Dragon: A Natural History By Dr. Karl Shuker
Forward by Dr. Desmond Morris

For millennia, a few animals have fascinated mankind more than dragons.
Dragon dwellings: these magnificent beasts have been found in an astounding number of places. Dragons and their near relatives have found niches in every ecosystem on the planet from the mountains of Greece to the forests of northern Europe to the volcanic plain of Mesoamerica to the river valleys of China and have, as a consequence, become deeply embedded in human culture.
Dragon variety: here are five main types of dragons, emerging from the floods or flames of history-the frightening serpents wyverns, and classical Dragons of the west, the sky dragons, including beneficent Chinese Dragons, Amphipteres and winged new world species, the Neo-Dragons such as the Basilisk, Salamander, and the like; as well as dozens of varieties and subspecies, including orms, guivres, lindorms, and more
Dragon Traditions: from St. George’s bat winged, scaly-legged adversary to Wagnor’s Fafnir to Quetzalcoatl, mythic dragons have been a powerful presence in the legends of humanity.

World of dragons

Serpent dragons and serpent whales

Serpent dragons and serpent whales
Kitchi-at’husis and the giant leech
The piasa


The basilisk and the cockatrice

The basilisk and the cockatrice

The basilisk and the cockatrice

Long-necks and sea lizards

Great Britain
The Lambton worm
Serpent dragons and serpent whales
The Mordiford wyvern
Amphipteres and winged serpents
Winged serpents of Wales
The basilisk and the cockatrice
Long-necks and sea lizards

Jormungander, the Midgard serpent
Serpent dragons and serpent whales
The Lindorm King

Austria, Germany, and Switzerland
The tatzelworm
The dragonet of Mount Pilatus

Guivres and gargouilles
The tarasque
The peluda

The Carthaginian serpent giant
The tatzelworm
The salamander the pyrallis

The dragon of Poseidon
The Levnaean hydra
The salamander and the pyrallis

Middle east
Marduk and Tiamat
The Sirrsh
Amphipteres and winged serpents

Amphipteres and winged serpents

North Africa
The Carthaginian serpent giant

Central Africa
The basilisk and the cockatrice

The dragon of Silence

Dragon deities

Songbirds of sadness, dragons of despair

Lesser Sunda Islands/ New Guinea
Serpent dragons and serpent whales
The living dragon of Komodo and New Guinea

The Bunyip

In the world of fantastic animals, the dragon is unique. No other imaginary creature has appeared in such a rich variety of forms. It is as though there was once a whole family of different dragon species that really existed, before the mysteriously because extinct.

Taken from the Double-Headed Snake of Newbury By John Greenleaf Whiltier

Far away in the twilight time
Of every people, in every clime,
Dragons and griffins and monsters dire,
Born of water, and air and fire,
Or nursed, like the python, in the mud
And ooze of the old Deucalion flood,
Crawl and wriggle and foam with rage,
Through dusk tradition and ballad age.

Serpent Dragons
Many dragonrologists consider that the belief in dragons was inspired by sightings of large serpents, that dragons ‘evolved’ from snakes. If so, then the first stage is evolution is represented by the serpent dragons usually associated with rivers, lakes or the open seas, these are huge, limbless and wingless snakelike entities, readily recognized by their dragonesque heads, which often sport horns, and their long crocodilian jaws.

Semi Dragons
Lindorms and wyverns fall somewhere between dragons and serpents. The two legged, wingless lindorms have greater affinities with serpents than with the classical dragons, while wyverns, which possess not only a pair of legs but also a pair of wings, are closer to the classical dragons.

Classical Dragons
The classical western dragon extensively depicted in herald is the ferocious, fire-emitting reptilian nemesis of countless heroes from mythological and medieval times. This monstrous beast was encased in an impenetrable armor of scintillating scales and borne upon four powerful limbs with talon-tipped feet. It wielded a long sweeping tail, terminating in an arrow-headed sting, and often, but not invariably, sported a pair of huge like wings.

Sky dragons
During their evolution, some serpentine dragons have forfeited terrestrial mastery or aquatic domination in favor of aerial supremacy-spending much of their time drifting, soaring, or actively propelling themselves with wondrous wing beats, often far above the land and sea, amid the vast cloud-dappled kingdom of the sky.

Quetzalcoatl-feathered snake god of the wind, wisdom and life

The dragon-deities of China
All the varied types of Oriental dragon exhibit many fundamental differences from their western counterparts.

Among the most dramatic of these are their ability to fly even when wingless; their shape-shifting capacity, which allows them to adopt innumerable guises (including human forms), their generally benevolent nature and relationship with people and humanity’s own reverence for these ethereal dragons. Indeed, many of the east’s most ancient and august human line ages actually claim descent from them.
The most famous category of oriental dragon is the Chinese dragon, whose serpentine body and ferocious bearded face readily come to mind when considering such creatures. However, its precise morphology, as detailed by the scholar Wang Fu, who was active during the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220) is an extremely complex combination of features drawn from nine very distinct entities.
Thus, the Chinese dragon’s head is that of a camel, its eyes are a demon’s its ears are a cow’s, its horns are the branched antlers of a stag, it’s neck is a snake’s, its belly a clam’s. The soles of its feet are a tiger’s, while its claws are an eagle’s, and 117 scales sheathing its long body are those of a carp. Of these scales, 81 are infused with benevolent essence (yang) and 36 with malign essence (yin) for although oriental dragons are primarily benign, their influence can sometimes be malevolent, too. Even its voice is ambivalent: likened to the jingling of copper pans it is neither mellifluous or cacophonous.
As for its dexterity in becoming airborne without wings, this talent stems from the Chi’in muh, a bladder like swelling on top of its head, and the male dragon’s potent power is derived from a large, luminous pearl concealed under its chin or throat by folds of skin.
Unlike its western relatives, the Chinese dragon undergoes a series of prolonged metamorphic transformations during its gradual progress from hatching to mature dragon a lengthy process spanning 3,000 years. Hatched from a brightly colored gemlike egg laid a millennium earlier, its first physical phase is that of a water snake (Chinese dragons are always closely associated with water, particularly rain), which takes 500 years to develop the head of a carp. It is not known as a Kiao. Transformation of a fishlike nature continues for a further millennium, by which time it has also acquired a carp’s scales. In general appearance, however, it has become an anguinie dragon, with four short limbs, an elongated tail and face, a profuse beard, and four sharp claws on each foot.
At this stage in its physical advancement, the dragon is called a Kiao-lung or simply a lung, which translated as ‘deaf’, for although it has ears, they are not functional. During the next 500 years, however, the lung grows a pair of horns-through which it can hear.
By then it is known as a Kioh-lung, and this is the most familiar form of Chinese dragon, but its metamorphosis is still not complete. Yet another millennium is required in order for it to gain the rarest characteristics of the Oriental dragon, a series of branching wings. Fully mature at last, the winged dragon is termed a ying-lung and is truly a wonder to behold.
There are numerous types of Chinese dragons, but four of these are especially important. The t’ien lung is the Celestial dragon, protector of the heavens and guardian of the gods’ heavenly abodes. Of equal significance is the Shen-lung, or Spiritual Dragon, the azure-sealed master of storms and sky borne bringer of rain.
The splendid robes and regalia of Chinese emperors were richly adored with a special rang of Shen-lung, the five-toed imperial dragon, which only the emperor was permitted to use for decorative purposes. The penalty imposed upon anyone appropriating this insignia was death.
The ti-lung is the dragon of land, stream and river, which spreads spring time in heaven and autumn in the sea. And the fu-ts’ang lung is the treasured dragon-keepers of secret hoards of priceless jewels and precious metals within the deepest, darkest vaults of the earth.
Other notable dragons include the yellow dragon or dragon horse, a divine messenger that arose from the River Lo, revealing the eight trigrams of the system of divination known as I Ching, the human-bodied fire dragon, or lung wang-the immortal dragon king, inhabiting an opulent palace on the ocean floor, and the thunder dragon, with obsidian scales, which often transforms itself into a small boy whose kin is bright ultra marine and who rides upon a scarlet carp.
Perhaps the oldest Chinese dragon is the t’ao t’ieh. Although it has only one head and a single pair of forelegs, it has two bodies, each with its own pair of hindlegs and its own tail. Exiled in the outer darkness of space in the second millennium B.C. by the emperor Shin, this sex-legged monster personified gluttony, which is the literal translation of its name, and it is often depicted on dishes as a deterrent to greed.
Creating a striking image of symmetry, with a central head and a body on each side the t’ao t’ien is a popular choice for artists seeking a symmetrical subject to occupy the center of a frieze or the corner of an ornamental carving, and it frequently appears on early Chinese sacrificial bronzes.
There is even a fish-shaped dragon called the yu lung, which symbolizes success in passing examination. Evidently, there is a dragon for every contingency in Chinese life.

Songbirds of Sadness—Dragons of Despair
The dragons of Japan are superficially similar to those of China, but are more serpentine in shape, sport only three claws on each foot and are less predominantly aerial.
The most familiar type is the tatsu, which is descended from a primitive three-toed variety of Chinese dragon. Unlike its ancestor, it is transitionally associated more intimately with the sea than with rain-for Japan is less vulnerable then China to drought-related devastation, reducing necessity to pray to rain-releasing dragon deities.
Far more grotesque was the eight-headed dragon confronted by Susa-no-wo, brother of Japan’s fair Sun Goddess, Ama-terasu.
Very different from the Koshi dragon, but no less extent in appearance, is the hairyo-also known as the tobitatsu schachi nook, or dragon bird. There are several depictions of this remarkable creature on the ornamental screen decorating the chi-on-in monastery in Kyoto, and although it supposedly comprises the Japanese equivalent of China’s winged dragon, or ying-lung, it bears little physical similarity.
Eschewing the sinuous, scaly body of the ying-lung the hai riyo is portrayed with the feathered wings, body and tail of a bird, and with its clawed feet, but it retains the unmistable, beard-fringed visage of a dragon. More over, transformations of dragons into birds occur quite frequently in Japan.
Despite their exalted, often divine, status, Japanese dragons are not without enemies. Among the most troublesome of these are the fox spirits, which carry unclean objects to ensure that dragons will not attack them in retaliation for their trickery. Fox spirits also enjoy tormenting people and often assume a human guise for this purpose. They live for 1,000 years and become masters of illusion as they mature, but should a relatively young individual disguise itself as a human, it can easily be identified for if it stands by a pool, it will be betrayed by its reflection in the water, which will be that of a fox.

Neo Dragons
The heterogeneous assemblage of monsters known as neo-dragons may not be true dragons in the strictest zoo-mythological sense, but as their tempestuous confrontations with humans down the ages have demonstrated, such pretenders as the basilisk, hydra, peluda, and other imitators are as dramatically dragonesque in behavior and appearance as any of their bona-fide brethren.

Dragons of the future
We need not mourn too morosely the dragons of the past, nor need we look with disappointed eyes on their zoologically uninspiring namesakes of the present.
For there are still bona fide, corporeal dragons, such as the long-neck, sea lizard, serpent whale, artrellia, inlihomi, tatzelworm, and other of their cryptic kind to torment and tantalize the staid world of traditional zoology and these creatures of controversy offer good reason indeed for believing that the future still holds many great surprises and joys in store for the dedicated dracontologist.

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