Do Dragons Exist!?
October 1, 2016
Filed under Editorials
Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.
Email This Story
What do you think of when you hear the word dragon? A monstrous reptile with murder on his/hers/its mind? Or an adorable smol bean like Toothless from “How to Train Your Dragon?” In any case, most, if not, all civilizations have had some variation of flying reptile that expels some form of death from its mouth. From wyvern to the Aztec feathered serpent to hive-minded monsters like the ¨Queen Dragon,” the thought of bloodthirsty, flying monsters clad in thick scales has plagued the minds of humanity for millennia. Cultures continents and centuries apart have conjured myths and legends of beasts all fitting the description. But dragons only exist in the realm of fantasy and magic, right?
The most basic definition of a dragon is a flying, bloodthirsty reptile or reptile-like beast that generally (not always) breathes fire. In the history of human culture dragons can be split into 4 main groups: Tetrapod dragons, (dragons possessing 4 limbs) Hexapod dragons, (dragons possessing 6 limbs) Serpentine dragons (dragons possessing no limbs or a snakelike body) and Polycephalic dragons (dragons possessing 2 or more heads). Splitting these groups even further, under tetrapods, we have wyverns, wyrms, and cockatrices, and under hexapedal dragons, we have, well hexapedal dragons, as there are no distinct classes of the hexapedal dragon. Furthermore, under serpentine dragons, there are Aztec and Mayan feathered serpents, Asian dragons and Jaculus (pl; Jaculi). Finally, comes the largest challenge, as there are no classes of the polycephalic dragon, only individuals such as Ladon or the Lernean Hydra.
For a dragon to be considered speculatively possible, it must have some form of traceable evolutionary ancestor that exists or has existed. If said ancestor can be determined, a scenario will be created where the dragon would evolve from the organism. If an idea or concept, such as a multi headed dragon or regrowing heads is deemed possible, it will be built off of another creature, unless not possible. If there is no ancestor determined, it will not be considered possible in nature and will be a genetically modified creature, built in a lab.
Wyverns and cockatrices are very similar, in concept. Both have batlike wings and are generally smaller than other dragons. However, cockatrices generally have feathers while wyverns are clad in thick armor-like scales. Cockatrices are often characterized as small, feathered dragons possessing 2 membranous wings not unlike those of a bat. Some depictions of the cockatrice show a rooster-like head or a snake-like tail. Surprisingly, cockatrices are the most scientifically plausible. An organism, long extinct, matches the description of the cockatrice very well and would require very few changes to be a cockatrice: Yi-Qi.
Yi-Qi, meaning “Strange Wing” in Mandarin, was small, gliding dinosaur (not a pterosaur) no bigger than a crow. Yi-Qi evolved from a group of dinosaurs called Scansoriopterygids. These dinosaurs were remarkably birdlike and even grew and molted feathers, but are still reptilian enough to mold into a cockatrice. Despite having feathers, that is not how they flew. Yi-Qi evolved wing membranes, similar to bats, cockatrices, pterosaurs and (spoilers) wyverns. Surprisingly, Yi-Qi was not capable of powered flight like birds and could only glide from tree to tree, catching insects. Coincidentally, cockatrices were not known for their ability fly and were oft depicted on the ground. The only changes that need to be made to the anatomy of the Yi-Qi to make it a cockatrice would be making it grow a longer tail and the wattle and beak of a rooster and of course, fire-breathing.
Wyverns were scaly or reptilian dragons with 1 pair of wings and 1 pair of legs. It was similar to a cockatrice, but more reptilian, and much larger, though still small compared to”normal dragons,” with Smaug from Lord of the Rings being a classic example. Wyverns had scales and long legs and tails, which rules out pterosaurs. Once again, however, Yi-Qi comes to the rescue, being the closest approximation of a wyvern. Yi-Qi as an ancestor of the wyvern raises several problems. As aforementioned, wyverns were clad in thick armor-like scales, impregnable by fire and acid and nigh-impenetrable by conventional weapons such as spears, swords and small arms like handguns, rifles and shotguns. Perhaps and artillery gun, or an anti-tank rifle could penetrate? Despite being a reptile, Yi-Qi was likely warm-blooded, a trait more common among mammals and birds. Therefore, wyverns would have to be warm-blooded, like birds. For wyverns to exist, Yi-Qi’s feathers would have to evolve into into avian scales all over its body. Avian scales are simply condensed feathers and already exist on the vast majority of birds’ legs. But a scenario where all of Yi-Qi’s feathers evolve into avian scales would very unlikely, with the probability being about 1 in 1.513 million. Not only this, but Yi-Qi was incapable of powered flight while wyverns were known for flying high into the clouds and dive-bombing cattle whilst trails of friction-fire streaked from its wings. For Yi-Qi to evolve powered flight, it would first have to develop more powerful arm/wing muscles, while in the process, grow exponentially in size, therefore fulfilling all of the requirements of the wyverns. Except for one. The majority of wyverns had barbed tails, either with a spike coming out of the tip or a thagomizer, similar to a stegosaur. However, Yi-Qi had a very short tail and the rest of what was visible was a grouping of long feathers, not unlike a modern bird. In flight, a longer tail would create drag and be whipped around like a kite in a strong wind, endangering the wyvern. Maybe, a tail with a single spike coming out of the very end of it would be better. Or, instead of any spikes, a long whip-like tail, similar to that of a Diplodocus, would be the best use of a tail.
Hexapedal dragons, by far, are the least possible in this timeline. The only way for a hexapedal dragon to exist in real life, in this universe would be in a lab. But, if the first terrestrial animal, tiktaalik, did not make it to land and a six-limbed creature did, hexapedal dragons could exist, as could centaurs, pegasi and griffins. And as it turns out, the lobe-finned fish that tiktaalik evolved from did in fact have 6 fins, which are technically limbs. So, if tiktaalik never lost its extra fins and still been the first animals on land. Then, and only then, would hexapedal dragons exist, though theoretically, hexapedal dragons could be synthesized in a lab.
Serpentine dragons were almost as easy as cockatrices. They lacked either wings or limbs, with the exception of the Aztec/Mayan feathered serpent, which had wings and Asian tien-lung dragons also known as 望子成龍 which had 4 clawed arms. But for the most part, they were entirely limbless, yet still capable of powered flight via magic or the “power of wind.” As stated before, serpentine dragons were laughingly easy to confirm the potentiality of, as a species of snake is already very similar to these types of dragons. Enter the Chrysopelea, a gliding snake. Chrysopelea is a genus of snake that inhabits parts of Central and Southeast Asia, as well as Central and South America, the regions where the serpentine dragons and feathered serpents supposedly inhabited. The body shape of the Chrysopelea is the secret to its ability to fly. It is shaped like a tapeworm, flat but slightly curved, but only when it is gliding. When not gliding, however, it is shaped similarly to a regular snake, albeit flatter. For the Chrysopelea to become a dragon, it would have to eat much larger prey, growing in the process and become better specialized for gliding, rather than climbing. To become better specialized for gliding, the ribs would have to extend even more so than they already do and the very end of the tail would have to evolve a paddle, to improve steering capability. But for the feathered serpents of Central America to exist, Chrysopelea would have to evolve limbs. And those limbs would need feathers, and be powerful enough to generate lift. And for a snake to evolve wings would be nearly impossible. So, therefore, feathered serpents would once again only exist in a lab.
Another form of serpentine dragon, the Jaculus is essentially a cross between a wyvern, a serpentine dragon and a spear. They had the body shape of a serpentine dragon, but the wings and sometimes, legs of a wyvern. A Jaculus is similar to the feathered serpent, a snake with wings. The only way for a Jaculus to exist is the form with legs. But, the way it kills, impaling its prey with its head is entirely possible. It would need to evolve some sort of stabbing implement on the snout of the snake. Said stabbing implement would have to be sharp enough to drive through flesh and bone and would have to maintain that sharpness without breaking or wearing down. So, yes, some forms of serpentine dragon could exist in our reality, albeit, in a compromised form.
Last, but miles away from least is the polycephalic dragon; a fearsome clade of dragon with multiple heads. They may seem like the least possible form of dragon, but you are sorely mistaken, my friend. Several polycephalic organisms exist in real life, being mutations, generally caused by conjoined twins, but for a dragon, or any organism for that matter to have as many heads as the Lernean Hydra and Ladon to have without some kind of deformation or abnormality would be preposterous. But not only that, but the Lernean Hydra was said to regrow 2 heads for every single head cut off. While this does not exist in real life, there are some organisms capable of regenerating huge portions of their bodies, even entire organs, such as salamanders, axolotls and lobsters, albeit at a much, much slower rate. For the Lernean Hydra to be capable of regrowing 2 heads every time one was cut off, it would have to function the same for the limbs, tail and organs. It would have a condition similar to cancer, but controlled. There would have to be some kind of organ that controls the growth rate of the cancer cells and tells them when to divide. However, it would be incredibly slow and the rate of regeneration would be much slower than depicted in Hercule’s 12 Labors, where the heads regrow in mere minutes. They would need at least several days or even weeks. Of course, it would need to consume large amounts of food and go into a vulnerable comatose state where the metabolism slows to a crawl and the heart rate becomes almost undetectable, known as the “tun state.” But now, the regrowth of double the original number of heads must be explained. Cutting off an appendage could trigger a latent self defense response that tells the cells to produce a new appendage. But, this would eventually cause damage on its own. The very weight of the beast would begin to tax the muscles and organs. Eventually, the hydra would suffocate, but with its ability to regenerate, there’s no telling what could happen. If the regeneration center is based around an organ, lets call this the “DP Organ, (Named after Deadpool)” the weight of its body would once again, suffocate it and potentially cause organ failure. Then, the DP Organ would be entirely useless and would be detrimental to the creature, wreaking havoc on the hydra’s body
Now, the part that every last one of you has been waiting for. Fire breathing. Or acid spit, which ever you prefer. Or maybe even storm bringing, if that is what you’re in to. If a dragon were to consume different minerals and metals for whatever reason, its fire could burn different colors. The way that a dragon could hypothetically breathe fire is actually rather simple and is 100% possible in the real world. There are 3 requirements for fire to exist: fuel, oxygen and heat. Since these scenarios are all taking place on our Earth, there would be oxygen almost everywhere, so we can cross that off the list. For fuel, methane gas and hydrogen gas would be the best potential options. It is very possible for an organism to produces the aforementioned gases; you produce these gases in your body, specifically in your gut. It usually exits through, um… flatulence. It is possible for an organism to capture these gases in some sort of bladder and store it for later use. A diaphragm-like muscle could push these gases out of the body, where they can then be used as fuel for the flame. The bladder would have to seal itself off so that the fire does not travel back down and cause the whole organism to explode in a ball of flames. Now, the only ingredient left is heat, and all we need is a split second of it. And because carbon-based organisms are not composed of flint, a spark would need to come from some kind of external source. The dragon would need something that creates a spark when put under mechanical stress. And to hold it for only the use of igniting its fire, it would need to be stored in the dragons’ upper respiratory tract, meaning it has to be non-toxic and that it would need an organ to hold and squeeze the object. There is one such mineral found in nature, a piezoelectric crystal. When you squeeze it, you get a good spark, more than is needed to ignite methane gas. The dragon would obtain said piezoelectric crystals by swallowing them and storing them in an organ at the back of the throat, similarly to a gastrolith. The gas bladder would open enough for the methane to be released whilst the other organ squeezed the piezoelectric crystal and then the dragon would essentially be breathing fire. A second, potentially more lethal ability comes with this. If a dragon were to gas an area (Expel massive amounts of gas into the vicinity.) and then release a spark, it could do much more damage. It would be like a car engine, in a sense that it would all combust at once and pretty much explode.
As for acid spit, there is a creature in our world that can do so, in a sense. The bombardier beetle. When disturbed or threatened, they eject a noxious chemical spray from their abdomens that burns and blinds. Hydrogen peroxide and hydroquinone are stored within 2 different reservoirs in the beetle’s body. When the liquid mixture of the 2 chemical compounds reach the vestibule of the insect, several catalysts facilitate the decay of the hydrogen peroxide and the oxidization of the hydroquinone. The sheer heat of the reaction brings the mixture dangerously close to the boiling point of water and are ejected from the beetle’s body by gases formed in the process of the reaction. If dragons were to somehow spit acid, it would be by this method, though for it to be effective in combat, it would need actual acid that can melt huts. Think fluoroantimonic acid. This monster of a liquid has a Hammett acidity function value of -31.3. That is beyond acidic. That is leaving the realm of science and entering the realm of sorcery. It takes special synthetic materials to contain this stuff. It melts through glass, plastic, metal, wood, really anything. But it acts slowly. A faster acting acid would be Hydrofluoric acid. This has a marginally less dangerous PH of -19.9, but it melts through things much faster than fluoroantimonic acid. Given, the dragon would need a steady diet containing high amounts of fluorine and antimony. It would also need some form of mucous membrane to prevent the acid from burning through the dragon’s body, as well as an organ to convert the materials into acid.
Now for the least likely part of anything having to do with dragons; storm bringing. Asian tien-lung dragons always brought a storm with them as they flew. Whenever a disaster such as an earthquake or a hurricane happens, animals such as dogs, cats and some fish can detect that it is coming. This is due to them sensing changes in pressure caused by temperature, tectonic plate movement, etc. But that is boring as all hell, and that’s not how we operate here at the MHII Newspaper. We are going to make these flying snake demons bring some storms. And not just pansy storms like the ones we have in the beginning of the Spring . We’re gonna bring some hurricanes. If the tien-lung has electric “batteries” like that of an electric eel, it could cause enough electromagnetic disturbance to generate a powerful storm. But that would require massive amounts of electricity and there would be no rain. It would simply be something known as a “dry thunderstorm.” However, just that lightning would cause massive damage, especially if the lightning were to hit a living organism, instantly burning them to a crisp. Mmmm… Barbecue! The tien-lung would have to be flying high into the clouds and there would the clouds would have to have an extreme electric charge, much higher than that of a normal cloud. But, if the cloud is holding large amounts of water as well, the lightning discharged from the cloud could disrupt the other clouds enough to cause them to rain.
A storm bringing dragon could also function similarly to how Mjölnir (Thor’s Hammer) summons lightning in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But, first, we have to establish how Mjölnir summons lightning. Mjölnir summons lightning using the same
magic science that it uses to only allow Thor to lift it. The simplest explanation, as well as my personal favorite is that Mjölnir emits a theoretical particle called a graviton, which can essentially give the hammer more mass. (This speculative bit of magic science was actually confirmed to be canon in “Indestructable Hulk #8”) If Mjölnir could put out more virtual gravitons than its 19 kilo of Enchanted Uru Metal normally would, then it could fundamentally modify gravitational interactions and pretty much make itself more massive in response to literally anyone who is not worthy, even the most physically powerful characters, which is why the Hulk and Juggernaut are incapable of doing so. This power over gravity could potentially allow Thor (And dragons, I haven’t forgotten.) to “fly.” If you’ve seen any movie with Thor in the past decade, you’ve probably seen him spin his hammer before taking off, right? Well, that is possible, due to the conservation of momentum. If Thor spun Mjölnir really fast and then let go, Mjölnir could increase its mass right when he does and the momentum would pull him along. But can an Asgardian enchantment give the demigod crazy lightning bringing powers? Well… that depends on how lightning works, which may sound pretty weird now, but will make sense when I’m done, hopefully. In a normal thundercloud, there are gusts of air blowing all around tiny particles of soft hail, water droplets and ice crystals, and heavier particles usually fall lower in the cloud than the lighter particles, and when this happens, they collide and the heavier particles acquire a negative charge while the lighter ones acquire a positive charge. Now, there is something in the cloud called a charge separation. Since there are now pools of charges in the cloud, lightning is ready to start happening… someway, somehow. We actually aren’t 100% sure about how lightning starts. But, when it does, it creates channels of ionized gas, which is gas with electrons ripped from it known as leaders which fire off both downward and upward. The negatively charged leaders are the ones you almost always see during a thunderstorm. These negatively charged leaders carry very little current until they strike something with a positive charge. An equalization occurs that can have up to 20,000 amps of current. That is what we see from the ground as the return stroke as light travels back up into the sky at extreme velocities. While this is happening, a large amount of discharged electricity is dissipating into whatever it hit, as well as the air around it. This causes nearby air to heat up at such a quick rate that it creates a pressure wave that we call thunder.
Now that we’ve figured out how lightning works, where do Mjölnir and tien-lung dragons come in? As was stated in a previous paragraph, Mjölnir can change its mass by putting out gravitons. So, what if Mjölnir put out gravitons only upwards instead of scattering them like it usually does, right into the clouds directly above Thor/the dragon. Out of nowhere, Mjölnir/the dragon would get heavier and create a pool of charges. And then, the dragon could function as the only ground in the area for the negatively charged leaders to strike. Then, once the lightning comes into contact with the dragon/Mjölnir, a new, separate beam could shoot out and change the charge potential in the air around it to the point where the lightning would follow the path of least resistance and go wherever the dragon or Thor wants. Lightning, for the most part, searches for ground in 60 meter spheres, so this would be this distance that the attack could be used in, or, its range. But, if a dragon had this ability, it would probably need to have some kind of insulation. Rubber, obviously is a pretty good insulator. If the dragon could somehow develop deposits of a bodily-produced rubber under its scales, it would be perfectly insulated against most electrical currents.
Some dragons are known to screech instead of breathing fire, or anything mentioned previously. A dragon blasting deadly waves of sound from its mouth is entirely possible, as an advanced form of echolocation. Echolocation is the act of sending out a small pulse of sound that returns to the creature, giving it a map of the surroundings. There are several animals in our reality that utilize echolocation such as dolphins, bats and whales. If the dragon were to use sound blasts as a weapon, it would have to seriously amp up the power of the sound. Even as is, sound is really just a powerful vibrating wave of kinetic energy going at 340.29 meters per second. But if the sound can gather enough power, it can shatter eardrums, pop eyeballs, rupture nasal passages and explode bowels. Ouch! Not only that, but if the power behind the sound was strong enough, or if there were a group of sound blasting dragons, they could go into the water and all blast in a single direction and if physics allows, cause an extremely powerful wave that can do almost as much, if not more damage as the next attack or ability discussed in this editorial.
If you saw the sequel to How to Train Your Dragon, you know what the Bewilderbeast is. And if you know what the Bewilderbeast is, you know how powerful ice being blasted onto something like a wooden hut or ship can really be. But, could it work in real life? Could a dragon really blast ice like the Bewilderbeast? For ice to form, in any way, shape or form, water has to rapidly cool down to the point where it begins to condense into ice due to the energy being leeched out of it, basic science, right? But, here’s the thing. Water has something known as a specific heat, which is the amount of energy needed to raise its temperature by one degree, and it has a higher specific heat than most other common substances on Earth. The specific heat of water is 4.184 Joules per gram of water. In a layman’s terms, it takes a lot of energy to change the temperature, higher or lower. This is why the oceans aren’t warmer, even with the sun beating down on them all the time. That means that whenever the dragon shoots ice, it would get extremely hot inside or near the dragon as the water rapidly freezes and expands and then freezes into a solid. This, however, isn’t the only way ice could be produced. A dragon could swallow immense amounts of water and store them in sacs near or on its throat. To get the desired freezing effect, the water would be put under extreme pressure, which also means that higher amounts could be stored. When the water is regurgitated, it decompresses and returns to normal pressure and goes through a drastic drop in temperature. When the icy water hits its target, it would freeze mid splash and do insane amounts of damage.
In conclusion, it is entirely possible for dragons to exist. Well, some, at least. What creatures do you want an article about? Send me an email at [email protected]