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Our Dragons Are Different / Real Life

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Since dragon myths and stories are found around the world and all over history, it's only natural that some of them should—intentionally or not—draw inspiration from real animals. For instance. . .

  • The Komodo Dragon, a monitor lizard native to Indonesia, is the world's largest species of lizard, known to grow over three metres (ten feet) long. While they can't fly or breathe fire, they have serrated teeth that make bites very hard to recover and inject toxic venom into their prey's bloodstream. They have been known to attack and kill humans on rare occasions. Also, they are capable of parthenogenesis (producing young without genetic input from a male of the species), meaning a single female can colonize an island, producing males (thanks to Komodo Dragons following a ZW sex-determination system, unlike humans who follow an XY system, the resulting offspring will always be male), then mate with these males to produce a population. Thankfully, captive Dragons can recognize individual humans and can be trained to a degree. Among reptiles, they are unique for showing explicit affection for the people they really like.
    • Besides the toxic venom of Varanus komodoensis, shock, blood loss and outside infection of the prey's wounds are almost certainly far more important factors than venom might be in the process of prey capture. The proteins inside of its jaws (used for clotting blood, lowering blood pressure, paralyzing muscles and inducing hypothermia, which leads to shock and loss of consciousness) are also present in other predators; a few of which aren't at all poisonous or venomous, so it's still not entirely certain if the dragons are truly venomous or not. They are not completely immune to their own bacteria either and will obsessively clean their mouths after biting water buffalo, who contracted this bacteria as a result of being an invasive species from a significantly different ecosystem. The water buffalo also have a tendency to go into the water after being attacked. The water they run in to is stagnant and contains feces, causing the infections.
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  • The Komodo dragon's prehistoric cousin, Varanus priscus aka Megalania, grew to be nearly 30 feet long.
  • Bearded dragons (Pogona barbata) are a variety of related species of lizard native to Australia. Ironically, it is one of the few things in Australia not trying to kill you: they have no special qualities besides a distinctive appearance (with a scaly 'beard' around the head), and are often kept as pets.
    • Also common on the pet trade (and some of which are also from Australia) are water dragons, two species of lizard somewhat smaller than the green iguana, and notable for their gentle and mild dispositions (as opposed to the iguana's tendency towards being a bit more high-strung).
  • There are also frilled dragons, which have a frill they expand to look bigger, and sailfin dragons, which have a large sail-like crest on their back and tail (or at least, males do). Sailfin dragons are the largest agamids; while still considerably smaller than a Komodo dragon, they're impressive lizards about the size of a green iguana.
  • A genus of tiny lizards which use extendable ribs to support gliding membranes bear the taxonomic designation of "Draco", meaning "dragon". Not exactly a menace to the village, but they're the closest thing there's been to flying dragons since the pterosaurs died out.
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  • They're not named for dragons, but North America's short-horn lizards (aka "horned toads") are about as close as Nature has come to the archetypal limbed-reptile-with-a-Breath Weapon. While they can't actually breathe fire or poison, these spiky lizards can squirt blood from modified tear ducts, that can travel up to three feet and is laced with a compound that's noxious to coyotes, kit foxes, and other canid predators.
  • South Africa is home to the giant girdled lizard, or "sungazer". While it does look like a small armored dragon, what's really interesting is its scientific name: Smaug giganteus.
  • Dinosaurs. Some believe that dragon legends were inspired from dinosaur bones.
    • Generally averted with pterosaurs, unless your dragons look like this. Prehistoric marine reptiles like plesiosaurs and mosasaurs however pretty much resemble typical marine dragons, and the mammal-like reptile synapsid Dimetrodon looks like a one winged western dragon.
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    • Azhdarchid pterosaurs (whose group name is actually based on a type of dragon) and Ornithocheirid pterosaurs are fairly similar to flying dragons; the former group has the massive size and carnivorous diet of a dragon and the latter has members with sharp, vicious looking teeth and weird head ornaments. The name of one Ornithocheirid, Guidraco even translates to "malicious ghost dragon" (the name's a bit of a misnomer, as despite its ferocious appearance, it was most likely a harmless fish-eater).
    • A number of fossils are advertised in Chinese traditional medicine as "dragon's bones", including prehistoric mammals. A number of species have even been discovered from fossils sitting in Chinese folk medicine shops. One famous example is of Gigantopithecus, the largest known primate in history.
    • And now a dinosaur from China, called Yi qi, has been found, with batlike wings making it resemble a tiny insectivorous wyvern. Then again, maybe not.note 
    • With the discovery of a better-preserved fossil, of a related theropod called Ambopteryx, it's confermed that yes,Yi qi did have a bat-like wing, and it wasn't the only scansoriopterigid that had them. While the long third finger of members of their family was originally believed to be used to dig out grubs like the aye-aye lemur of today, it's now believed that they supported gliding membranes, though not to the extent of Yi and Ambopteryx.
  • Weedy sea dragons and leafy sea dragons, aquatic seahorse relatives that have weed-like growths on them for camouflage in their seaweed-rich habitat. They may not have wings or a Breath Weapon, but they certainly look fantastic.
  • Less fantastic are barbeled dragonfish, which are small, deep-sea fish similar to viperfish. One distinctive feature is that they have several vertebrae missing just behind their skull. This is theorized to be an evolutionary development that permits the dragonfish to pivot its head in ways most bony fish can't.
  • Asian Arowana, a type of fish with two straight barbels and dragon-like scales. They are also called Dragonfish because of how closely they resemble Chinese dragons.
  • Dragonflies. They are predatory insects from the day they hatch, although they live in the water until they almost reach adulthood, then they transform into an aerial predator. While current dragonflies are small, having wingspans of a few inches, ancient dragonflies dating from the times of Carboniferous era (about 300 million years ago) can grow to a wingspan of about 70 cm or more, i.e., more than two feet.
  • The Germans have built a giant walking, fire-breathing robot dragon called Tradinno
  • Before the Philippines were conquered by Spain, nearly all of the tribes called crocodiles "dragons" (of the serpentine Asian variety), being aquatic reptiles who got pretty damn huge. The largest recorded saltwater crocodile was found in the Philippines at just over 20 feet, and there are regions of the Philippines where 20-footers are COMMON.
  • In Krakow, Poland, there is a real-life model of Smok Wawelski (Dragon of Wawel) from the legends. See Myths & Religion for more details.
  • The largest dragon is probably the one in the constellation Draco. While the typical representations see it as a wyrm (serpentine-like) or even as an eastern one, with some tinkering you can spot there a western one.
    • Another example in the sky is the IC 4592 nebula. Even if nicknamed the "Blue Horse head", it does not take too much imagination to see it as a blue dragon's head with one bright star as an eye and those dark clouds as smoke coming from its snout.

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