3. How do Dragons Breathe Fire? (and) How do we know they’re real?

  1. How do Dragons Breathe Fire?

Well, technically, they don’t…

Ok, so deep breath here – I’m about to say something really contentious…

Dragons are a lot like lizards.  They are also quite a lot like crocodiles…

The following statements got a lot of people in the cryptozoology world REALLY upset.

It is thought that dragons may be the pre-existing, linking species between crocodiles and lizards . Over the last 4,000,000 years, climatic conditions have altered, and with them, so have habitats.  These  changes forced physical specialization; lizards and crocodiles separated into their respective species and evolved to their present day condition. The assumption was that dragons became extinct.

Lizards and dragons have similar digestive systems and skeletal structure, but the physiology they share with crocodiles, are the lungs.

The lungs of a crocodile are larger than in many reptiles. Human lungs are two sacs that fill with air and then empty on exhalation. Crocs fill the left side of each lung, storing the air before it moves into the right-hand side; then expel the air into the esophagus, and out through the mouth. Dragons have an extra chamber on each side, at the base of each lung, where air can be stored at great pressure. The more a dragon breathes in, the more pressure that chamber withstands. As with all gases, when pressure is increased, the air molecules get more tightly packed together and the temperature increases. This means that dragons can create immensely strong gusts of air that they expel at temperatures (we think) of up to 2500 Celsius.

The flames come from a volatile liquid (very acidic, therefore very poisonous) that sits in pouches on either side of the cheeks, close to the front of the mouth cavity. When in states of anxiety or anger, dragons breathe in and heat their stored air, and then squirt the flammable liquid out into the super-heated air stream just beyond the mouth opening, so that neither the teeth nor lips/mouth get burnt.

So, the answer is that they don’t breathe fire. They breathe out incredibly hot air, that ignites a flammable liquid, which creates a stream of flames that look like they come from the dragon’s mouth.

All of which is immaterial if you’re stood in front of one, because by then, you are literally toast.


How do we know Dragons are Real?

Back in 1964, in the state of Coahuila, Mexico, close to where many other dinosaur fossils have been found, three paleontologists with an interest in crypto-zoology (the study of strange and mythical beasts) discovered a partial fossilized skeleton; two thirds of a Pterosaur (a fossilised dragon). It was amazing… unlike anything they had ever seen.  It’s body was roughly the size of a British double decker bus (61′ long and 30′ high) with a tail that extended another 40′ behind and from the one partial ‘arm’ that was preserved, they estimated a wingspan of over 150′.

Seriously, this thing was enormous.

Being the only scientists at the dig that afternoon, the three of them spent a couple of hours re-burying their find before rushing back to base.  There followed an evening of anxious phone calls to  the University’s research funding department, urgently requesting additional monies for the retrieval of their once-in-a-lifetime find.

After much skullduggery, and many machinations, the team (Professor Jones, Dr Belloq and his assistant Doug) managed to get their discovery back to the State University facilities and began to work on the remains in secret.

Well, almost.

Asking an academic not to share their findings is a bit like asking a cow to eat grass and not produce methane. It’s not what either were built for and if required to hold it all in for too long, both will (probably) explode. So it was with Dr B. Some have ascribed his loose talk to a collegiate sense of fair play, wanting to share his discovery with his academic peers. Others speak of an ego the size of a planet. Either way Belloq let the cat (well, dragon) out of the bag one night over a game of pool and several whiskey chasers.

Bingo! Within 12 hours, 274 crypto-zoologists had descended on the small inner-state campus and the world’s gaze turned in their direction.

Professor Jones was apoplectic; the dean of the university was delighted; Dr B was out on his ear; Doug stayed quiet and kept his head down.

That night, with all 276 scientists (Dr B was already dismissed) sitting in the students’ food hall, there was a heated discussion. Not one of those present wanted the world in on their good news. It must remain a secret. Otherwise, every school kid who could buy a bus ticket or lift a spatula would be down in Mexico digging around, messing up any new finds that there might waiting for the community.

They chose to make the ultimate sacrifice (in academic terms). They would tell the world that this was just an April Fools’ joke, and apologize for the fact that it was late – the date being April 5th.

Any of the world still watching raised one eyebrow, emitted half a chuckle and nodded  – that would be right, bloody academics; can’t even do an April Fools’ joke on time.

Since then, this group of dragonologists, have met in secret, in Iceland (a long, long way from Mexico) every decade or so (because there really isn’t enough news to keep getting together on an annual basis) to compare notes on the re-re-re-analysis of their one dragon-find.

What came out of the study of “Balloq’s Demise” also known as “Bertha” was a set of answers about what dragon’s were or were not and how they might have lived. Roughly summed up this translates into:

  1. Dragons are real – we know this, because we found one
  2. They look like enormous flying lizards (see the Horned Marsh Dragon) and share many features, not least the feet with other lizards, but also pterodactyls and birds,
  3. They were carnivorous (from the teeth)
  4. They can’t have breathed fire – Bertha’s teeth showed no heat damage
  5. The lung cavity was huge though, so perhaps the lungs were working like another reptile, such as a crocodile (does this mean dragons could swim?)
  6. They produced offspring through eggs – Bertha was pregnant. She had been carrying three eggs inside her when she died.

Of course, fifty years on, after the discovery of the dragon fossil, and there was nothing to suggest that dragons hadn’t simply disappeared along with all the other dinosaurs.

News of recent events in the Himalayas hadn’t spread.  All the authorities knew was that a calamity had occurred on or near to Annapurna II. There had been a catastrophic avalanche that three teams of locals were currently trying to dig through, so they could work out what had happened.  The mayday signal from the base camp had been garbled. Frankly, the army staff who had been on duty at 5am on that November morning in 2017, had found it difficult to follow what was being said.  They got a shock when the line cut out and sent an armed response, just to be on the safe side.  But all of this was localised and the Nepalese authorities had no desire to let any negative publicity get into the news.

On social media, there had been a set of shares of a strange, fantastical beast that was making the rounds of trekkers’ family and friends. The images were a bit hazy and badly back lit, or had a lot of light distortion in them.  A couple of conspiracy theorists had whipped up a small frenzy about how there were aliens whose presence was being kept quiet, but this storm died down pretty quickly in the absence of any evidence.

One of the trekkers at the base camp that morning, Jon Reed, a 34year old physicist from Cambridge had messaged his girlfriend, Stacey, telling her that he loved her and tried to describe what he was seeing.  Given the time difference between Nepal and home, it would be another 5 hours before she woke up to hear his final words.  Stacey tried to contact state authorities, got a petition going on Facebook and did her best to energise an investigation into what had happened to her boyfriend, from whom she’d heard nothing since.  Likewise, other relatives of the missing westerners in the US, other parts of Europe and Australia were trying to connect with officials and find some answers.  All of them operating in the hope that their loved ones were ok.

What was that animal/beast in the pictures?  Where had it come from? And, where was it now?

2. Humans and Dragons

She flew southeast, away from her safe, quiet, and empty ledge, towards other islands she remembered. Another lair waited for her; where warm air floated above gentle seas; and food was in abundance. Through the evening she beat away the air, neck outstretched as if to gain extra inches by straining forwards. As night fell, she flew by instinct, but energy was failing and she was losing speed. It was centuries since she had felt the full warmth of sun on her scales; centuries since she had eaten. She needed rest.

Beneath her,  as twilight lifted the skies, she crossed a great massif from which one conical peak stood out. Just beneath the ultimate summit was a line of rock, like a saddle, a snow-ridge, scooped out of the granite. A place to rest and oversee the world including that small collection of stone huts some few hundred metres below her. She alighted on the ridge, tired, green scales dull; her whole frame dusty and worn. Panting, she clung to the stone, eyes closed, waiting for the dawn.

The first fingers of sunlight stole across the snowy mountain face, creeping towards her. She opened her eyes and watched them slink across first her claws, then lower limbs, rising up her torso.

The dragon soaked up the warmth and power of that fresh new day. She arced her neck lifting her head to the skies, feeling those rays warming her blood, feeding her whole. Now bathed in dawn light, she transformed, like a chameleon. In that golden sunrise, gone was the flat green of her skin. The tired grey-ish beast transformed into this creature of turquoise and azure; taller, grander, fiercer. Flattened neck spines stood straight and needle-sharp, her scales curved like individual shields of carbon; flawless and iridescent.

She had been recharged: more beautiful – more terrible; more wondrous – more terrifying than ever before. Magnificent. In her rejuvenation she opened her mouth, roared, throwing flames high into the sky in a plume of triumph.

Hundreds of decades ago, before her great sleep, the dragon had fostered a profound contempt for mankind.  In those simpler times, had men seen a mountain-top dragon throwing  fire into the sky, they would have run: very fast, very far.  But times had changed.

In 2017, the collection of small huts beneath the mountain’s peak contained two types of human. The first were trekkers, bound to scale the north face of the summit she sat just below, caught up with their own sense of achievement, fighting  with nature. Second, were the indigenous people who ran the camp, fed the walkers, charged exorbitant rates for the bacteria-ridden toilets, bottled water and WiFi access. The locals worked around the visitors whilst accommodating their impatient demands, ensured their safety against optimistic thieves and looked to make an early retirement from the foolish exploits of dreamy-eyed westerners.

Locals and trekkers rose early, keen to start with the first rays and make the best use of the fleeting daylight hours for their conquests. To a man (and woman), they heard the roar. They saw the plume of flames. The trekkers reached for their smartphones; the locals for their guns.

Lowering her head to the sound of their cries, she saw beings running, in all directions. She heard their shouts. Irritated she gave fair warning sending a long, low growl towards them with a gust of hot but not dangerous air towards the settlement. She puzzled that they remained in place or came closer. Sending a second warning salvo, hotter air and a louder growl.

To no effect.

Men ran towards her, not with spears or swords, but long sticks held close to their faces, pointed in her direction. These produced small bursts of fire that did not puncture her shiny, glorious scales, but stung nonetheless. Deeply annoyed she shifted on her snowy ridge and bent lower towards them. They continued to use their fire sticks, provoking her ire.

Two humans then ran in front of the others, holding what looked like a larger fire-stick between them.  The others stopped and she observed as the stick made a loud boom, propelling a speeding orange orb that moved towards her. Recoiling, she watched the missile go past her right wing and smash into the side of the mountain bursting into flames and leaving an ugly black scar on that perfect mountainside.

Now, she was incandescent with rage. This beautiful mountain, eons old, besmirched by imbeciles. Without another thought, she inhaled deeply, holding the air until it was super-heated. Exhaling, she created a stream of flames, as if an enormous frond of red and orange montbretia was wafting in front of her. The tickling of those petals, incinerated the humans, their artillery detonating in-hand, creating explosions and bangs that augmented the blaze, pin pricks of silver light from phone cameras adding flashes to the brilliant but destructive chaos.

After the charring ceased, small dust clouds drifted where people had been, some of that black dust sinking into the pool of melted snow. “Humans!” she thought. “Limited in understanding. What they don’t understand, they abuse or destroy

The dragon pushed up and away into the morning, flapping rapidly to create an updraft and rise above the wind-sharpened peaks. As she rose, the vibrations of her wings shifted any snow left balancing on rock. Starting slowly from the top, the white blanket grew, gathered pace and density and came crashing down.  The resulting avalanche tumbled over the stone huts, smothering them completely. This silenced the radio communication that had been taking place inside, the authorities already alerted to the threat.

(Please see the next blog entry for answers to the questions: “How do dragons breathe fire?” and “How do we know dragons are real?”)