You and your merry band of weary travelers shuffle over the ridge and find a place to stop for a break. Your quest will not be complete until you reach the other side of the mountain. To get there, though, you know you will have to pass through a dark cavern.
You press on and finally reach the entrance of the cavern. You light torches and enter the unknown. Despite the flames you carry, you can see very little around you. Your footfalls echo off the hard rock all around you. The smell is…well…let’s just say “overwhelming.”
Up ahead, you see glimmers of intermittent flashes of light. You begin to sweat as the temperature steadily rises. Is something burning? As all of these sensations register within your brain, you suddenly know what lies ahead: the most feared beast known to man. What is it? A dragon, of course!
Did that introduction sound a bit like an old myth or a legend? We hope so, because that’s where dragons live! Since there are no real fire-breathing dragons that inhabit swamps, dark caverns, mountain lairs, or dense forests, we have to enjoy them in their natural habitat: our minds, courtesy of thousands of legends, myths, and stories that have existed for hundreds of years and are still being written today.
Legendary creatures of old, dragons usually take the form of larger-than-life serpents or reptiles. Popular in the mythology of many cultures, two distinct cultural traditions of dragons have arisen over the years: the European dragon and the Chinese dragon.
The European dragon developed from European folk tales that themselves evolved from Greek and Middle Eastern mythologies. European dragons tend to be reptilian creatures with lizard-like legs and bat-like wings.
The Chinese dragon, on the other hand, developed from Eastern folklore from Japan, Korea, and other East Asian countries. Unlike their European counterparts, Chinese dragons tend to look like large snakes.
Most mythological dragons play the role of villain. As horrendous beasts, they represent the opponent of the hero of many stories. In addition to breathing fire, many dragons have poisonous claws. They are also often associated with great treasures that they guard from treasure hunters.
In many Asian cultures, dragons have significant spiritual, religious, and cultural importance. Representing the primal forces of nature, dragons are often associated with the qualities of wisdom and longevity. Dragons are also believed to possess supernatural or magical powers.
Although real fire-breathing, winged reptiles don’t exist in our world, scientists have learned a lot recently about a species of dragon that was only discovered about 100 years ago. Komodo dragons are giant lizards that can reach 10 feet or more in length and weigh more than 300 pounds.
These huge lizards have lived for millions of years on the Indonesian islands of Komodo, Gila Motang, Rinca, and Flores. Humans didn’t discover them, though, until about 100 years ago. Although they don’t have wings or breathe fire, they can instill fear in prey the way that mythological dragons do.
As the heaviest lizards on Earth, Komodo dragons subdue prey with their powerful muscles, sharp claws, and shark-like teeth. Their saliva also contains over 50 different types of bacteria, which will usually poison the blood of any prey that happens to escape a Komodo dragon’s powerful bite!