These teeth were stronger, and could break more things. At one point, a chance mutation caused two teeth to be angled in such a way that they would cause a spark. This would then cause the mixture of hydrogen and oxygen in the mouth to ignite, and the process described above would happen. A dragon would use a massive amount of energy. But so did dinosaurs. A dragon would have to eat a large amount of food, but that would be possible. Especially if dragons laid and wait and did nothing for much of the time.
Then they would eat only occasionally, and then in large amounts as there prey would be unprepared. Fireproof scales are just standard bone, and would not be that energy consumptive to create. Breathing fire costs little energy, because it is done by using the work symbiotic creatures.
Finally, don't argue. Dragons don't like it. If that didn't convince, read the ending. I could hardly beat the great level of detail in the other answers, but I like dragons a lot and I think I can share my relevant knowledge with you. I would assume a dragon would be quite similar to the dinosaurs or the creatures that represent the evolutionary phase between reptiles and birds like the Archeopterix , based on the popular representations in folklore tales and fantasy stories.
Egg hatching then would be the way of reproduction. The growing can depend on many factors, but in most cases it is determined primarily by the DNA. An interesting case aside from the topic is a Liger , that is a hybrid produced of a male lion and a female tiger. It is the biggest cat in the world and for a reason - the genes for growth reduction are carried by the male tiger for the tiger specie and by the female lion for the lions specie respectively.
Thus a liger has no genes for resticting his growth and so it was believed 1 to grow all his life, becomming the largest cat in the world. If dragons were not a regular specie, but produced as a hybrid betweeen species so that it happens to lack growth restriction genes, or if their DNA did not have the growth restriction for other reasons, then a dragon could grow in size troughout his life.
Flight is a very energy intensive task and has a lot of requirements for the body structure, mass and size in general. Thus, it would eventually contradict with the first point of near-limitless growth. We could still assume a dragon is similar to a bird-like reptile, or a pterodactyle, it would grow large enough and still be able to fly. If growing continues to a certain point, it is possible the dragon reaches size and mass that would not allow him to fly.
Since then, a dragon could adapt and lead a life similar to the non-winged dinosaurs and the other ground predators. Breathing fire, literally, is something that I personally would not believe. However, since this characteristic is taken from foklore tales, we could assume these are either exaggerated descriptions of a real capability, or otherwise twisted by the story retelling.
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Still, I would associate this ability with the description of the Komodo Dragon , which is a large lizzard of the Varanidae family. These lizzards are known both for their large sizes and "poisonous" saliva. Their saliva is not really poisonous, but it has special bacteria which causes the decay of any exposed flesh. The exposure wounds similar to burns of acid, and these could have been attributed to a "breath of fire" by our uneducated ancestors. I watched a BBC show a long time ago I am unable to recall the name , which also supported this thesis, and added some ancient cultures drawings as a proof - the drawings were of large Varanidae-like lizzards breathing fire.
It is still uncertain if these would rather contribute to the "fire lizzard" folklore specie, insted of supporting the dragon existence, however. If the creature is indeed derived from a dinosaurus, or is a reptile-bird specimen, then it could share the same need for energy we already know these species have dinos were large and ate a lot, burds need great amounts of energy to fly and lead quite a dynamic way of life. Definitely, a dragon would be a mobile creature with active lifestyle able to fly , which requires a lot of energy.
It makes sense that the dragon would more than often predate on large and potent prey in order to support its existence. In addition, it could also have evolved the ability to go into a lethargic state, like some mammals and reptiles do if the time of the year is not suitable for frequent feeding. In some folklore tales, and modern fantasy stories, dragons are often being "awakened" from years of sleep by the story's main character. This statement was based on outdated information I had on the topic. However, newer information regarding this hybrid specie does not support the lifetime growth ability refer to wikipedia article and Tim B's comment below.
The tigon retains smaller sizes in comparison to both his parent species, due to having both lion and tiger growth restriction genes. Well, fire-breathing without burning yourself is obviously possible. In addition to various systems already proposed with binary compounds, I'd like to point out that you could have self-igniting saliva that includes a stabilizing compounds.
This IIRC is the method many poisonous snakes use with their poison. They simply secrete the anti-dote together with the poison and it will protect them from incidental exposure, but when the venom is "used properly" the protection will fall short and the target will be poisoned. Poison could be initially an irritant, evolve to being corrosive ants have acid for example , and if the corrosive is oxidative that is short path to making things burn. It would likely be a mixture of several oxidizers and matching stabilizers. Oxidizers would probably mostly be based on oxygen from the air.
Chlorine might be easy enough to get near the ocean. Fluorine would be kind of neat to add, but I am not sure if there is a convenient source. As a practical matter the stabilizers would probably be something that is rapidly vaporized. Inside the dragon it would be continuously replenished, but as soon as the "fire-breathing" started the chemical balance would break almost instantly.
Some fuel beyond the methane from breathing would probably be also mixed in. Some mixture of alcohols and fat, I'd guess. To give pleasant clinging effect when breathing on someone. And give a higher temperature to get fires started.
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And cause serious burns even if the target doesn't ignite. Although a strong oxidizer would make most organic things burn well enough. The probable evolution path would be from a spitting venom, initially targeted at eyes. Then mating rituals. So it would be flashy and mostly cause damage to exposed parts.
On targets of reasonable size. If the dragon is much larger than the target, as implied by the question, it would be a lethal weapon. In the real world the above would kind of imply evolution from snakes as most likely option.
Spark ignited a fire that became an environmental alarm, Silent Spring | Millard Fillmore's Bathtub
I'd actually go with that as snakes re-evolving legs would neatly sidestep issues with six being a wrong number of limbs and allow 2 wings plus 4 legs or 6 legs configurations. The big issue with dragons, especially when combined with flying, is obviously the size. Realistically the issue has been solved by engineers with either high-energy power generation airplanes and helicopters or by making the aircraft float in the air with lifting gas. Since the physical problem to solve is the same these would be the solutions available to draconic non-magical evolution as well.
I find the concept of fire-breathing animals, probably commonly fighting each other, being filled with hydrogen less than convincing. Helium would work, but the only sources for it would be ingesting large amounts of methane methanovore? Tapping underground methane would actually be kind of interesting, as it would explain why dragons spend centuries in underground caverns doing nothing visible to humans.
They are breathing in the methane, living from the energy of it and harvesting mixed in helium. Actually eating methane might be a draconic attribute even if you skip dragon-blimps. Apart from matching the iconic behaviour of dracons, a source of methane is useful to fire-breathing. Third lifting gas option would be hot gas, either plain air or steam.
This might actually work for a VERY large animal. And needing to generate high temperatures would match with evolving other pyrotechnics. Problem is that dragon-blimps don't really look very dragonic. So I think I'd skip this option and focus on increasing power density. I think the easiest way to up power density would be to increase the number of hearts. Basically biological power density is limited by the ability to remove heat and metabolites from tissue.
You also need to bring energy in, but that is not generally the issue when talking about power density. This kind of implies that dragons would be able to boost their metabolic rate to level insane. Which would imply very high blood pressure at muscular system, while other parts, such as brain, maintain normal pressures. And one heart maintaining high pressure at a very large animal wouldn't really work that well anyway.
Separate secondary circulation systems that boost pressure selectively might work. By itself this wouldn't be enough, but if you can increase blood pressure, and maybe even have an entirely separate circulation of "something else" with higher power density, you can also replace muscle cells with something else.
You can't really make cells work with power beyond certain level, but cells could generate structures capable of higher power in a manner similar to how hair is created. I have no idea how high this could get the power density, but high enough that power density wouldn't be the biggest issue So you end up with the structural strength being the big issue. Hollow or otherwise low density bones are pretty much compulsory. Even then you'd probably need "biologically generated but not living" structures such as I used to dodge the power density issue. Nature has some remarkably strong protein based fibers and glues, so composite structure of fibers combined with strong adhesive seems likely.
Something similar to what trees use with cellulose and lignin? Trees can grow to large sizes and protein based solution would plausibly be stronger. Supplemented with similarly reinforced "semi-exoskeleton" of powerful natural armor very dragonic and the high density muscles discussed before, this might be enough. Certainly you could get something larger than any living dinosaurs. Breathing enough oxygen would still be an issue. Dinosaurs and birds have more efficient lungs than mammals do but still.
If we assume that the fire comes from a powerful oxidant, the dragon might be capable of storing large amounts of the oxidant and use that oxygen to power up. Or possibly the "new muscles" required anyway, don't consume oxygen directly but work more like a plug-in hybrid does. Dragon sleeps and charges the batteries for the muscles and then the muscles can do a specific amount work without extra metabolism needed beyond the secondary circulation for cooling and energy. I can see how the exotic bones and hide would evolve naturally as sizes go up.
Reinforced structure is useful in intermediate forms and based on natural proteins. Same with extra hearts. Extra control of blood pressure in extremities is useful in intermediate forms for large animals. Evolution for exotic muscles is harder Then again if we assume a snake re-evolved limbs and already assume an unusual configuration, the exotic muscles might not be evolved from normal muscle to begin with. Which doesn't really suggest how they evolved, but opens up the possibilities enough for the lack of explanation to be less bothersome.
Growing from a very small size to an extremely large size is no problem, as dinosaurs show and remember, ultimately even the largest dinosaur started as a single cell; the size of the egg is basically about how much initial nutrients are stored for the organism until it is ready to get out of the egg.
I don't think you could get literally to mountain size, but if taking that as hyperbole, I'd say that 12 meters of length for T. Rex is already a very impressive size and at least in the fantasy with dragons I've read, which admittedly is not very much, the dragons weren't much larger. Now flying could be a problem with large sizes. However a Quetzalcoatlus was still of impressive size.
Bat-like wings should probably not be a problem. Whether a lizard-like appearance would be realistic probably depends on how exactly you define "lizard-like". There would probably be some shape requirements for aerodynamic reasons. But otherwise I see no reason why this should not be possible. The most problematic point, of course, is breathing fire. As far as I know, there's no known animal that does or did that. However, we know that inflammable substances alcohol! The main problem would be how to ignite the breath in a way not to harm the dragon itself.
However, I guess that should be a solvable problem; there could be for example some substances which the dragon could emit in small amount together with the inflammable gas or aerosol, which has a strong exothermic reaction in air, thus igniting the gas. If the substances have a use also in isolation, this is more likely to evolve, and it is not unrealistic that at some time a mutation caused them to be emitted at the same time, giving the ability to breathe fire.
I think most of the answers focus on bringing dragons to humans. I argue the opposite would be easier to do scientifically. Modify the world to support dragons, then bring humans in as otherworldly visitors in advanced habitat modules and pressure suits. I'm not sure how to make the humans appear medieval in that circumstance, but the question didn't request the usual fantasy backdrop.
Nor was any implication made that humans must be comfortably habitable.
Perhaps the dragons exist in a thick atmosphere which is highly combustible with the addition of some biologically inert catalyst. The dragons could fly with their large masses due to the thick atmosphere, although it would lead to higher atmospheric pressures. A small spark could come from high concentrations of iron in the teeth and tongue.
Calcium is pretty reactive in its elemental form; maybe the reaction of the dragon's saliva with its teeth creates a small flash. The saliva would be like snake venom, contained in sacs. That'd cause a lot of tooth decay. Add shark teeth growth so the teeth are replaced. Hmm, seems to me that it's pretty obvious that dragon-like creatures are biologically possible, because we know that they used to exist.
We call them dinosaurs. Big enough that a person might describe them as "the size of a mountain". As lift depends on wing size, in practice it appears that living creatures, at least those using the sort of biological processes that we are familiar with, run into a limit here. Among real dinosaurs and dinosaur-like creatures, there were some that were very large, like diplodocus, and others that were able to fly, like pterodactyls.
But none that were both very large and able to fly. Do we mean specifically something like the fantasy picture of a dragon, spitting flame out of it's mouth like a huge flamethrower?
There's no creature alive today that does anything like that. Though of course that doesn't prove it's impossible. There are creatures like the bombardier beetle, that sprays a combination of chemicals out its rear that makes a little explosion. Beetles are tiny, but if you scaled up the quantities of chemical, it might make a nice little explosion that could be called "breathing fire".
In any case, it demonstrates that the principle is not impossible, but in fact exists in a creature that we can observe today. The bombardier beetle has a complex collection of chemicals that enable it to spit out this little explosion without blowing itself up or setting itself on fire.
It doesn't seem implausible that a different combination of chemicals on a larger scale could make a more "impressive" fire. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Subscribe in a reader. Come on in, the water's fine. Come often: Cleanliness is next to godliness. Enter your email address to follow Millard Fillmore's Bathtub and receive notifications of new posts by email. Follow Millard Fillmore's Bathtub.
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Email required Address never made public. Name required. If beetles attack in great enough numbers, the tree is eventually sapped of life, and dies of dehydration. A forest in the grip of a pine beetle epidemic resembles the aftershock of a severe drought -- reddish-brown canopies of tinder-dry needles, waiting only for the touch of a spark to set them ablaze. Those trees burn hotter -- and the fire spreads faster -- than they would in a forest untouched by beetle blight, said Rocco Snart, a fire behavior analyst trainee who has been working on the ground with crews battling the High Park fire.
While the yellowing needles can ignite with enough temperature, it's the reddish-brown canopy you most have to worry about, he said. Those dry, brittle needles can ignite with explosive force, hurling embers up into the air to be carried by the wind to set other fires. Fire is as much a part of Western forest ecology as the trees themselves, clearing old growth and allowing new seeds to take root and grow. So intricately linked are the forces of destruction and rebirth that the pine cones of some trees release their seeds only under extreme heat.
Pine beetles have evolved as a kind of auxiliary agent in this process, sweeping through every decade or so to accelerate the cycle. Modern humans, however, have thrown a wrench in the gears. Human beings have successfully suppressed most low-level burns that have erupted in the region over the past few decades, in the process allowing the forests to thicken and brushy "fuel" to accumulate. On top of that, the pine beetle epidemic gripping the West is larger than any in recent memory. Many entomologists point to the record warmth of the last 10 years as a cause.
The beetle's life cycle is temperature-dependent.