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Ever wonder what a dragon looked like from the inside out?

This is a study of the physiology of a dragon created for HERE BE DRAGONS! and to share with the world how dragons may actually be part of this place we know as Earth. This is about what the dragon is made up of and what makes it unique in the animal world. Please enjoy the information here, but do not use this information on other web-sites or publications. If you must, please link instead of re-writing this information.Thanks.
The wonderful new dragon biology/physiology pictures done for Here Be Dragons!
by Eugene Arenhaus and you can see his gallery here.

The Western dragon Eudraco magnificus occidentalis has a sturdy skeleton structure. Large head, long neck, broad shoulders, thick legs, strong tail, and very large wings. The dragon's bones are very strong, but hollow and light. A dragon's jaw is large to accommodate the very strong muscles around it. The dragon is able to dislocate its jaw, as some snakes are able to do, to grab large objects. The dragon has two types of teeth because of it being an omnivore (It will eat meat and plant food). The canine and incisor teeth of a dragon are long and razor sharp, but also have molars to chew their food instead of eating it whole. The shoulder bones are thick to handle the large wing muscles needed to fly. The wing "finger" bones are very long to wrap the thin flight membrane taut around them. There are many species of Western dragon, and this is only one example showing the different bones of the skeletal system.
Take a look at the Western Dragon Skeleton System by clicking on the picture below! (size=258K)
Button for Western Skeleton

The Oriental (or Eastern) dragon Dracoserpens Lung orientalis has a extremely long, thin skeleton structure. It has a medium sized head, very long neck, short legs, small hips, and a long tail. This skeleton is very maneuverable because of the shape, such as a long snake is. It can twist and turn its body in all sorts of ways. This type of dragon does not have hollow bones, and the dragon's skeleton is thin because it doesn't need the mass to accommodate flight muscles. This dragon does not have any type of wings as it flies with earth-magic verses brute strength.
Take a look at the Eastern Dragon Skeleton System by clicking on the picture below! (size=32K)
Button For Eastern Skeleton

Western dragons have many more muscles then their Eastern cousins. This is mainly due to their massive flight muscles that have to lift their weight into the sky with the thrust of their wings. The main wing muscles are the Supraspinatus and Flexor alae major. Notice that the actual wing does not have many major muscles, it is all near the chest area. Other large muscles account for a very strong tail, and rear legs. The Western dragon could easily hold a human male's weight while in flight. Also notice the large jaw muscle Masseter, this muscle can easily crush bones.
Take a look at the Western Dragon Musculature System by clicking on the picture below! (size=262K)
Button for Western Dragon Muscles

The dragon can be a huge creature depending on the breed. The one shown here is roughly 20 feet long with a wingspan of 35 feet. This type of dragon has extremely small ears, large eyes, spines down its back, and a bone-type spade at the end of its tail. All dragon breeds are different. Some have long ears, and no spade, and some have a fleshy-type triangle-shaped spade. This type of dragon also does not have scales, it has tough leathery skin. Most dragons have scales of some sort.
Take a look at the Western Dragon Body by clicking on the picture below! (size=256K)
Button for Outside of the body

Scales (and horns/claws) on a dragon are densely packed cells made up of keratin, a tough fibrous protein. When born, a dragon's scales are as soft as tissue paper, and slowly harden while the dragon grows. The iron from the blood, or vegetable matter the dragon eats is absorbed by the dragon's blood stream and mixed with the keratin to create steel-hard scales. The process of getting scales as tough as they can get takes about one year after being hatched.

Scale color is determand by the genes of the parent dragons. Usually only red dragons will mate with other red dragons, etc. But if a mating took place between a gold and a green dragon, the result might be a bronze colored offspring. Scales on a dragon are never simply one shade of color. If a dragon is blue, there will be many, many shades of blue. Light, medium, dark, blue-black, etc. Scales are bright and shiny in a healthy dragon, but dull and muted if a dragon is ill.
Scale Color

Scale Change Animation
In some breeds of dragons when the dragon is mature, the cells in the scales are able to change color such as a chameleon due to chromatophore, the pigment cells in the scales.This reaction can be caused by emotion (anger, happiness,etc) or by the will of the dragon to change color. If the dragon is angered it can change from its original color to a bright, fierce color such as red, to look more intimidating or during mating rituals, it can flow certain color patterns on its body to attract other dragons. Since dragons are extremely intelligent, it can choose which colors to change into to match the exact background it is near including subtle shadow and highlights. It is so good at this, most things would just walk past a 65 foot dragon hiding in the sand.

The main function of scales is protection of the soft skin tissue of the dragon. An adult dragon can easily take a direct blow from a knight's sword and hardly flinch. Adult dragons have 4-6 inch wide, and 7-9 inch long teardrop shaped scales covering its body. The pattern of the body scales is a flat, rotating design that overlap each other. Easy movement is due to the unique depression on the top side of each scale that allows them to lay evenly flat on the body.

The scales on the chest area are the largest; easily being over a foot wide. The chest scales are one to three flat "scale flaps". These are shaped differently than a regular scale as they are more squarish. The pattern of the chest scales is overlapping and flat running from the throat, under body to the end of the tail. All of the scales lightly slide over each other, so when a dragon walks it will make a soft scraping sound. The overlapping scales make it difficult for anything to successfully injure a dragon.

An interesting fact is that the dragon can make the scales stand on end for washing. Also, when angered, the dragon can puff up, spread its scales, and look a lot larger than the dragon actually is. Lifting the scales is also an effective heat reducing element. Making the scales stand on end allows the skin underneath to release heat, thus cooling the large animal down quickly. A favorite past-time of dragons is to stand the scales up and go into a cool pool of water to allow it to run in between the scales and onto the sensitive skin.

The Dragon Wing
The wing. The part of the dragon that distinguishes itself from all other creatures. The dragon wing is a huge, leathery appendage that is found on several different species of dragon. The wing is usually larger than the dragon's body to accommodate the incredible force needed to lift and maintain flight.
The wing is essentially another arm and hand. If you look at the skeleton of a dragon front arm and claws, you will notice that the wing is just a very stretched out version. The two thick "arm bones" (humerus and wing radius) runs from the body of the dragon attaching itself with cartilage and muscle to an "elbow" of the wing. There are usually 4 or 5 elongated "fingers" on a wing each ending in a claw. One short "thumb" claw is at the "wrist". The "fingers" then attach themselves to the "wrist joints" to form the complete wing.


Thanks to Windseeker for the flying dragon animation
The actual force of flight is the continuous down sweep of powerful wings scooping, and thrusting the body upwards. An immature dragon does not have the strength needed for a vertical jump from flat ground to take off. They will usually stay near higher cliffs to use the heat updrafts to keep aloft. It takes a few years of flying to build the extremely strong flight muscles needed to lift the dragon body from the ground. The wings make actually look small for the mass of the dragon, but all dragons have an innate magic ability to help them fly. This magic helps keep dragons from straining themselves during long flights.

Dragons can also use their wings as an attack weapon if need be, but this is a last resort. The wing membranes are easily damaged compared to the rest of a dragon body. If a dragon wing membrane is slashed, it takes a very long time to heal, and there is a chance the dragon might never fly again if it does not heal correctly. If attacked on the ground, the dragon will usually run then jump in the air and fly off avoiding the attacker. But if the dragon is trapped on the ground it will tuck its wings tightly against its body and use its breath weapon and claws to protect itself. If the dragon has to use its wings to attack it will scoop down and slash with its razor sharp wing claws to immobilize the attacker.

Dragons have the same senses as humans; sight, hearing, smelling, touch, and taste. But some have a six sense which is being able to "read" the emotion of another being. Their regular five senses are incredibly sensitive. For example, the sense of smell is about 100 times more sensitive than a bloodhound dog. They can smell and hear a person or animal from a couple miles away!

Their six sense is very accurate at close range. If a person or animal is feeling a strong emotion, such as fear or hate, it will register very strongly to the dragon, even if it is not in visual range of it. This is where dragonfear comes from. Dragonfear is an all encompassing, frozen-in-place fear that the dragon causes upon the animal or person seeing a dragon. The dragons sometimes use this advantage to beat its foes, such as thieves or knights. Only the very bravest (or very dim-witted) are not affected by this terrible fear. This is usually an aura around evil-minded dragons, but in a friendly dragon, such as the Faerie Dragon, this aura is non-existant.

Fire: the thing that makes the dragon most feared. It's a hellish belch of flame that can turn flesh and bone into ash. Though, not all dragons breath fire. Some have freezing cold breath, others have acid, and some don't use their breath as a weapon at all! The two that have fire breathing power are the Red Dragon and Fire Drake.

It all starts when the dragon catch their prey. When dragons eat, they digest the food in a regular stomach. The digestion then continues in a second stomach that breaks down the food even further. After the dragon's body has used all it can from the second digestion, the body then turns the leftover food and acid into a byproduct of hydrogen. The dragon can hold the hydrogen in various large glands in it's body for later use, and can call upon it at any time it needs to. When the dragon needs to belch it's flame, the glands release the hydrogen into the lungs where it mixes with other various chemicals the body creates. Once this mixture finds oxygen, it burns extremely hot, and very quick. The dragon usually has enough hydrogen in its body for about three spits of flame, but that should be plenty for anything coming up against a large red dragon. This explanation is about the same for dragons that breath other types of breath. Their bodies just break down food into different compounds. For another explanation of firebreathing, please read this explanation by Firefenix.

I hope you enjoyed your little trip into the physiology of a dragon. Remember, all dragons are different, so if you dissagree with this study, no one can tell you that you are wrong. This is just one look at this wonderful creature and I hope that this might stir your imagination to make up your own mythology of the dragon.

Read some other explanations:
Advanced dragon description

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