On the Species of Dragons

Dragons don’t exist. They probably never will. Yet people still argue about them and what they think dragons should look like. This argument is generally between four-legged, two-winged dragons and wyverns, with a lot of people saying that wyverns ‘aren’t true dragons’ or ‘are inferior to four-legged, two-winged dragons’ and other similar arguments.

Well bollocks to that!

Slightly more aerodynamic, yes?
Slightly more aerodynamic, yes?

Let’s get the bias out of the way first. I really like wyverns as a type of dragon. They can get away with being more elegant than your standard four-legged, two-winged dragon, despite the fact that they have trouble walking on land. Then again, the dragons in Skyrim never had a problem with that and if you can fly, why would you ever land? But I love all dragon types equally and really wouldn’t be bothered if my one wish was granted and my new, draconic form was a wyrm or an Eastern dragon rather than a wyvern.

Over in the Western world though, dragons do often get split into four-legged, two-winged dragons and wyverns, because of how they’re portrayed in media. Dungeons and Dragons and that sort of thing often makes them two separate species. Films like Braveheart made their dragons the 6-limbed way, while films like Reign of Fire made their dragons the wyvern way. Dragonflight currently uses a wyvern while Dragon: The Game uses something with 6 limbs. I think both decisions are perfectly acceptable because both solutions look very dragon-y.

“But wyverns don’t meet the expectations fans have of a dragon!”

Says you. Most people expect a dragon to be a big, scaly monster that breathes fire. And even those two criteria aren’t consistent. Let’s go back to the Chinese dragon, which is made from tons of other animal parts. Do Chinese dragons breath fire? Not sure. Possibly not. As long as it’s scary, it could technically be a dragon. There are also wyrms, wyrms with wings, drakes, dragons with four pairs of wings and no legs, dragons with 8 limbs, all sorts. The sky is your limit, and very often, a dragon can just be a large, vaguely reptilian, powerful, prideful, smart being with a tail and possibly horns.

If this sat on your roof, you'd be scared, wyvern or not.
If this sat on your roof, you’d be scared, wyvern or not.

On top of that, there’s variants of what a six-limbed dragon is. Normally we mean a walks-on-four-legs dragon, but what about a biped dragon that stands like a human (or a kangaroo) and has free use of its upper arms? Or a dragon with little tiny Tyrannosaur arms, does that still count?

There are practical reasons as to why people use wyverns over four-legged, two-winged dragons though. You can base a lot of movement from wyverns on that of birds, bats and pterosaurs, which makes them easier and cheaper to animate. Take a bat, make parts of it bigger and smaller, make it scary and scaly and you’ve essentially got yourself a dragon. Not that ‘being easier’ is much of an excuse, but when you’re on a time scale or a budget scale, these things matter. Of course, using a wyrm makes things even easier. D-Wars (which was a movie so shit that I’m not giving you a link) used wyrms and they were pretty cool.

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Wyverns are actually more realistic than six-limbed dragons. If you want a genuine creature that could exist in this world, then a wyvern is probably what you’d get. A wyvern with feathers and is warm-blooded and probably can’t breathe fire, like an archeopteryx but bigger. In nature, in real nature that is, there is no such thing as a six-limbed vertebrate. Or, if you include tails as limbs, there’s no such thing as a 9-limbed vertebrate. Even vertebrates that lack limbs (snakes, whales) now do still have the genetic info from those old limbs left over.

That’s not to say that four-legged, two-winged dragons are bad in any way. No, not at all! They’re fucking awesome! But it annoys me when people say that any other dragons (especially wyverns) that isn’t a four-legged, two-winged dragon are inferior.

Not that any of this matters. A dragon can be whatever you WANT a dragon to be, because they don’t exist.

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