2012 is the Year of the Dragon according to the Chinese zodiac and the Dragon is the only one of the horoscope’s 12 animals to be wholly mythical… or is it? These 7 amazing animal dragons may not fit the outsized, leather-winged, fire-breathing draconian stereotype but by chance or by design, by name or by nature, they’re the closest things there are today to actual real-life dragons.
Dragonflies got their name from ancient folklore that depicted them as having descended from extinct dragons. Other European legends regarding dragonflies put them in rather a bad light, leading to colloquial names including Horse Stinger, Eye Stealer, Ear Cutter and the Devil’s Darning Needle. On the other hand, Chinese and Japanese folk tales associate dragonflies with prosperity, harmony, agility and power.
Though today’s dragonflies are fierce predators and the mosquito’s worst enemy, they don’t bite humans and should not be feared. Such was not the case some 325 million years ago when enormous Griffenflies with 3-ft wingspans ruled the over-oxygenated air, preying on, well, pretty much anything that moved – including our primitive, amphibian ancestors.
With their gaping mouths, spiny skins and awesomely intimidating threat displays, Bearded Dragons have got the dragon act down pat… except for their size, that is.
Growing up to 60 cm (24 inches) in length, these hardy natives of the Australian Outback look like they just walked off the set of a 1950s low-budget monster movie… and undoubtedly, more than a few have done just that.
Bearded Dragons are popular pets though they aren’t legally allowed to be exported from Australia. The species encompasses 7 different varieties, all of which have a characteristic scaly skin flap on their necks that can be erected and waved when they need to look more dragon-like.
Seadragons are tropical fish that come in two varieties: Leafy and Weedy, both of which are closely related to another somewhat confusingly named creature, the Seahorse. Leafy Seadragons can grow up to 24 cm (10 inches) in length while Weedy Seadragons can approach 45 cm (almost 20 inches).
While both Seahorses and Seadragons share superciliously horse-shaped heads, Seadragons gild the lily by sprouting a plethora of fins, fans and spines aimed at increasing its camouflage quotient. The extra appurtenances contribute to their dragon-like appearance though, like Seahorses, they are neither frightening nor fear-worthy.
Chinese Water Dragon
Signs of the Chinese zodiac are divided into five different elements that alternate every dozen years, and since 2012 is the Year of the (Water) Dragon, the actual Chinese Water Dragon gets a little extra status. These members of the lizard family can grow up to 90 cm (36 inches) long, roughly 2/3 of which is tail.
Chinese Water Dragons are twee-dwelling lizards that are typically green in color with a row of serrated spines running down their backs. They favor tropical, forested habitats well-drained by rivers and streams – should danger threaten, they simply drop into the water and swim to safety.
When mature, Chinese Water Dragons will display an iridescent patch on their throat that can be a number of contrasting colors, usually red, pink or orange. The beauty and relative docility of these lizards makes them great pets if you’re a reptile lover but take note: when frightened, Chinese Water Dragons can run for short distances on their hind legs.
Dragonets (“little dragons”) are an unusual species of bottom-dwelling fish that have no scales. They do have an abundance of showy fins and a wide, triangular head that someone, sometime, reminded someone of dragons. Some species of Dragonets display a brilliant mix of contrasting colors and patterns – they don’t call it the Psychedelic Mandarin Dragonet for nothing!
Dragonets may be beautiful but they don’t do well in aquarium settings, unfortunately. Then again, neither do dragons so they’ve got that going for them.
We’d call these fearsome creatures “Terrible Lizards” but the name’s already been taken albeit in Latin (Dinosaurs, natch). If only there were some other name that would be ideal for outsized, carnivorous, venomous reptiles… aha, you’ve been reading my mind! Komodo Dragons can grow up to 3 meters (9.8 ft) in length, an attribute zoologists ascribe to “island gigantism”. Hmm, I always thought living on islands resulted in dwarfism; I guess the original lizards of Komodo were reading the instruction manual upside down.
Though taxonomically lumped in with other monitor lizards, Komodo Dragons are about as dragon-like as living creatures get these days. Know anything similar, outside of the late Anne McCaffrey’s “Dragonriders of Pern” novels, that can take down and chow down on a full-grown water buffalo?
Speaking of which, Komodo Dragons are protected from poachers in their tiny two-island home range but the deer and other large mammals they prey on are not, leading to an increase in attacks on humans by the hungry dragons. Life, as they say, will find a way.
Admittedly we’re stretching the concept of “living dragons” a bit here but hey, Daryl Dragon is indeed a capital-D Dragon (his father was conductor, composer and arranger Carmen Dragon) and at the ripe old age of 69 he’s very much still living… with his wife and musical accompanist, Toni Tennille. I guess love really did keep them together.
Daryl Dragon was an unofficial member of the Beach Boys from 1967 through 1972 – he was given his nickname “The Captain” by Mike Love. After parting ways with the Beach Boys, Dragon achieved pop music stardom as one half of Captain & Tennille. Muskrat Love, anyone?