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Dragons

Reproduction and Growth

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The reproduction of dragons is a topic with very poor research, as it is rarely mentioned in mythology. Works of fantasy often have their own interpretations, which share a few common traits.

General

Dragon mother

A mother dragon incubates her eggs

As dragons appear to be related to dinosaurian or reptilian animals, ergo to sauropsids, it is believed that they lay eggs. Most times the eggs require a long incubation period in which they are incubated and protected by their mother as is the case with many archosaurs. Due to their elemental affinity to fire, the eggs are also depicted to require high temperatures which are maintained by the mother dragon's fire.

There are however stories that refute this theory, in which young dragons mature in water, as do the larvae of amphibians. Such myths are commonly associated with wyverns. Some sources also state that the Long dragons of Asian origin lay their eggs in bodies of water.

Dragons are often said to mature very slowly, which match their presumably long lifespans. Yet there are also stories of dragons which grow to a significantly large size in short time. Most of these cases pertain more often to Asian mythology as opposed to its Western counterparts.

Mythology and Folklore

There are few resources on the topic of dragon reproduction, because dragons are often depicted in Western myths as monsters sent by the gods or the devil. Some exceptions to this rule are listed below.

Courtship and mating

Medieval bestiaries state that only male Indian mountain dragons have a crest on their heads. As noted by Peter J. Hogarth, this sexual dimorphism suggests that the crest is used in mating rituals.[1]

Based on sources from the 17th and 18th centuries, Hogarth also states that male dragons released their sperm into fountains and bodies of water during the mating season. Robert May believed that the overpopulation of these large predators was avoided with such wasteful behavior. These acts however were counterproductive to them as humans hunted them with increasing frequency.[2]

Scientists held a rather interesting view on this topic, in which dragons emerge from the corpses of slain people on the battlefield, much like maggots from cadavers. Knowing that maggots hatch from eggs that are laid in cadavers, this could be evidence for similar reproductive behavior of certain types of dragons. Hogarth states that maggots from the carcasses evolve into flies, which later develop into dragons.[1]

Young and growth

Olm

The baby Lambton Worm probably resembled the olm, Proteus anguinus

Some English legends tell of young dragons that were found by humans. One of these is the legend of the Lambton Worm, in which the protagonist caught an animal similar to a lamprey or olm. He threw it in a well, where it grew over the years into a giant worm which terrorised the townsfolk.[3]

The dragon which was killed by Ragnar loðbrók also begins its life in a very similar way. It was cared for by a girl in a gold casket, where it grew in the presence of gold with substantial speed.[4]

Viper Birth

Young vipers eat their way out of the womb.

An interesting case is the medieval description of the Guivre (Viper), in which not only do the females bite of the head of the males during courtship, but the young eat their way out of the womb of their mother, thus killing her. It follows that these young dragons are left to fend for themselves thereafter. It is not known if the Guivre are viviparous or ovoviviparous.[5]

The wyvern is described differently in the story of the dragon of Mordiford. Here it is described as a charming creature with wings, playful in nature and regarded by the male protagonist Maud as his pet. This points to the wyvern being an intelligent creature that should spend its time with its parents by nature, and that this particular wyvern was orphaned due to unforseen circumstances. This dragon reached adulthood in the time span of one month, and though he brings no harm to Maud, scares others into believing he will attack them in spite of his upbringing. As with many English myths, he loves cow's milk, on which he was mainly fed as a young dragon.[6]

Sviatoslav Logonov believed that Slavic dragons carry their young on their backs. The heads of the young acted as additional heads for the mother dragon, which might have been the basis for the many-headed dragon.[7]

Hogarth describes the young of some species of dragon to suckle milk, like mammals.[1]

Chinesedragon

A Chinese dragon with a pearl

A very detailed desciption of the growth of young dragons is found in Chinese mythology. Here the growth of a dragon takes an unrealistically long time as opposed to British myths, which is related to the divinity of the dragon.
Life cycle long

Life cycle of a Chinese Long: Egg (1), water snake (2), Kiao (3), Long (4), Kioh-Lung (5), Ying-Lung (6)

The eggs are similar to pebbles on a riverbed, but sometimes the 'egg' also refers to the pearl of the dragon. After 1,000 years the eggs hatch into young animals similar to serpents. 500 years later, its head resembles that of a carp, at which point it is called Kiao. After another 1,000 years, the dragon grows limbs, scales and a beard, and another 500 years after that it grows horns which allow it to hear. Only after 1000 years from this point, the animal is an adult Ying Lung, which according to some sources also has wings.[8]

It should also be noted that in medieval and early modern works, the depiction of very small dragons do not necessarily indicate that it is a juvenile; in that time it can be presumed that dragons were much smaller compared to the giant creatures of the fantasies of modern day. A small dragon is called a dragonette.


Fantasy

Creative works also share some common traits of the reproductive behavior of dragons.

Courtship

Mountain Dragon

Mountain dragons from Dragon's World during a mating flight.

As most dragons of fantasy are reclusive creatures, with a very long life span and sizeable ego, individuals from opposite sexes meet one another very rarely to mate. Mating rituals differs considerably in different myths, but can be related to those of birds, especially since it often takes place in flight. In most cases, the mating itself occurs in the air.

Usually, the mating ritual includes an exchange of gifts, which are normally treasures found from a hoard.[9]

In some works, e.g. Dungeons & Dragons or Shrek, dragons can have offspring with species completely unrelated to them. These offspring are called half-dragons.

Incubation

Dragon eggs are in most cases hard-shelled, as were the eggs of dinosaurs, while the eggs of other reptiles have a soft, leathery shell. This does not necessarily mean that dragons are related to dinosaurs, as hard-shelled eggs are also a trait of scaled reptiles.[10]

The mother dragon usually incubates the eggs in her hoard, in all cases in a cave. Most times the eggs require high temperatures which would be fatal to other animals, which is why the mother keeps the eggs warm with her fire.

Norberta

Freshly hatched Norwegian Ridgeback "Norberta" from Harry Potter in the care of the half-giant Rubeus Hagrid.

Sometimes humans or similar creatures try to hatch a dragon egg and raise the baby dragon as a pet. The eggs are often hatched in hot ovens. During the breeding process there are often problems related to fire, which the young dragon cannot yet control properly.

Rearing

The raising of young dragons is comparable to that of birds. The mother brings her prey to her hoard high up in the mountains, where the young compete for food. The relationship between parent and offspring can be of a more humanly nature, especially in less serious works with dragons that can speak.

Sometimes, e.g. in My Little Pony, the relationship between growth and gold in a dragon's hoard is referenced from mythology. For example dragons may grow larger due to their own greed for gold.[11]

In some works, including My Little Pony or How To Train Your Dragon, dragons are very sociable animals that live in large groups and raise their young together[12]. In others, only some dragons especially smaller ones show such social behavior.

Growth

In almost all fantasy works involving dragons, they are capable of living to hundreds or thousands of years, sometimes being immortal. In some cases, they they grow at the same rate for their entire lifetime, which allows very old dragons to reach their enormous size.

While warm-blooded animals (presumably including dragons) only grow quickly during the early stages of life and maintain the same size for the remainder of their lives, it is common for cold-blooded animals to grow constantly throughout their lives. This process also limits their lifespan. An exception is the lobster, whose telomeres do not shorten during cell division, theoretically allowing them to live and grow indefinitely.[13]

Sources

Wiki-wordmark.png This article has been translated from German by Brandon_Pow from the Language Brigade Wiki.

The original article can be found through the Interlanguage-Link at the bottom of the page.

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Peter J. Hogarth: Ecological aspects of dragons
  2. Dragons Nest: Robert M. May - the ecology of dragons
  3. Shuker Nature: From Lambton Worms and shaggy Beasts to soup dragons and Q
  4. Wikinger.org: Ragnars Saga
  5. Bestiary: Viper
  6. Wikipedia: Dragon of Mordiford (englisch)
  7. Sviatoslav Loginov: On Classification of European Dragons
  8. Andrea Dee, Angelika Gredenberg (2000), Das große Buch der Ungeheuer - Mit über hundert Fabelwesen aus allen Erdteilen, Tosa, ISBN 978-3854922254
  9. Dragon's World (Film, 2004)
  10. Peter Dodson: Evidence of Egg Diversity in Squamate Evolution from Cretaceous Anguimorph Embryos
  11. Freundschaft ist Magie Wiki: Staffel 2, Folge 10 - Spike wird raffgierig
  12. Freundschaft ist Magie Wiki: Staffel 2, Folge 21 - Spike, das Drachenpony
  13. Wikipedia: Lobster (englisch)

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