the skin of the victim to burn. For example the sting of a fire ant will cause the sensation of burning.

Size

The size of modern creatures is pretty small compared to the dragons of lore. Even the biggest bird capable of flying was only the size of an average human, which is to say under 80 kg (180 lbs) in weight. Had dragons evolved, they would surely be roughly the size of a dog.

Evolutionary lineage

Dragons – as I imagine them – would have likely diverged from dinosaurs, namely the Theropod line, but before they developed feathers or from a lineage that hadn’t developed feathers and not from the lineage that led to Tyrannosaurs’ since3 they would have needed functional forelimbs that could develop into limbs.

Hoarding

This part of the myth is more likely than the others. There are several animal species that are drawn to shiny objects and will hoard them for their nests. Magpies are a good example but birds of paradise and even squids have exhibited similar behavior.

I’ve always said that nature is far more incredible than our merely human intelligence could ever imagine and so I maintain.

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