I have generally found it a bit silly that there are established rules as to what a mythical creature is, and is not. Therefore, when I decided to write a series of books in which appear dragons (and other such creatures) I gave myself permission to inject my own logic on their “evolution.”
As such, here are dragons, as I see them.
Dragons are large creatures, by and large. Their size varies greatly by species, with the largest dragons achieving wing spans of 90 feet.
Much of the dragon’s external anatomy evolved due to climate, and competition for food and mates. Contrary to popular belief, dragons are not reptiles. The massive of amounts of heat energy required to produce fire pretty much mandate they be endothermic.
Dragons, in fact, are warm-blooded, though more closely aligned with birds than mammals or reptiles. Fire is produced by internal organs that excrete flammable digestive fluids. These fluids are forcefully expelled, along with the contents of their lungs, igniting upon contact with oxygen. The carbon dioxide from the dragon’s lungs serves as thrust, while the oxygen in the surrounding air serves as catalyst. Instant fire.
Initially, fire was used only for mating and territorial displays. As such, the dragon itself has not evolved protection against flame. However, with reductions in its natural habitat, and increasing competition, fire soon became its primary weapon.
In the Stream, dragons do not only breathe fire. There is a separate organ which excretes its primary tool for hunting. This weapon … but that would be telling.
Dragons, as I mentioned, have sensitive skin that is readily damaged. As such, it evolved fur over the upper portion of its body, as protection against the cold. Their appearance is similar to the rendering of the extinct white dragon, except surviving males of the species have manes, similar to a lions. Again, this is a mating feature. Dragons are quite romantic.
Dragon faces have traditionally been rendered as in the dragons above, with narrow, reptilian muzzles and sharp teeth. Actual dragons, however, have square jaws, again similar to a lion’s. They are carnivores, and top predators, but must eat their prey quickly or risk having it stolen by other predators and scavengers. As such, their powerful jaws allow them to rip, crush, and rend their prey quickly.
The effect is a fearsome creature with powerful jaws and enormous teeth. My vision of a dragon is that it is unlikely to have been a reptile. Simply put, the amount of endothermic energy, or energy in general, is too much for a cold-blooded creature. As a result, the dragons in my novels vary from almost mammalian forms, to avian forms. The photo below is closer to how I’d envision a dragon, except with fur and mane, and without the forked tongue. They have functional noses, and as skilled hunters, who use cold to disable their prey, they evolved an acute sense of smell.
Dragons are a curious blend of awesome power and vulnerability. Despite their enormous size, their sensitive skin and delicate wing structure make them targets when in flight. They have acute vision, easily spotting a creature as small as a medium-sized dog from a mile in the air.
Without the element of surprise, however, the dragon can succumb to arial attack from other dragons, or evasion by from the prey. To combat both, it has evolved a complex system of camouflage.
From the ground, it is protected by thick, scaly hide, with iridescent scales. These scales have evolved to be the color of the sky in the dragons’ territory in the Stream – generally a greenish-yellow, and occasionally, blue. Likewise, their fur has evolved spotting in areas with dense deciduous forest, or shades of green in evergreen forest, and even the rare tan dragons that habituate desert areas. In effect, from either the air, or the ground, the dragon will likely see you long before you see it.
If it does, I do so hope you have said your prayers every night.