‘Draconology’ Explained | Dragon Biology

Few mythical beasts loom larger in the human
imagination than the dragon. No matter what form these scaly creatures
take or which folklore they come from, legends are almost always more captivating when they
include these fantastical monsters. But what might the biology of a ‘realistic’
order of dragons look like? Classic books like Dragonology and fictional
documentaries like Discovery Channel’s Dragon Special have entertained this hypothetical
idea in the past. I won’t deny I read and watched both these
series when I was younger more times than I can count… but I’ve always been looking
for more scientific takes on these mythical creatures. Enter Draconology — a meticulously-detailed
spin on the concept that imagines dragons as a parareptilian offshoot which emerged
millions of years ago, and have survived until the modern day.

The project was created by the artist VikasRao,
and I have links to his work in this video’s description. His Draconology series is unbelievably comprehensive,
imagining the genetics, behavior, taxonomy, habitats, and even feeding habits of countless
dragons inspired by cultures the world over. So, for this entry into the archive, let’s
make our own dragon documentary, and explore the awesome fictional science of Draconology. The World of Draconology is set on an alternate
Earth, which saw the formation of a few additional landmasses and the evolution of numerous creatures
that only exist in folklore on our own planet. Chief among these are the Draconimorpha — a
branch of parareptilia which includes Sea Serpents, Wyrms, Bird-Dragons like Griffins,
Drakes, Wyverns, and what he calls ‘True Dragons’ — all of which are extremely
well-realized, and we’ll be covering in this video. First up are the sea serpents, or the Thalattophidia,
an order of aquatic draconimorphs that are a sister lineage to their land-dwelling cousins. In the words of the author, the evolutionary
origins of sea serpents are as murky as the waters they inhabit, but it seems their ancestry
dates back well over two-hundred million years… and thanks to this alternate earth having
slightly different mass extinctions, some still roam the seas today.

In wetlands, rivers, and estuaries throughout
this world’s version of Europe, you may encounter a Knucker — a long, eel-like serpent
with sharp, slicing teeth. Averaging around 16 feet, or five meters in
length, the Knuckers are actually on the small side for a sea serpent. The author imagines their flippers have a
high degree of muscular development, allowing them to pull themselves onto land — similar
to seals or sea lions. In mythology, the term ‘Knucker’ was a
common name for a water dragon — with a version of the term appearing in the 10th
century epic poem Beowulf. Moving further out to sea, to the waters of
the Northern Atlantic and Pacific, the Northern Sea Orm glides through the waters. Reaching almost sixty feet, or 18 meters in
length and weighing well over a ton, these creatures aren’t built for speed, but for
foraging in the ocean depths. The long tendrils on its snout, known as barbels,
contain nerve endings that help Sea Orms detect vibrations made by swimming prey. The animal’s head is also somewhat crocodilian,
and has a similarly formidable biteforce that aids in crushing its unlucky prey.

And in the depths of the ocean, leviathans
lurk. The two largest sea serpents are the Tiamat
and the Jömungandr — examples of abyssal giantism that get their names from ancient
Mesopotamian and ancient Norse mythology, respectively. And these legendary titles are well deserved,
for the largest of the Jömungandr have reached lengths of 82 feet, or 25 meters — with
the largest Tiamat not far behind at 68 feet, or 21 meters.

The author imagines these species are able
to withstand the frigid depths thanks to a network of heat exchangers and a thick layer
of blubber, which has allowed them to dive deep enough to feed on organisms like giant
squids. In our next category we have the Wyrms — long,
wingless, quadrupedal draconimorphs. In many real-world cultures, dragon myths
don’t feature winged, fire-breathing monsters but serpentine beings often associated with
water or earth: which this group takes inspiration from. In the forests of East and Southeast Asia,
the wide-ranging Great Wind Wyrm move through the canopy. Although they lack wings, this species is
able to glide from tree branch to tree branch by flaring out its ribs and undulating its
body in a serpentine motion. Such behavior is not dissimilar from the rib-powered
flight of real-life Draco Lizards or the incredible gliding techniques of paradise tree snakes
— both of which are incredible animals I’ve touched on before in other entries. Another amazing creature dwells in various
regions of North America — the Greater Banded Uktena. At 14 feet, or 4.5 meters, it’s one of the
mightiest species in its family.

The Uktena pays respect to the horned serpent
motif that appears in the oral history of numerous indigenous cultures — in particular
the Cherokee people. Able to produce venom from a specialized gland
in its upper jaw, the Uktena is similar to a real-world horned viper: one of the deadliest
snakes alive today. Our third category are the amazing ‘bird
dragons,’ or Orinthodraconia. This diverse order includes numerous mythical
creatures you might be familiar with. In West Asia, North Africa, and Southern Europe,
for example, you can find the Common Cockatrice — a unique, opportunistic forager that will
eat just about anything.

In conventional mythology, cockatrices hatch
from a chicken egg that was incubated by a toad. Here, the author imagines the myth comes from
a behavioral quirk of these reptiles to lay their eggs in burrows dug out by certain species
of burrowing toads or lizards. Pretty clever! A strikingly tall Bird Dragon is the Giant
Kirin, a heavy, flightless draconimorph so tall it could look a giraffe in the eye. These unique, brightly colored organisms are
actually inspired by mythical chimerical creatures in various East Asian cultures, and have gone
by numerous similar names. And the final member of the Bird Dragons are
the Griffins — a family so diverse they require their own separate section.

Called the Gryphonidae, these offshoots have
a superficial resemblance to birds, but their ‘feathers’ are in fact epidermal scales
that have evolved into fur-like Coelofibers. In the forests of Atlantis — another fictional
island landmass — you need to stay on the lookout for the Atlantean Giant Alke. These species are the heaviest of the Griffin
family, to the point where they’ve given up the ability to fly. Giant Alke are also hypocarnivorous, meaning
their diet is mostly comprised of plants rather than meat — similar to many species of bears. Soaring over the ocean with a wingspan similar
to that of an albatross, the Southern Axex is one of the smallest members of the Griffin
family. These creatures are opportunistic scavengers,
primarily feeding on carcasses and filling an ecological niche, almost like a sea-going
vulture.

In this scene from the North Pacific, a Northern
Axex — a close relative of their Southern cousins — feeds on the washed-up body of
a Right Whale… which a Great White Shark has also laid claim to. And the final bird-dragon we’ll be examining
is the Lemurian Giant Axex — the largest gryphon species, though not quite as heavy
as the Atlantean Alke. Standing over six-and-half feet, or two meters
tall, the Atlantean Alke is a Griffin that feeds in shallow waters, with a feeding ecology
similar to storks or herons — although the Alke reaches far greater sizes. In our next category, we have the drakes,
or Therosuchia. These heavyset, flightless draconimorphs are
closely related to what the artist terms ‘true dragons’ (which I’ll get to in a bit). The author imagines most Drakes are semi-aquatic,
growing to gargantuan sizes feeding on vast schools of fish.

The largest species, the Titan Drake, is a
giant among giants, reaching lengths of up to 52 feet, or 16 meters and weighing over
9 tons — making them proportional in size to a T-rex. Out to sea, the swift Makara has become even
more aquatic, growing a long tail fluke to aid in pursuing prey under the waves in coordinated
pods. On occasion, makara will even attempt to catch
their distant cousins, the sea serpents, as you can see here in this high-speed underwater
chase. While the Makara are fast, most species of
sea serpents have better endurance — making this a tight race for survival. And now we’ve arrived at an amazing category
of flying draconiformes, the Wyverns, or Volanosauria, an order that is famous not for breathing
fire but for being venomous. At first glance, these flying reptiles seem
to resemble our next category of true dragons more than the Drakes or Bird Dragons, but
they’re actually more closely related to certain Wyrms. On various island chains, the Greater Frogmouth
Wyvern flits among the trees, feeding on small birds and reptiles. Although capable of flight, Frogmouth Wyverns’
wings, like the wings of most Wyverns, lack the air-sacs that allow true dragons to achieve
lift off despite their far greater sizes.

As a result, Frogmouth Wyverns have stayed
relatively tiny, not much larger than a crow. And no, despite their name, frogmouth wyverns
aren’t imagined as being related to actual frogs. In the Amazon rainforest, the much larger
Peacock Wyverns also achieve flight, with wingspans of over five feet, or 1.5 meters. One notable trait of this species is their
lethal venom glands, which produce a deadly fast-acting neurotoxin. Peacock Wyverns also possess bright, flashy
colors much like real-world peacocks to attract mates. And the largest Wyvern in this fictional taxonomy
is the New Guinean Giant Wyvern, apex predators whose wingspans get close to ten feet, or
3 meters in length. Like most Wyverns, these creatures also possess
potent venom, enabling them to hunt animals many times their size. Impressive as these creatures are, however,
true dragons can grow far larger… Before we discuss the category of what the
artist calls true dragons, however, I need address a misconception I’ve often seen
online regarding the difference between Wyverns and Dragons that I might be… a bit too passionate
about.

I’ve often heard people claim that any Dragon
with two legs is automatically a Wyvern, which — okay, obviously both dragons and wyverns
aren’t real, so who cares. But if we’re going off mythology as a precedent,
this division is far from universal. The numbers of limbs ‘dragons’ in medieval
manuscripts have are all over the place — despite the misconception that dragons always had
four legs and two wings and wyverns always had two legs and two wings.

Though Wyverns usually had two legs, Dragons
in myth often had any number of legs, and yet could still be identified as ‘dragons.’ If myth is your basis, I think a better distinction
is that Wyverns, unlike Dragons, usually couldn’t breathe fire. The notion of a hard division between dragons
and wyverns based on legs alone is a very recent and subjective one. So, if you want your dragons to have four
legs, awesome! But if you want them to have two, that doesn’t
‘automatically’ make them wyverns. And again, all of this is made up. Okay, back on track… At last, we’ve come to the fire-breathing
Eudraconia, called ‘true dragons’ in this taxonomy. (Who you’ll notice have two legs, and yet
aren’t wyverns.) Among the ranks of these dragons are the large,
fire-breathing behemoths you’d expect, but also smaller, more specialized species. The Green Dragonet, for example, is a diminutive
dragon that, isolated on the Solomon Islands, had adopted a curious diet of raw fruits. Despite being smaller than some wyverns, the
Green Dragonet still counts as a true dragon thanks to the brachial air sacs on its wing…
and because it retains the fire-breathing abilities of its larger cousins.

Near the rivers and wetlands of the fictional
landmass of Lemuria, the gargantuan Lemurian Dracolisk is on the prowl. Despite having a wingspan of 44 feet, or 13.5
meters, the Dracolisk spends much of its time patrolling the water’s edge looking for
food, and has actually taken up an ecological niche not unlike a hippopotamus — if hippos
were carnivores and could fly and breathe fire, that is. But how do the dragons of this world breathe
fire? The author imagines the process begins internally,
starting by combining endogenously-produced pyrooric compounds in a specialized “reaction
chamber” located in the throat. The creatures then forcibly expel this mixture
outwards, producing a powerful jet of flame — almost like a biological flamethrower. The most impressive fire-breather of all is
the Eurasian Mountain Devil, a megafaunal predator with a wingspan of almost 50 feet,
or 15 meters. These beasts hunt by divebombing prey from
above, ending the hunt with a quick burst of fire.

In build, the Eurasian Mountain Devil almost
reminds me of some modern reconstructions of pterosaurs, although this dragon is larger
than even the mightiest of that extinct group. In the skies, the Mountain Devils are unmatched
— as you can see one here scaring off two Griffin with a jet of ominous flame. A truly intimidating creature… You can find more species and scientific details
on VikasRao’s site using the links below. I’d like to give a special shout out to
Ernesto Marrero, who, I believe, was my nineteenth subscriber, and the first person ever to give
me a suggestion for a video, back when I was averaging less than ten views an entry.

His request was for a video on dragons, and
I feel it’s only right I finally delivered! So, thank you Ernesto — it’s because of
you and fans like you that I make these videos in the first place! And as always, thanks for watching. If you enjoyed this entry, please lend your
support and like, subscribe, and hit the notification icon to stay up to date on all things Curious. See you in the next video..

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