Since the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and radical environmentalists want to establish “Critical Habitat” for the very rare jaguar in Southern Arizona, I propose they also consider protecting habitat for a predator just slightly rarer than jaguars: dragons. Maybe dragons don’t currently live here, but that shouldn’t be a problem, since USFWS and Pima County aim to reintroduce several other animals that don’t live here either.
When speaking of dragons, I don’t mean those common creatures like the little horned dragon of Australia or the larger Komodo dragon of Indonesia; no, I mean the big, flying, fire-breathing western dragons of legend. They must be an endangered species; you don’t see them around much any more. Imagine the large habitat they would require. USFWS and Pima County could control tens of thousands of acres as habitat for each dragon. And, dragons would tend to thin out all those nasty cows that enviros claim are destroying our desert and forests.
Some skeptics may think that dragons are just a myth. But I will prove, using the best available science, and biological logic at least as good as that appearing in Pima County’s Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, that these fire-breathers could actually exist, and may have existed in Arizona. However, because peer-reviewed, scientifically rigorous, published accounts of known populations are few, habitat modeling based on environmental characteristics and the “best guess” of dragonologists must be used in constructing a model of dragon physiology and habitat requirements.
First, we have the anecdotal evidence. Dragons, with surprisingly similar characteristics, are mentioned in the annals of many cultures ranging from England, Scandinavia, Africa, the Middle East, India, and China. Dragons are even mentioned frequently in the Bible, though mainly with bad press. Some sculptures in Mayan ruins of Central America feature both snakes and dragon-like creatures. The Apache Indians of Arizona have a dragon legend. It seems that dragons were more common than pygmy owls.
Western dragons (a species separate from the Chinese wingless dragon) are reputed to be up to 90 feet long and at least 10 feet thick. They can fly; and not only that, they can hover. They can expel fire; their blood is said to be caustic or poisonous; and they are reputed to horde gold. Although reputed characteristics of Western dragons may sound improbable at first, I will present a unified theory of dragons, showing that all these characteristics are not only probable, but necessary.
The key to dragon theory is their manner of flight. Aerodynamic calculations show conclusively that such big animals could not fly if they depended solely upon their wings. Ask not how such a large animal could fly; ask, instead, why the animal needed to be so large in order to fly.
The answer is that dragons were dirigibles. Rather than being constructed like a dinosaur or snake, dragon bodies were actually filled with a honey-comb of hollow bones and “lifting” bladders which captured vast quantities of hydrogen that made dragons nearly weightless. The wings were not for lift, but merely for propulsion and maneuvering.
Hydrogen may be produced by hydrochloric acid (HCl) in dragon digestive juices. Hydrochloric acid is the common digestive juice of most animals, including humans. When HCl attacks calcium in the lifting bladders, we have a reaction which produces hydrogen: Ca + 2HCl = H2 + CaCl2. Calcium chloride is the mineral hydrophilite which is found associated with the exhalations of volcanoes, and, perhaps, dragons. Of course, in the organic system, things are more complicated, but this shows the general principle.
Some dragonologists say that methane (CH4), a byproduct of digestion, also contributed to the flammable lifting gas of western dragons. This process explains much about dragons. They are reputed to live in caves which are usually found in limestone country, and limestone is calcium carbonate. The streams and lakes around the area would be rich in the calcium needed to replenish their supply. Perhaps dragons even ingested limestone pebbles, much as dinosaurs did. That, too, would help replenish the calcium.
Dragons expelled fire for two reasons. First, because they lived in caves, expelling hydrogen (and methane) would soon make the habitat unliveable, unless it was burned off. Secondly, they controlled their buoyancy in flight by producing and expelling hydrogen. The mixture of hydrogen and oxygen is highly flammable. There is some question as to how dragons would have ignited the mixture. Some dragonologists propose an electric spark. We know that certain animals, such as electric eels, produce an electric charge, but there is a question of sufficient voltage to make a spark. It has also been proposed that dragons ignited the hydrogen using an exothermic chemical reaction. We know, for instance, that bombadier beetles ward off attackers by producing a liquid emission which has a temperature of several hundred degrees. Or maybe dragons had flinty teeth. It is not a great leap of faith to suppose that dragons could have ignited hydrogen by these processes.
Dragons were actually rather fragile animals, that’s why they stayed in their caves so much. They were nearly defenseless against the knight and his sword, because the sword would puncture the hydrogen bladders and quickly ground the dragon. The puncture would allow hydrochloric acid to seep out, giving rise to the legend of caustic blood.
How did such a creature evolve? Perhaps much like birds. An upright dinosaur would run and leap. To gain speed, the solid bone structure would become a lighter lattice of bones like that in birds, rabbits, and deer. Over the millennia, flaps of skin and bones would allow the leaps to become glides and the glides to become flight. Perhaps the dinosaurs that became dragons where particularly dyspeptic and the gas was gradually put to good use. Because dragons were actually such light creatures, they needed to feed only once or twice a month, another characteristic of legend. They would fly out from their lairs and attack cattle in the field, spouting flame to help control their flight. That they devoured a princess or two on the way is probably just a vicious lie.
Several radical enviro groups are campaigning to reintroduce large carnivores to the continental U.S. Why deal with puny pumas, gratuitous grizzlies, wandering wolves, or journeying jaguars when you can have a really big zoophagous dragon?
We’ve seen from the discussion above, that potential habitat for dragons must include mountains for their caves, prairies for the cattle, and riparian areas for a water source. Dragons would be a splendid “umbrella” species, for, by preserving dragon habitat, we necessarily preserve habitat for many other animals.
I’ve accounted for all the reported characteristics of dragons, save one: the collection of gold. While this may in fact be a myth, there is a reason why dragons would collect gold nuggets. Because of the caustic nature of HCl and hydrogen, a dragon would tend to line its nest with material that is not easily affected by the caustic nature of its physiology. Gold is such a substance. Do you suppose that accounts of lost treasure, such as the Peralta and Lost Dutchman mines, could actually be descriptions of fossil dragon nests? If so, then this is evidence that dragons once inhabited Arizona.
Given the government’s penchant for spending money on, shall we say, special projects, perhaps we could attract dragons by lining a few caves with gold nuggets. Taxpayers shouldn’t mind this expense, after all, we subsidize otherwise uneconomic solar and wind energy ventures, as well as electric cars. Just think of the pleasure of seeing, on a dark night, within the mountain vastness, the flames from bull dragons proclaiming their territories by trumpeting and spouting fire. This project has all the merit of establishing “Critical Habitat” for jaguars.
Save the dragons!
[Note: the idea for the manner for dragon flight was proposed by Peter Dickinson in his whimsical book "The Flight of Dragons." See that and other Dickinson works by visiting his website: http://peterdickinson.com/ ]