Tales of dragons date back thousands of years, appearing in the Sumerian legends of Ancient Mesopotamia, and later in stories from countries such as China, India, Egypt, Greece and Britain. Today, we see dragons in books, films, TV shows and even on national flags.
There’s ‘y Ddraig Goch,’ the red dragon of Wales with two great wings on its back, and ‘Druk,’ the more serpent-like Thunder Dragon of Bhutan. But are these creatures based on real animals, or do dragons only exist in our imagination?
Are dragons real or fantasy?
Dragons in Mythology and Reality
We have plenty of animals with the word ‘dragon’ in their name, but fire-breathing dragons are complete fantasy. With the possible exception of human performers who manipulate flames by spitting fuel, the animal kingdom doesn’t feature any creatures that blow fire like a dragon.
There is, however, a beetle that comes pretty close. Bombardier beetles shoot a fiery spray out of their anus to escape predators. It’s not quite fire, but the beetles produce the chemicals hydrogen peroxide and hydroquinone, which combine to make a spray that heats up to almost 100°C.
Are Flying Dragons Real?
A group of lizards named after dragons possess the power of flight, sort of. Flying lizards, or flying dragons, in the genus Draco glide through the forests of Southeast Asia and southwest India on thin folds of skin that act as wings.
These lizards don’t flap their wings to maintain flight like birds or the dragons in Game of Thrones, but leap and glide from one tree to another. Researchers have observed Draco lizards using this method to cover a horizontal distance of about 26m. That’s quite a stretch for an animal that only grows to around 20cm long.
Types of Dragon
There are more than 40 species in the Draco group and a variety of other lizards with ‘dragon’ in their common name. None of these lizards breathe fire, but their appearance is otherwise quite dragon-like, albeit scaled down (pun intended).
Bearded dragons from Australia, for example, possess a mighty name but grow to just 45 cm long and are one of the most popular reptiles to be kept as pets.
People in Europe and Asia have a history of mistaking fossils for dragons. For example, a skull once displayed in a town hall in Klagenfurt, Austria, was said to be from a dragon slain before the city was established in about AD 1250. The skull was later revealed to be from an extinct woolly rhinoceros (Coelodonta antiquitatis).
Like Draco and some other living lizards, there are extinct species with dragon-like features named or nicknamed after dragons. For example, an amateur fossil hunter discovered a prehistoric ‘sea dragon’ on a Dorset beach in 2009. The two-metre-long fossil belonged to a previously unknown species of Ichthyosaur. These marine reptiles are nicknamed sea dragons because of their large eyes and teeth, though they would have looked more like dolphins than anything mythological.
Could any creatures blow fire like a dragon?
No, there are no creatures that can blow fire like a dragon. The concept of fire-breathing dragons is purely a fantasy.
What is a Chinese Giant Salamander?
The Chinese Giant Salamander is the largest salamander and is often referred to as a ‘living fossil’ due to its resemblance to ancient salamander species.
How do we know that the Loch Ness Monster doesn’t exist?
There is no scientific evidence to support the existence of the Loch Ness Monster. The various sightings and photographs have been largely discredited as hoaxes or misidentifications of known animals.