Something I meant to write about a while ago - Animal Planet had a special on about a month ago - Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real
. I thought it was pretty interesting. It was done as a sort of fictional documentary, with the premise of scientists finding a frozen dragon in a glacier, and how they would go about studying such a creature. It also looked at dragons in real
history - almost every human culture seems to have some kind of dragon mythology
. What if they actually did exist?
The makers consulted with biologists and paleontologists about how dragons would work if they had, and used the same animation that they've used previously for dinosaurs. The result was a fairly realistic-seeming animal. A complaint I heard before it aired was that the animators had made the dragon's wings too small for them to actually fly; this was explained by showing the discovery of internal air sacs which held hydrogen gas, produced by bacteria used in digestion and
a chemical reaction involving the chewing of platinum-bearing ores (sounds like somebody on the team had been reading Anne McCaffrey, although her dragons used phosphorous, I think).
They also came up with two different lineages, although both were based on a dinosaur ancestor (I think); the bipedal dragons, whose forelimbs formed their wings, and the quadrupedal dragons (two pairs of legs and a pair of wings) who evolved later from a sea-dwelling animal. Although aesthetically I prefer the look of the latter type of dragon, I had a harder time buying it; only because every vertebrate existing now is based on a pattern of four limbs. Between my Mammology and my Comparative Vertebrate Physiology classes, I can't think of one that isn't. Put it on another planet, where evolution followed another path, and maybe I'll buy it. However, then I'd have to kick that suspension of disbelief into gear, since evolution somewhere else is likely to follow a completely different course - and resemblance to anything terrestrial is unlikely. What, SOD is already engaged? Oh well, no biggie, then...(edit
: further exploration of their website
revealed this inspiration for a pair of extra limbs, although it seems a little simplistic:
Fantasy Fact: Dragons were six-limbed creatures as a result of genetic mutation.
Scientific Inspiration: All land vertebrates have two pairs of limbs — arms, legs, wings or flippers. Some amphibians and reptiles may have fewer than four limbs, but even these show the full complement in their embryonic or larval stages. No modern vertebrate has more than four.
Flies have a single pair of wings. In the fruit fly (Drosophila), a single genetic mutation in a gene called ultrabithorax (Ubx) acts in the cells of the third thoracic segment to produce a second pair of wings from what would have been a pair of knoblike balancing organs. Flies carrying the mutated Ubx gene, therefore, have four wings.
A number of genes are known to control developmental processes by regulating other genes. Some of these are called homeobox, or Hox, genes, and it is theoretically possible that mutated Hox genes in vertebrates could produce a supplementary pair of limbs. This might explain how dragons came to have two pairs of legs and a pair of wings.
However, if I remember my entomology correctly, all insects have four wings. A fly's second pair of wings however, have morphed into to the balancing organs that give them such great control over their flight, so it's not such a stretch for them to mutate back into functioning wings. Vertebrates are occasionally born with extra limbs, but usually they would be a hindrance rather than an advantage, and thus not be passed on to offspring. If they did
According to the narrative, dragons existed until as recently as feudal Europe. The conclusion of the show follows a rare female Mountain dragon through mating (after the fashion of eagles), keeping her egg warm,and raising her daughter, until both are slain by the local short-sighted, territorial human protecting the livestock. A sad end to a magnificent, if mythological species, and too like the history of many real
It helped that Patrick Stewart did the narration. I would watch a documentary on rocks growing if he narrated it.