The Dragon Family Tree Picture


So for the past month or so I've been in a dragon drawing mood, and only recently did I decide to make some finished art out of it. My Joust entry was just the tip of the dragony iceberg!

Dragons have always been my favorite mythological creature. I couldn't get enough of them as a kid, and their only real rivals for my attention were dinosaurs, real life reptiles, and (eventually) Godzilla, who's really just a combination of all three. Studying dragons was one of my main hobbies, and I would swoop up any book on them I could find.

One of my childhood dreams was to find a biology style book about dragons and other monsters. After all, there were books like that for dinosaurs and reptiles. Why should dragons be different?

Well, as an adult, there's a pretty obvious reason for that. Dinosaurs and reptiles are real, and as such have a fairly consistent "author" - reality. Dragons, however, are imaginary, being known only from myth and legend. As such dragons vary from one author to the next, with the details never nailed down.

Kid me couldn't grasp that, though, and was frustrated by the lack of a big old book of dragon biology in his life. Why could such an obvious, excellent, useful, (impossible) wonderful thing not exist?

So I decided to write one.

I gathered all my monster books and started creating a unified theory of dragon biology. It was a sloppy process, and at first I just picked and chose details I liked and left out those I didn't. Sometimes I would make up things whole cloth.

For example: when I was four, I could find no examples of any good dragons. I didn't think that was fair, but I couldn't fight my research. So I decided there must be another, related species of mythic reptile called "Hoogahs" that were basically friendly and sociable versions of European dragons. The only visible difference between dragons and Hoogahs was that Hoogahs didn't have horns (this was because a dragon toy of mine was hornless, and I wanted him to be a benevolent Hoogah).

Childish as this enterprise was, I was encouraged to keep it up. I apparently talked so much about dragons and Hoogahs that my preschool teachers believed I had learned about them from a real book, going so far as to ask my mom to bring in the "Hoogah Book" so I could show it to the class. Of course, there was no Hoogah book, save the vague ramblings of one I wanted to write in my brain. My mother was really proud of me for having such an imagination and, as a reward, bought me more monster books.

That forged the concept into a bit of a lifelong goal. From that day on I was determined to write my Big Book of Dragon (and Other Monsters Maybe) Biology.

Except... well, that's impossible. At least it's impossible according to child me's rules. Child me wanted all the material in my Monster Biology book to be 100% mythologically accurate. But myths contradict! They were not created by the same authors, and they were not written with the same rules in mind. What exactly a dragon is changes from one myth to the next, as is true with all other monsters. There can be no big book of monster biology without some editorialization. Some myths will have to be ignored or contradicted for it to be consistent.

I was really disheartened when I came to this realization. I would never see a biology text book of monsters that was at once consistent and 100% mythologically inclusive. I had to choose one or the other, and man, that sucks.

But the dream didn't die, and as I continued my studies, I found I liked contradicting some of the myths. It was fun adding my own twist to the pile of variations, while at the same time paying homage to as many of the old stories as I could. I could fill in gaps and bridge inconsistencies.

I may not be able to write about ALL the dragons, but I can write about all of MY dragons.

So that brings us here. I've been developing a personal theory of dragons for two decades now (holy christ), and this is the most recent variation of it to gestate. One of the things I gathered from all my collected books and myths is that there are a hell of a lot of different dragon species, which in turn means I could develop one hell of a dragon family tree.

Finding about the different kinds of dragons was the easy part, though. It was figuring out how they were related that I struggled with. There were probably a half dozen variations of the tree with these 11 members all in different spots, but this is the version I ended up with. And, like all good monsterverses, it started with me figuring out what the main monster was.

I have a personal belief that every good monster story needs to define the rules of its particular monster. There are so many variations on vampires, for example, that every vampire story pretty much has to have a scene where a character whips out a book and says "look, all that other stuff is fake, here are the real vampire rules," because otherwise the audience would sit there wondering is sunlight kills vampires, does nothing to them, lights them on fire, drains their powers, or makes them glitter. Not a good place to be!

Dragons are just as varied as vampires, and as such I had to make a personal definition for what a dragon was in my little monsterverse before I could proceed to analyze them. If you look at every creature that has been called a dragon in myth, literature, and pop culture, the only definition you could make that includes all of them is "a vaguely reptilian monster" - and to be honest, I'm not even sure the "reptilian" part would hold up. There is a need for a personal definition.

This is the one I eventually settled on:

Dragons are a breed of magic reptiles descended from monitor lizards and closely related to snakes. All dragons (with rare exception) are marked by their spade-shaped tail blades, horned heads, and fanged jaws with differentiated teeth. All dragons have venom sacks, though in some species these are vestigial.

And yes, this means dragons in my little monster universe are purely reptilian. I've had some people disagree with me on this point, since a lot of art portrays dragons as being Chimeric, with reptile, mammal, bird, and other animal traits mixed together.

Wellllllllll, look, I think there's a case for both sides.

For dragons being just reptiles:
- Dragons in myth were viewed as reptiles. They were not described as chimeras, nor did medieval bestiaries view them as such. They were even classified as "serpents" in bestiaries, which was a class of animal that only included various breeds of snakes, crocodiles, and dragons that medieval people knew of.
- Dragons have, until recently, always been portrayed as predominantly reptilian even when they are chimeric. Reptiles are definitely the base of the monster.

For dragons being chimeras:
- Medieval artwork tends to portray dragons as looking chimerical. Granted, Medieval artwork portrays MOST animals as looking chimerical (case in point, this dog face lizard [link] is apparently a crocodile), but there is a definite artistic precedent for chimeric dragons.
- Dragons are made up animals and can be whatever people want them to be.

Really, that last reason is the only one that matters for the public at large. Dragons are imaginary and can be whatever you want them to be, and no one can tell you otherwise. So if you want your dragons to be a giant wolf with bat wings and a long tail, well, I won't like it, but you're not wrong. I guess.

But that last reason includes me, too, and for my story purposes, well, dragons can be whatever I want them to be. And honestly, I think they're stronger as pure reptiles. I find them more interesting as a specifically reptilian species. There are lots of chimeric creatures out there. Dragons don't have to be one of them to be interesting.

And in a world where people are continually drawing dragons with less and less reptile anatomy (looking at you Eragon!), I find the purely reptilian take to be rather refreshing.

I guess I should mention that there was a bit of controversy when I tried to bring my dragons into KAS. No one had done anything with dragons yet, and a few of my fellow mods thought it might be a cool idea. Some of the other members didn't though, because they found it limiting, and yeah, it kind of is. We're working that out and stuff.

I don't want to force my definition onto others if they don't want it, and making a definition wasn't about some elitist attempt to force everyone into my way of thinking. I just wanted to make a personal unified theory of dragon biology - one that was consistent and detailed. Limits were necessary for that to work for me. You don't have to conform to my limits to make a good dragon. You just have to make a good dragon.

But I like my limits. They work for me. So yeah. There's that.



So there are 11 families of dragons. That's family in the taxonomic definition, by the way. Seriously, I'm such a nerd I worked this out:

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Scleroglossa
Infraorder: Anguimorpha
Superfamily: Draconserpentes


So the 11 families are:

• Draconidae – Lesser Drakes
• Dracontyrannidae – Greater Drakes
• Lindormidae - Lindorms
• Wyrmidae - Wyrms
• Wyvernidae - Wyverns
• Falsawyvernidae – False Wyverns
• Leviyatanidae - Leviathans
• Guiveridae - Guivres
• Amphiteridae - Amphiteres
• Tatzelwyrmidae - Tatzelwyrms
• Loongidae – Loongs (Asian Dragons)

Lesser Drakes are the eldest family, from with the others spring. They have four legs and now wings.

Greater Drakes evolved from lesser drakes. They're the traditional Western dragon - two wings, four legs, etc. Their wings are that Medieval, leathery, ribbed type of wing that exists in medieval art and only vaguely resembles bat wings and/or the fins of a fish. I used that structure because it's unique to dragons. If my dragons evolved independently from other flying species, their wings would likewise be uniquely structured.

Lindorms evolved from lesser drakes, losing their hind legs.

Wyrms evolved from lindorms, having no legs. They live both on dry land and in fresh water.

Wyverns evolved from Greater Drakes, losing their front limbs in order to be better flyers. Many species also have venomous barbs in place of the traditional tail spade.

False wyverns also evolved from Greater Drakes - specifically an old breed whose wings had vertical ribs instead of horizontal ones. In mythology, wyverns are just dragons with two legs and two wings - it never specifies which legs are retained, and as such some art portrays them as having their hind legs and other shows them with arms instead. I made false wyverns into a thing so I could have both.

Leviathans, or Sea Serpents, are descended from Greater drakes. All leviathans are purely aquatic, living exclusively in salt water. All leviathan species have lost their hind legs to evolution, though some species retain their wings and/or front legs. The fact that their wings have horizontal ribs and their bodies still have front legs prove their not descended from either wyverns or false wyverns, because that's an important detail for me to note for some reason. Leviathans are also notable for including the largest known dragon species. AND YES, I know that the mythic monster Leviathan isn't always considered a dragon, but the description fits well enough and I wanted a name that fit the other dragon names a bit better than "sea serpent."

Guivres are large, venomous amphibious dragons evolved from lesser drakes that have lost their tail spades to evolution. All guivres retain their forelimbs, and some even have their hind legs as well. Guivres are ancient, predating the evolution of fire breath in dragon kind. They can swim in both salt and fresh water.

Amphipteres are descended from wyverns and have completely lost their legs, keeping on their wings. Some species have small claspers - vestigial remnants of their hind legs - which shows their wyvern heritage.

Tatzelwyrms are also descended from wyverns, having lost their wings and kept their hind legs. They're incredibly fast and small predators.

Finally there are Loong, aka Asian dragons, who descended from lesser drakes. The torso antlers of an adult Loong are made from the same primitive structure that would become the wings of greater drakes through a different evolutionary path. Loong are noted for having hair-like scales, long facial tendrils that help them steer while swimming, and a rather complicated life cycle.

So yeah. Dragons.
Continue Reading: The Myths