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No mythological creature is more varied than the dragon.

Are Dragons Real?

From the compound-eyed, alien dragons of Anne McCaffery's Pern series to the chronically ill swamp dragons of Terry Pratchett's Discworld , dragons have been invented and reinvented countless times in popular fiction. But do any of these dragons have real-life counterparts in the animal kingdom?


Dragons may not exist exactly as we know them from shows like Game of Thrones , but have any non-fictional creatures ever demonstrated distinctly draconic features? To see how real-world creatures stack up next to fantasy's most beloved beast, I'm going to limit my analysis to three traits that most Western dragons share.

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I'll also be taking into account both extinct and extant non-fictional creatures to see whether dragons are, or at least were, real—in a way. The dragons in fantasy are almost always depicted as reptiles, or at least reptilian, with scaly skin, horns, claws, and an egg-laying lifestyle.

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However, no living reptile reaches the gargantuan sizes that dragons typically do in fiction. Despite their draconic name, komodo dragons, the largest living lizard species, typically 'only' grow up to pounds.

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The largest living reptile, the saltwater crocodile, can grow to a respectable length of 20 feet and a weight of 2, pounds—still no match for the immensity of The Hobbit 's Smaug. We have to look to the past to find creatures that really reach draconic proportions: the dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs are one of the few non-fictional beasts truly comparable to dragons, because they grew so inconceivably large.

The largest of the dinosaurs, the Titanosaurs, may have grown to lengths exceeding feet, and weighed up to 90 metric tons. Of course, one couldn't just slap some wings on a titanosaur and call it a dragon. Animals that grow to massive sizes face important trade-offs. Mainly, the bigger you are, the more food you need.

Not only that, but the bigger you are, the more energy it takes to move the sheer mass of yourself from place to place.

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Unlike speedy flying dragons, titanosaurs probably did not top three miles per hour walking all that bulk around. So even though animals of draconic size once existed, it's highly unlikely they even approached the speed of the dragons we know and love in fiction.

Dragons: A Brief History of the Mythical, Fire-Breathing Beasts

Want more dragon stories? Sign up for our newsletter and get our recommended fantasy reads sent straight to your inbox! In most dragon-centered fiction, dragons are able to fly. But in reality, flying is extraordinarily difficult, and the bigger an animal is, the more difficult flying becomes. Take, for example, one of the largest animals ever to fly: the pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus.

Standing as tall as a giraffe on all fours, this sky terror had a foot wingspan, and could probably fly up to 80 miles an hour.

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As with the Titanosaurs, however, there were important trade-offs to being so big. Real-life dragons and other unmissable wildlife in Asia Guides. Share on Facebook Share. Share on Twitter Tweet.

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Share on Pinterest Share. Share on LinkedIn Share. Amy Foyster My main goal in life is to find ways that I can eat, travel and then write about it and pass it off as gainful employment. You Might Also Enjoy Reading.

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