My kids love dinosaurs. Obviously! But they also love dragons. Especially the “How To Train Your Dragon” series. The other day we were watching a dragon movie and it got me thinking about the similarities and differences between dragons and dinosaurs. Where did dragons come from and could they be related to dinosaurs?
Most of us know that dragons are not real. Dragons are mythical creatures passed down from generations through legends, tales, and stories. However, it also seems obvious, since there are so many stories about dragons from so many different cultures, that all of this dragon mythology must have come from somewhere. It seems like there must be some credibility to the myth. Let’s explore where the myth of dragons came from and how it became so strong.
Question: Are dragons real? Could they be dinosaurs?
Answer: Dragons are not real. They are mythical or made up, creatures. Dinosaurs are real and look a lot like dragons but there are some important differences between dragons and dinosaurs that make answering the dragon and dinosaur question a bit tricky.
What is a dragon?
The first question we have to answer is, “What is a dragon?” Here is the definition of the word ‘Dragon’ from vocabulary.com:
DRAGON: A dragon is a fire-breathing mythological animal, a winged, flying, scaly creature. In many European legends, brave knights battle evil dragons.
So in this definition, we can see a few key things:
- a dragon breathes fire
- a dragon is a mythical animal
- a dragon is a winged, scaly creature
- a dragon is found in many legends
Now that we have that list and a definition of ‘dragon’ let’s also get a clear definition of the words mythological and legend. Again, here is the definition from vocabulary.com:
MYTHOLOGICAL: Anything mythological is related to a fable, legend, or other traditional story. As much as some of us don’t want to admit it, mythological creatures aren’t real.
Interestingly, the definition of mythological has the word legend in it. So… let me paste that here too:
LEGEND: A legend is a larger-than-life story that gets passed down from one generation to the next — like the legends of Beowulf, Robin Hood, or even Big Foot.
OK… now that we’ve had this little vocabulary lesson – it becomes pretty obvious that dragons are not real. They can’t be real. As much as we don’t want to admit it.
Dragons are just made up creatures told in larger than life, or un-real stories. Much like unicorns, mermaids, the Kraken, and even monsters under your bed.
But… could it be true that dragons came from some real stories? Stories perhaps about real dinosaurs? After all, dragons look a lot like dinosaurs.
Where did dragons come from?
A myth this strong had to come from somewhere. There must have been something that made this myth so real for so many people. It is commonly believed that the myth of dragon is so popular, even today because so many ancient people strongly believed that dragons were real.
They had to be real.
Why? Because they saw the evidence, or fossils, of something big and monstrous.
Imagine this scenario.
An ancient tribe stumbles upon the fossilized bones of a Megalosaurus, or this leviathan. What would they think?
In fact, it might’ve been more likely that they would stumble upon the bones of a whale. As oceans disappeared their fossilized bones would be found on land.
Take a look at this picture of this fossilized whale found in the Valley of Whales, in Egypt, on Sept. 27, 2017.
Doesn’t it look like a scary flying creature?
It looks exactly like a dragon to me.
If an ancient tribe saw these ‘bones’ what else could they think?
“There must be monstrous flying giants in this land and we better be careful and alert!”
In fact, the fossils of just about any dinosaur or large ocean animal could easily be interpreted as a flying dragon.
Why? Because thousands of years ago people did not have a word for dinosaurs.
There were no paleontologists.
For instance, China is an area well known for having tons of fossils of large prehistoric animals and these fossils are often identified as “dragon bones.” [Mayor, Adrienne, Fossil Legends of the First Americans]
The Word Dinosaur was not invented until 1842
The word ‘dinosaur’ wasn’t invented until 1842 by Sir Richard Owen. It is often said that Owen “invented the dinosaur when he coined the term ‘Dinosauria’ (meaning “Terrible Reptile” or “Fearfully Great Reptile”).
The history of what dragons looked like around the world
The myth of dragons is strong in almost every culture all around the world.
Going back as far as we can, dragons exist in ancient Egypt, Greek mythology, and the Bible. These dragons looked mostly like giant snakes. The didn’t have legs and seem more like flying serpents.
The Old Testament or Hebrew Bible has several stories of serpents and dragons.
Later in the west, European stories often depict dragons as flying, 4-legged, fire breathing monsters.
“In western cultures, dragons are portrayed as monsters to be tamed or overcome… They are often said to have ravenous appetites and to live in caves, where they hoard treasure.”
In the orient or in China dragons have always been a major part of their culture. “The Chinese lung (龍, Pinyin long), which are associated with good fortune and are thought to have power over rain. Dragons and their associations with rain are the sources of the Chinese customs of dragon dancing.”
Dragons versus Dinosaurs
I think it’s very safe to say that dinosaurs inspired the myth, the stories, and the legend of dragons. But there are still reasons why dragons cannot be dinosaurs.
Let’s look at the very clear differences and similarities between a dragon and a dinosaur.
Here are the main similarities
- They both have claws
- They both have scales
- They both have big teeth
- They both have long tails
Here are the main differences between dinosaurs and dragons:
- Dragons are not real (myth)
- Dragons can fly
- Dragons can breathe fire
- Some dragons can talk
- Some dragons hoard gold in caves
- Some dragons make great pets
- Dinosaurs are real (fossils)
- Dinosaurs do not fly (flying reptiles are not dinosaurs)
- Dinosaurs do not breathe fire
- Dinosaurs do not talk
- Dinosaurs do not hoard gold in caves
- Dinosaurs do not make great pets (see also Jurassic Park)
What dinosaur looks most like a dragon?
There are many dinosaurs that could easily pass as a dragon. With only a little imagination some of these dinosaurs look just like a dragon. Perhaps the most Dragon like the dinosaur is the Dracorex hogwartsia. Paleontologists have wittingly named to this dinosaur:
Dracorex (pronounced: DRAY-co-rex), meaning ‘dragon’.
Hogwartsia (pronounced: HOG-wart-see-a), meaning “king of Hogwarts”
“This dinosaur is named for the wizard school in the Harry Potter books.” Wiki
The Dracorex is of the family Pachycephalosauridae, from the Late Cretaceous of North America.
We have only one, nearly complete, skull which was discovered in the Hell Creek Formation in South Dakota in 2004.
What does J.K. Rowling think about having a dinosaur named after her Harry Potter book series?
“I am absolutely thrilled to think that Hogwarts has made a small claw mark upon the fascinating world of dinosaurs. I happen to know more on the subject of paleontology than many might credit because my eldest daughter was Utahraptor obsessed and I am now living with a passionate Tyrannosaurus-Rex lover, aged three. My credibility has soared within my science-loving family, and I am very much looking forward to reading Dr. Bakker’s paper describing ‘my’ dinosaur, which I can’t help visualizing as a slightly less pyromaniac Hungarian Horntail.” —J.K. Rowling
8 Dinosaurs that look like dragons.
Here are some photos of other dinosaurs that could certainly pass as a dragon. Especially if all you are looking at are its bones:
** Technically, I should point out that pterosaurs are not dinosaurs. The word ‘pterosaur’ (pronounced TER-o-SAWRS) means “winged lizard” therefore they were ‘flying, prehistoric reptiles.’
Are Komodo dragons Dinosaurs?
No. Komodo dragons are not dinosaurs, they are lizards. In fact, birds are more closely related to dinosaurs than lizards.
It is often stated that Komodo dragons have toxic spit or a “venomous bite” “but it’s prey usually die from being torn apart.”
Adrienne Mayor, in her book, Fossil Legends of the First Americans, states that “Many dragon images around the world were based on folk knowledge or exaggerations of living reptiles, such as Komodo dragons, Gila monsters, iguanas, alligators, or, in California, alligator lizards.”
Are Bearded Dragons Dinosaurs?
No. Bearded dragons are not dinosaurs, they are lizards. Even though the word dinosaur means “terrible lizard” dinosaurs ARE NOT lizards. Dinosaurs are their own category of animal. They are actually closer to birds and crocodiles.