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Hydras are a type of giant, multi-headed reptilian monsters, sometimes associated with dragons, and very often possessing powerful regenerative abilities.

Fictional hydras trace their roots to the Lernaean Hydra, which inhabited the Swamps of Lerna in Greek myth until slain by Heracles. Like many monsters with mythical origins, hydras are often A Kind of One — the original Hydra of Greek myth was a singular, unique creature, but the name is now typically used for entire species of multi-headed reptiles fashioned after the Greek Hydra.

One of the most iconic characteristics of hydras is their ability to regrow severed heads; sometimes they will simply regrow a new head whenever an old one is cut off, but they can often grow multiple heads (traditionally two) for every one lost. As a result, most obvious ways of dealing with these beasts tend to be useless at best and actively counterproductive at worst, requiring would-be hydra slayers to get creative with their methods. Even when hydras can't grow back heads, they'll often have some form of Healing Factor.

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Like the original Greek beast, hydras are very often swamp-dwellers; the presence of hydra or two can go a long way to explain why Swamps Are Evil.

As the original hydra was typically described as a many-headed water snake, modern hydras often display ophidian traits to greater or lesser degrees. They may be sometimes depicted as limbless, snake-like slitherers, but it's also very common in modern media for them to be four-legged creatures instead, generally resembling some sort of lizard or dinosaur with a writhing tangle of heads sprouting from their torsos.

While not overwhelmingly common, it's not unheard of for a link to be made between hydras and dragons. Some works will treat the two creatures as distinct but similar or related species, while others have hydras as a specific sub-type of dragons.

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See also Hydra Problem, describing any case where harming an enemy in a straightforward way only makes it stronger, Reptiles Are Abhorrent and Multiple Head Case. Compare Orochi.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Card Games 
  • Magic: The Gathering: Hydras are the iconic creatures of Green, the color of nature, instincts and the wilderness, playing the same role for it that angels do for White and demons do for Black. Their heads can number anywhere from four or five to a full dozen. Most are quadrupedal, but some have only two limbs. Many have mechanics themed around increasing their strength when they're dealt damage, symbolizing new heads growing from the stumps of severed ones.
    • The hydras native to Dominaria and Rath are Red- rather than Green-aligned, and live in mountains and volcanic badlands; as these were the first hydra cards printed in real life, this is an artifact from before the hydra creature type settled into its current identity.
    • Several hydras, such as those from Tarkir and those from Amonkhet, are snakelike to the point of explicitly having cobra hoods and heads, and are typed as both Snakes and Hydras.
    • Ravnica is home to phytohydras, serpentine carnivorous plants that only grow back more and more energetically the more they're cut back.
    • In the Theros block, the planeswalker Elspeth Tirel has to fight Polukranos, a hydra that is dubbed the World Eater with very little apparent hyperbole, which used to lair in the realm of the gods before literally falling to earth as a result of a battle between two deities.

    Comic Books 

    Film — Animated 
  • Hercules: Hercules faces the iconic multi-headed serpent early in his hero career. Its face is rather disturbingly humanoid and it drags its bulky body with its only two birdlike talons. The creature starts out with only one head, but three new ones grow in the place of each cranium lost. It's eventually defeated when it pins Hercules to a cliff side and the hero uses his super strength to cause an avalanche on top of the monster.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019): Ghidorah is a giant flying three-headed dragon whose heads grow back when destroyed (though they stay at three).
  • Jason and the Argonauts: The Hydra appears as the guardian of the Golden Fleece and is killed when Jason stabs it in the heart, bypassing its traditional ability to regrow severed heads, and its teeth are later used to animate skeletal warriors. It's effectively a Composite Character of the actual Hydra, the Colchian dragon (which guarded the Golden Fleece in the original myth) and Cadmus' dragon (whose teeth grew into fierce soldiers when sown).

    Literature 
  • In Fate/Apocrypha, Kairi Sisigou notices a preserved baby hydra in a jar while discussing the Holy Grail War at the Mage's Association and asks for it as part of his advance payment. He later uses it to create an antidote to the poison used by Semiramis, allowing Mordred to finish their fight and cripple Semiramis for the rest of the war.
  • Fablehaven: A fifteen-headed hydra named Hespera is the first guardian of the Dragon Temple in Wyrmroost.
  • In The Labours Of Hercules, Poirot investigates a rumor that a village doctor killed his wife to marry his dispenser, the metaphorical hydra being that every time one source of the rumor is tracked down, a new source appears, allowing the rumor to persist.
  • The French book Les Dieux S Amusent features a parodic retelling of Hercules' labors in which the author holds that instead of cauterizing the stumps (because why should a Healing Factor that can fix decapitation fail against mere fire), the hero instead grafted a sheep's head on each neck, not only preventing the chopped head from regenerating but causing a septic infection that killed off another head, allowing Hercules to kill two heads for every head he added.
  • Ology Series: Dragonology describes hydras as a species of dragon native to the shores of the Mediterranean and Black Seas, where they lair in the ruins of dead civilizations, and distinguished by their multiple heads (generally between three and seven, but sometimes more), atrophied wings and a bipedal, birdlike stance. In addition to being able to regrow lost heads, the actual severed heads can regrow new hydras of their own — indeed, this is their main way of reproducing. They also feed primarily upon other dragons' young, but are quite happy to eat humans when baby dragons aren't around.
  • The Jean De La Fontaine fable The Dragon With a Hundred Heads and the Dragon With a Hundred Tails is about a man who saw a hundred-headed hydra try and fail to pass through a hedge, while the dragon with a single head and a hundred tails easily pushed through, as an allegory for the Turks and the Holy Roman Empire respectively. This is supposedly based on an even older story told by Ghenghis Khan on why he could easily beat the squabbling tribes of Mongolia though they outnumbered him.
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Hydra from Classical Mythology appears in the second book of the series. Like all monsters, it has Resurrective Immortality and is the only one of its kind. It appears as a massive water serpent with an initial nine heads. Unlike most monsters, its life force has been magically tied to a doughnut shop, and a new location of the franchise magically opens whenever it regrows two heads. Annabeth scolds Percy when he cuts off one if its heads, as even he knew what would happen. Before they can figure out how to deal with the beast, Clarisse vaporizes it with a cannon.
  • Redwall: Invoked in Triss, where a trio of newly-hatched adders had their tails entwined by the flail of King Sarengo, the rat who'd gotten in a Mutual Kill with their mother. As they grew into adulthood, the chain remained wrapped around them, so they had to learn to move as a team. They are horrifying in close combat, and for most of the book, terrorize characters by their mere presence, the raw and rotting flesh of their tails giving off a sickeningly sweet odor.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Hercules: The Legendary Journeys: Hydras appear as threats to the heroes at various points through this series and its spinoffs. They're all descended from the original three-headed Lernaean Hydra, which was killed by Hercules and Iolaus.

    Mythology and Folklore 
  • Classical Mythology is the Trope Maker through the Lernaean Hydra, a monstrous nine-headed snake that lived in the swamps of Lerna and guarded one of the entrances to the underworld. A creature of poison, its breath and blood were both fatally toxic and, in some versions, even its scent was deadly. The creature was a daughter of the primordial monsters Typhon and Echidna, like many of the other multi-headed or hybrid monsters of Classical myth, and was eventually slain by Heracles during his second labor, scorching the stumps of the Hydra's heads to keep them from growing back and burying its last immortal head beneath a rock. He then dipped his arrows in the Hydra's blood, turning them permanently poisonous. One interpretation of the original hydra myth was that it served as a symbol of the Lernean swamp itself, where plugging up one spring would cause another to spring up shortly after.
  • Slavic Mythology: The Zmey are something of a fusion between a "traditional" western dragon and the classical hydra. In addition to the four limbs, wings, and fire breath of a traditional dragon, they typically have three heads. These will regrow (but not multiply) if cut off and not treated by fire, and their blood is toxic. Given the close proximity of Greece to the Slavic peoples, Zmey are likely inspired by the classical Hydra.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Hydras are large, four-legged reptiles and can have anywhere from five to twelve heads, with two new ones growing in whenever one is lost. They inhabit swamps and other areas of stagnant water and are some of the most dangerous things living there short of black dragons, with whom they often compete when they coexist.
    • While hydras aren't dragons, some scholars believe that they share a common ancestor — a minor scholarly tradition that believes dragons to descend from wyvern-like creatures rather than having been created by the gods holds that certain ancient skeletons of multi-headed reptiles are the remains of mutated proto-dragons who later evolved into modern hydras.
    • Hydra body parts have a surprising number of uses: hydra tongues hung from a pole, for instance, will change color rather dramatically depending on the approaching weather, while hydra fat mixed with corn meal makes for extremely effective rat bait and powdered hydra bone is a potent desiccant.
    • A couple of variants exist, including cryohydras, which can breathe out clouds of icy mist, and pyrohydras, which breathe fire instead.
  • In Magic: The Gathering, Hydras do not strictly have to have ten heads.
  • Pathfinder: Hydras resemble giant, multi-headed snakes, are about as bright as dolphins and have varying numbers of heads topped with bony crests used in signaling and intimidation. Besides that, their appearance can vary greatly between individuals — any given hydra's features may resemble snakes, crocodiles or even dragons. They have a Healing Factor on top of their regenerating heads, and the energy needed to fuel both things makes them constantly hungry and ravenous predators. They prefer to inhabit swamps and other wetlands, but can be found in any environment with easy access to standing water.
    • Their ability to regrow heads is also how hydras procreate. They constantly gestate embryonic heads at the bases of their necks, which quickly grow to adulthood if the neck they're growing in is severed. If they're not released this way, however, the gestating heads are either coughed up as slimy, egg-like cysts, which the parent hydra then incubates until swarms of snake-like larvae emerge, or just tear their way out of their neck, with the largest one grafting itself to the parent's body as a replacement head and the rest moving away as a swarm. Either way, hydras don't look after their young past hatching and the larvae set off on their own, with the strongest individuals eventually sprouting new heads and leaving their siblings to find territories of their own. Since hydras reproduce entirely asexually, other members of their species are only competitors to them, and hydras will typically fight when they meet.
    • Numerous varieties exist in addition to the common, swamp-dwelling, acid-vomiting kind, including fire-breathing pyrohydras whose flaming attacks make them very effective at countering other hydras' regeneration; ice-breathing cryohydras; three-headed schism hydras capable of splitting in half like amoebas; warden hydras geared, like the Lernaean one, towards protecting holy sites; grave hydras infused with necromantic energy; and extremely powerful, quadrupedal, twelve-headed miasma hydras, which have caustic blood and can breathe clouds of toxic gas.
  • Warhammer: Hydras are immense, powerful and multi-headed monsters in the Dark Elf army roster. They're typically shown with five heads specifically, often topped by pointed, bony crests, and as having powerfully built, quadrupedal bodies, although models from the first few editions of the game show them as gigantic multi-headed snakes instead.
    • In the background lore, they're seemingly entirely ageless, as no hydra has ever been recorded as dying of old age — all known hydras lived for centuries or millennia, never decreasing in strength or vigor, until being killed by something else. While only a few are left in the Old World, many still lurk in the Chaos Wastes and in the Dark Elven homeland of Naggaroth.
    • Dark Elven war hydras are a distinct and especially fearsome breed, as their masters have spent millennia perfecting the already formidable beasts through magic and selective breeding. As a unit, their special rule Another Takes its Place allows them to randomly regenerate from damage at the start of each turn, representing a new head suddenly growing from a bloody stump.

    Videogames 
  • Age of Mythology: Naturally Hydras appear as a myth unit for the Greeks. They're depicted as large quadrupedal reptiles which begin with only one head, but can grow up to five as they kill enemy units. With each head grown the creature's attack power increases.
  • Age of Wonders: Hydras are giant, six-headed quadrupedal reptiles that can be recruited as high-end monsters by the Draconians in Age of Wonders 2. They have regeneration and immunity to poison in addition to the dragon descriptor, which they share with other dragons but which drakes and wyverns do not have, making hydras true dragons where these other creatures are not.
  • Dominions: Hydras are available units for the serpent-worshippers of Pythium and their Sauromatian ancestors. In the Late Age of Pythium, they have sacred status. Sauromatia and Late Age Pythium can also summon a unique hydra known as the Daughter of Typhon.
  • Dwarf Fortress: Hydras are megabeasts — extremely rare, gigantic and powerful monsters, a category also including rocs and dragons — described as dragon-like beasts with seven heads. While only around half the size of other megabeasts, they can attack with all seven heads at once, thus overwhelming single opponents or keeping multiple attackers at bay simultaneously. They also possess a strong Healing Factor, a rarity in the game, that allows them to heal a hundred times faster than other creatures can, although they cannot actually regrow lost heads.
  • Epic Battle Fantasy: 3, 4, and 5 feature multiheaded dragons (but only their heads fit on the battle screen, and only in 3 does the dragon have a body on the overworld). They're particularly dangerous because, in addition to strong attacks, high HP and defenses, at least one head will have healing magic, and in 5 you actually need to kill all three heads within a turn of each other or they'll revive one another indefinitely.
  • In EverQuest, the Plane of Time is where Zebuxoruk, the "Un-god of Knowledge", is held prisoner by the other gods. As the mortal adventurers defeat each god that tries to stop them, the four elemental gods form together as a four-headed hydra named Quarm to serve as the last line of defense. Each head is made of a different element — earth, fire, water, and air. A head gets cut off at each 25% of its life taken off.
  • God of War features a hydra supposedly descended from the Lernaean one, which unlike the original is explicitly a Sea Monster.
  • Golden Sun:
    • Several hydra variants appear, essentially giant three-headed venom-spewing snakes whose unique ability is a triple bite attack (the strongest one, the Pyrodra, breathes fire as well). One, somehow formed from several cuttlefish-like monsters joining together, is fought as a boss.
    • The Doom Dragon is the three-headed final boss of Golden Sun: The Lost Age. While it doesn't respawn heads, it has an interesting mechanic to let it counter the Disc-One Nuke summon rush strategy (where huge damage is done in one turn, but leaves the summoner vulnerable and greatly weakened for several turns) where every head is treated as a separate battle, meaning any extra damage done to one head is wasted.
  • Heroes of Might and Magic: Hydras are large, powerful monsters available to certain factions as high-tier units, and can usually attack multiple foes at once. They're explicitly many-headed snakes in the earlier games, but later installments depict them as quadrupedal creatures with elephantine gaits instead (Heroes Of Might And Magic 4 effectively splits the difference by having its hydras drag themselves along on only two sprawled limbs).
    • In the first two games, the hydra is spawned from the Swamp building; the third game changes this to the Hydra Pond.
    • The basic hydra in Heroes Of Might And Magic 5 has only three heads, but can be upgraded to a six-headed deep hydra or foul hydra. They're thought to be bestial and primitive relatives of dragons and have been captured by the dark elves to serve as creatures of war. Foul hydras have dangerously caustic blood, seemingly from having fed upon large numbers of Giant Spiders.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword: Stalras are enemies resembling three-headed snake skeletons; their name is a portmanteau of hydra and the stal- prefix associated with skeletal enemies in general.
  • Pokémon Black and White: Hydreigon (note the name) is a darkness-aligned dragon with three heads and six wings.note 
  • Titan Quest: The Lernean Hydra appears as a Bonus Boss in the swamps near Athens, though only on legendary difficulty. Smaller two headed reptiles called Hydradons also appear as regular enemies.
  • Total War: Warhammer: Hydras, gigantic, fire-breathing quadrupeds with five heads, are powerful monster units that can be fielded by the Dark Elves. They are far more outwardly snakelike than in the source material, having fully adder-like heads, forked snake tongues, and rattlesnake tails. There's also a Regiment of Renown version in the form of the Chill of Sontar, a legendary frost-breathing hydra with ice-blue scales.
  • Warcraft:
    • Hydras appear as neutral "creeps" in Warcraft III. They are three-headed, two-legged reptilian creatures. When a hydra is killed, two smaller hydras spawn from its corpse, as a variant on the usual regeneration. They also have high passive regeneration, and will heal faster from wounds if left alone.
    • Hydras return as strong enemies and bosses in World of Warcraft, although they no longer split in two when killed. A distinct variant, with four legs, horns and multiple eyes per head, is found in Outland, primarily in the fungal swamplands of Zangarmarsh. Their ancestors are found in the alternate timeline Draenor, and although still horned and quadrupedal they lack the Outland hydras' more alien features. Four legendary Draenor hydras are explicitly named from Greek mythology — Keravnosnote , Lernaea, Echidna, and Typhon.
  • Zeus: Master of Olympus:
    • The Hydra is a fire-spitting monster unleashed by Athena if she doesn't like you (although Ares sends it in one campaign), usually on marshy terrain, and is defeated either by building a Hero's Hall for Hercules or by sending lots and lots and lots of regular troops at it. It can talk, but has a bad case of Sssnake Talk.
      Our ssstinging bitessss are our giftsss to you!
    • Scylla is depicted with a similar structure (but with human heads on snake necks, and it's aquatic), and the intro cinematic shows Typhon as having multiple snake heads as well before being buried under a mountain.

    Webcomics 
  • In The Order of the Stick the party once fights a hydra that keeps growing heads past the normal limit of twice its starting number of heads. Elan and Belkar keep chopping off heads until it grows too many for its blood supply to support and passes out, and an enterprising goblin starts selling barbecued hydra heads.
  • In Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic the Chimera runs across a Hydra that has managed to tie itself to a tree. Once the Chimera helps get them unstuck, they immediately get into an argument into whose fault it was. The Chimera sneaks away and they muse on how their situation could be much worse.

    Western Animation 
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: A giant four-headed hydra, bipedal but lacking forelimbs, appears in "Feeling Pinkie Keen", inhabiting Froggy Bottom Bog, and attacks the main characters when they ventured into the swamp. Its heads' personalities are distinct enough for them to laugh at each other's misfortunes and for one to be somewhat slower on the uptake than the rest. It's later mentioned in "Molt Down" that hydras are among the most prevalent predators of young dragons alongside Roc Birds and tatzlwurms.

    Real Life 
  • There's a real-life animal named Hydra after the mythical monster. It's a small freshwater creature that bears little resemblance to its fantastic namesake. It may have been gotten its name either because it has numerous tentacles that resemble serpentine heads, or because it possesses remarkable regenerative abilities, being able to regrow from a single tentacle and never showing any form of senescence. It belongs to the class Hydrozoa which also includes several species of jellyfish and the iconic Portuguese Man o'War.

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