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Thread: Dragon Anatomy, Physiology, Behaviour, Etcetera

  1. #1
    Seventh Year Ravenclaw
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    Dragon Anatomy, Physiology, Behaviour, Etcetera

    Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them gives some basic information on the types of dragons and their behaviour, but little about the structure of the dragons themselves. I am referring to the question of limbs, which isn't made clear in the books.

    So, how many limbs do dragons have? Four or six?

    A dragon with six limbs would probably look like what people typically think of when they think of a dragon - a sort of big lizard with wings poking out of its back. However, this is anatomically impossible, and there is no such thing as a six-limbed vertebrate in nature (save for mutated Chernobyl frogs!). However, in the Harry Potter world, there are animals like Hippogriffs and Threstrals, which do have six limbs (four legs and two wings).

    On the other hand, a dragon with four limbs would be more like a reptilian bat, with the arms forming the wings. The arms might have one or two claws, but most of its fingers are long and thing to form the framework of the wing. This four-limbed dragon is much more plausible in real-world terms, and the Hungarian Horntail in the Goblet of Fire movie is portrayed like this.

    Now, how many limbs do you think dragons would have? Or could some species of dragon have four limbs, while others have six?

    Here's another question that I've been pondering:

    How do Chinese dragons fly?

    European-style dragons traditionally have wings growing from the back, but I have yet to see any depiction of a Chinese dragon with any kind of wings at all. Furthermore, Chinese dragons are built more like snakes, but just with legs. However, many seem to be able to fly without wings, because the dragon is a magical and powerful animal.

    In the world of Harry Potter, there is only one species of Chinese dragon, the Chinese Fireball, also called the Liondragon. So, how do you think Chinese dragons fly, if at all? Could the Fireball be the only flightless dragon? Or do these species actually have wings, despite every depiction of them that suggests otherwise? And if the Chinese Fireball does have wings, then does it have four limbs or six?

    How do you think Dragons breath fire?

    Is the fire generated magically, or is it the process of some chemical reaction? Furthermore, do dragons only shoot mere flames, or can they shoot something like napalm, which would be much more effective?

    And now for some more mundane questions...

    How many eggs do you think dragons lay at a time, and how often?
    What roles do male and female dragons play in the raising of young?
    What is the average dragon lifespan, and how quickly do dragons grow?

    Anyway, those are some of my thoughts/questions about dragons in the Harry Potter universe, and I'd love to hear your comments and answers.

    Tim the Enchanter

  2. #2
    Inverarity
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    Magical biology is almost as geeky as magical physics, and even more fun!

    So, how many limbs do dragons have? Four or six?

    I think whether you go with four limbs or six, it's very unlikely that dragon species vary -- they're all four-limbed or six-limbed. A different in number of limbs would make them not even remotely the same species. (Assuming we're following rules that even remotely resemble actual evolutionary biology.)

    The movie depicts a four-limbed dragon. The picture in GoF shows six-limbed dragons (beginning of Chapter 19, p. 313 in the American edition).

    In that chapter, there is mention of the dragons "rearing up on their hind legs" (implying that they have forelegs), and they are called "lizard-like," which also implies four legs....

    Aha! p. 356: "...he was speeding toward the ground as fast as he could go, toward the eggs now unprotected by her clawed front legs."

    So there you have it -- four legs, therefore six limbs.

    How do Chinese dragons fly?

    First thing to keep in mind: it's physically impossible for a dragon-sized creature to fly, unless it has wings the size of football fields. So the only way they can fly is with the help of magic. On the other hand, it's implied that they have to obey the laws of aerodynamics somewhat, so while we could handwave and say that Chinese Fireballs "levitate" and don't really need wings to fly, I think it's more likely that they have large wings too. The description in FB doesn't actually say that they are the classical wingless serpent, as usually depicted in Chinese myth.

    How do you think Dragons breath fire?

    Even if dragons don't have some kind of magical flame-generating organ, they'd still need magic to be able to project that much heat and not cook their own mouths. If you want a pseudo-biological explanation, you can make them natural propane emitters, or give them some sort of flammable bile ducts in their throats.

    Furthermore, do dragons only shoot mere flames, or can they shoot something like napalm, which would be much more effective?

    Harry only seemed to be dodging flames in GoF. If the dragon was spitting flaming napalm, I think he'd have been in even more trouble (and there should have been mention of the landscape being set on fire, and the dragon-wrangling wizards who brought them to Hogwarts would have been worried about more than just staying out of range of the jets of flame).

    How many eggs do you think dragons lay at a time, and how often?

    Most reptiles lay a large clutch of eggs, because very few of the young survive. Nile crocodiles, according to Wikipedia, lay 55 to 80 eggs. According to scholastic, they have found up to 21 fossilized dinosaur eggs in one clutch.

    What roles do male and female dragons play in the raising of young?

    With most reptiles, the female guards the nest and the male takes off, and that seemed to be the case with the Hungarian Horntail in GoF.

    What is the average dragon lifespan, and how quickly do dragons grow?

    Well, you can get an idea from USGS, where they speculate that dinosaurs probably lived for decades, and possibly for centuries.

  3. #3
    Drurbane
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    Interesting topic, and while I am far from being an expert on the topic of dragonology, I will now pretend I am. Forgive me.

    So, how many limbs do dragons have? Four or six?
    I would say six limbs. My reasons are as follows:
    Mythology is filled with stories of six-limbed beasts, and many of these beasts are featured in 'Harry Potter' as you yourself said. Biologically-impossible though a six-limbed beast may be, surely it is more plausible than, say, Dementors? A world that boasts manticores should not have too much trouble with a biological anomaly.

    And I don't think J. K. Rowling knows a whole lot about what is anatomically-possible or not; which is fine, because it's not her line of work.

    There might of course be variation in limb count amongst dragons, as you suggest. I would advise you to explore that particular line of thought. At any rate, I should think the Hungarian Horntail has six-limbs, because the GOF (UK Edition) front cover depicts it that way. The book is more reliable than the movie, and if I remember correctly Rowling herself oversees the making of the covers.

    How do Chinese dragons fly?
    This one's tough...

    The Chinese believed that the flight ability of the long was purely mystical in nature, and not due to any physical properties. Check out Wikipedia. Apparently they have this lump thing called a chimu that allowed them to fly... mystically.

    But I don't think you'd quite accept Chinese Dragons being ability to fly just because they have a sore on their foreheads... so you could just give them wings. The Chinese occasionally depicted dragons as having wings.

    How do you think Dragons breath fire?
    Interesting you should ask that. I don't know if you saw it but the 'Discovery Channel' once ran a show called 'The Last Dragon' which attempted to explain how dragons might have really existed. I suggest you look into it. They had an explanation for the fire-breathing ability, which I will quote from Wikipedia:

    Tanner says that to create fire, they need fuel, oxygen and a source of ignition. He then realizes that he had already found fuel inside the flight bladders, hydrogen and methane, both combustible and lighter than air. He then takes samples of the crushed rocks found on the molars of the creature to discover they are rich in platinum, which can start a fire in a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen.
    Dragons could take platinum-rich rocks into their bodies and could use it to ignite the hydrogen and methane they keep in their flight bladders to enable them to fly.

    How many eggs do you think dragons lay at a time, and how often?
    Not too many, and rarely I should think. A dragon egg shouldn't be in a great deal of danger from other creatures, and considering the size of the beasts in question it would be advantageous to make sure too many aren't born at around the same time or else the food supply would run short.

    The rest of your questions I have no answers for.

  4. #4
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    Magical biology is almost as geeky as magical physics, and even more fun!
    Indeed! No matter how utterly biologically impossible dragons are, I still find it entertaining to imagine them in "scientific" terms! I took a look at the Discovery Channel's programme on dragons that Drubane mentioned, and I don't really think their explanation of the dragon's fire-breathing ability really works. In order to have hydrogen and methane gas aid flight, the dragon would have to be more like a massive blimp with wings, since gas in some kind of internal bladder won't produce nearly enough lift. Furthermore, I assume that platinum is a very rare element (thus its expense), so I can't see dragons chewing on platinum rich rocks, as if they're just lying around.

    So I guess it's just magic that enables them to breath fire! Though if it was up to me, I'd make dragons spit streams of flaming liquid, like some organic flamethrower. Then again, a corpse coated in napalm must be hard to eat, so I guess not...

    And speaking of flamethrowers, I hate how they are depicted in movies. Prop flamethrowers use flammable gas like propane for safety reasons, but this makes the prop nothing more than a really big blowtorch that only shots flames. Real military flamethrowers shoot ignited flammable liquids like a garden hose, like this.

    But back to dragons, I've drawn this:

    Dragon Sketch Dump

    At the top left is a top view of the Alien Dragon I drew a few months ago. This specimen doesn't have six limbs or even four, but only two - the wings. And speaking of the wings, I redesigned them to look more like a pterodactyl's, rather than a bat's. The Alien Dragon doesn't do much flapping, and instead breaths fire from a rear-facing duct (I wonder what that could be...?) to generate forward thrust.

    Below the top view is a picture of the Alien Dragon feasting on some dead animal which it had skewered with its tongue, and through which it is sucking out bodily fluids.

    Then below that is a sketch of a normal dragon that requires no explanation.

    And to the right side of the page, there are the heads of various species of dragon. The head on top is a Romanian Longhorn's - Fantastic Beasts says it has horns on its head that it gores prey with, but I think that makes it look rather stupid since those horns have to be facing forwards to do so - makes it look like spiky cross between a triceratops and a pig.

    I didn't draw the two heads below for any specific species, but the head immediately below could be a Chinese Fireball, and the one below that... a Peruvian Vipertooth? No idea.

    And of course, the head at the bottom right corner is the Alien Dragon's, which has no eyes or mouth to speak of!

    Now, I have some more questions about dragons to think about:

    Are dragons even reptiles? Are they cold or warm blooded?

    And if dragons are cold blooded, how active are they? Would they light fires to keep warm?

    Out of the ten dragon species described in Fantastic Beasts, only three are non-European. Why would there be so many European dragon species (two in Britain alone) and so few for the rest of the world?

    How dexterous are a dragon's claws? The ones depicted on traditional Chinese dragons look much like hands and could probably be used to grasp. What about European dragons?

    How intelligent are dragons?

    Those are all the questions I could think of at the moment. This is a fascinating if rather pointless subject!

    Tim the Enchanter

  5. #5
    Inverarity
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    Are dragons even reptiles? Are they cold or warm blooded?

    Well, I'm sure you're aware of the debate over whether dinosaurs were warm-blooded or not. I don't think paleontologists have come to a consensus on that. Of course just because they are similar in size doesn't mean dragons are actually related to dinosaurs. I would suggest, though, that if they have their own internal heat source, they probably have no need to be warm-blooded, and therefore are cold-blooded. And if they're not reptiles, what else would they be?

    And if dragons are cold blooded, how active are they? Would they light fires to keep warm?

    I don't think they start fires and then bask next to them. I think their internal heat source keeps them warm. (It would have to be generating a fair amount of heat constantly, if they can "fire up" any time.)

    Out of the ten dragon species described in Fantastic Beasts, only three are non-European. Why would there be so many European dragon species (two in Britain alone) and so few for the rest of the world?

    Because Rowling is British.

    Dragons are too big to really exist (can you imagine what the hunting range of a single dragon would have to be? And how many cows, horses, and people would go missing if there were viable populations of seven different dragon species on one continent?), so if you're going to have dragons exist anyway, I expect there are actually more species than were described in FB.

    How dexterous are a dragon's claws? The ones depicted on traditional Chinese dragons look much like hands and could probably be used to grasp. What about European dragons?

    In GoF, the Hungarian Horntail was clutching her eggs. I don't think they have opposable thumbs, but they can probably grab things.

    How intelligent are dragons?

    The dragons faced by the Triwizard Champions were pretty easy to fool. I wouldn't put them any higher than, say, a cat, in terms of intelligence.

  6. #6
    Seventh Year Ravenclaw
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    Here's an exceedingly stupid question!

    Assuming there are dragon reserves in the Ukraine (the Ukrainian Iron-Belly seems to confirm this...), what effect do you think the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown had on the dragon population? What kind of health problems do you think the creatures would have, and could you see (help us Lord!) MUTATED DRAGONS?!

    Tim the Enchanter

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