Dragons are awe-inspiring patchwork creatures found in the myths and legends of cultures all around the world. In Europe, they are nightmarish fire-spewing reptiles, large and lizard-like, with the forked tongue of a snake and wings like a bat. In the legends, they are reviled and feared because they liked to imprison maidens, destroy villages and hoard over mountains of gold.
In the ancient cultures of Mexico and South America, a divine feathered serpent known by various names was believed to renew the world after each cycle of destruction.
In China, dragons are amphibious creatures that dwell in oceans, lakes, rivers and even raindrops. They are revered as life-giving symbols of fortune and fertility, capable of unleashing rain in times of drought. They are animal mosaics, possessing the body of a snake, the scales of a fish, the talons of an eagle, the antlers of a stag, and the face of a gilin--another mythical creature that resembles a deer but whose body is wreathed in flames.
Despite their differences, many of the mythical dragons found throughout the world all began as vague serpentine ideas modeled after real creatures, beginning with a snake or some other fearsome reptile. Over time, they acquired more definite and exotic shapes as they absorbed the hopes and superstitions of the local people and borrowed the traits of local animals.
Our short list of creatures and natural phenomenon reveal what may have inspired the look of dragons as well as creatures that are truly dragon-like.
-- Ker Than