Facts about Dragons

The word “Dragon” comes from the Latin word Draco or Draconis, which means snake or serpent. Dragons are commonly described as magical creatures, which physically resemble huge lizards or snakes (hence the name) with the ability to fly and to launch a deadly, fiery breath. Furthermore, they are considered to be clever, to have the ability to talk and to have magical abilities as well. One of the most famous dragons is Smaug from the novel The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien. Other famous dragons include Norbert in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (1998). In fantasy movies dragons often appear, for example in Dragonslayer (1981), Dragonheart (1996) and Reign of Fire (2002).

The majority of dragons are considered to be of evil alignment, but in literature and movies there are certain exceptions, such as the dragons described in the novels by Terry Pratchett and the dragon Draco in the movie Dragonheart. In role playing games, such as Dungeons and Dragons, the color of a dragon indicate its nature and abilities. Plain colored dragons, such as red and blue dragons, are of evil alignment, while metallic dragons, such as silver and gold dragons, are of good alignment. The dragons also have different, harmful breath weapons depending of the color of the dragons, e.g. fire (red), electricity (blue) or acid (green).

Dragons were common in tales during the medieval times, where the dragons often were described as malicious and wicked. Dragons could be used as a metaphor for the enemy, for example a not too friendly neighboring country. In the stories, the good guys were often described as Christian knights and they usually defeated the dragon and therefore saved the kingdom from a nasty end. The dragons often symbolized treachery, but were also often considered extremely clever and wise. To slay a dragon was therefore a great achievement, since the hero had to be both strong and smart. In Asia, dragons symbolize strength and happiness and are usually described as very wise. To be born during the year of the Dragon means good luck.

Dragons are believed to be a fantasy animal. However, some of the archaeological bones that scientists have found definitely could fit the description of dragons. One good example is the 15 meter long python Wanambi naracourtensis, which now is exinct but once lived in Australia. Or the dinosaurie Archaeopteryx, which was the most primitive known bird to have lived during the Late Jurassic and Early Cretaceous. The Archaeopteryx could fly or glidefly, and had both feathers and a long tail.

However, there is in fact a kind of small flying lizards which well fit the description of a dragon. It is called Flying Dragon or Draco volans in Latin, which actually means “The dragon that can fly”. This little lizard (which normally is less than 20 centimeter) lives in Asia and East Indies, and it can spread out folds of skin, attached to its movable ribs, to forms wings which it uses to glide-fly from tree to tree in tropical forests. The wings are brightly colored with orange, red and blue spots and stripes. It can glide up to approximately ten meters. Draco volans feeds on ants and termites and the female lay 1-5 eggs, which she hides in the soil on the ground.

So far, Draco volans has not shown any sign of magical abilities or displayed the ability for fire breath, but who knows?

(Maybe they don’t get those abilities until they are older and larger, when they have left the tropical forests to hunt up in the mountains instead?)

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