So there I am, having a biological discussion with my wife over the feasibility of having dragons as mounts. This conversation lasts quite a while as she matches my draconic lore against her Biology Degree. It is a contest of wits, I must admit, that I was forced to accept defeat. Given the principles of domestication, the dietary demands of a dragon, and the lack of a unified definition of constitutes a dragon, I could not win. Then, quite to my surprise, my wife then handed me the answer to how dragon riders could exist. I take this answer, and I give it to the Citadel in the form of a challenge…
The Challenge is deceptively simple, create a believable submission with a herbivorous dragon.
Below are listed the principles of domestication, a draconic comparison, a discourse on dragon diet, and some questions to answer on vegetarianism and dragons.
The Anna Karina Principle
According to the Anna Karina Principle put down by Jared Diamond in his book Guns, Germs, and Steel, An animal must have several key attributes to make it a suitable cantidate for domestication. These traits are why horses and dogs have become our pets, and why tigers and elephants remain wild and undomesticated. The AK Principles are as follows:
1. Diet - A potential domesticate must have an agreeable diet, non-picky omnivores are best, followed by non-picky herbivores.
2. Growth Rate - To be feasible, the domesticate must have a reasonably quick growth rate. Horses are mature in 3 years, dogs and cats in one, and generally in between for the rest of livestock.
3. Captive Breeding - The domesticate must be breedable in captivity.
4. Nasty Disposition - A domesticate must be placable and at least semi-docile. This is why Zebras were not domesticated, given their nasty temper.
5. Tendency to Panic - When confronted with danger, there is a survival mechanism of Fight or Flight. Animals that are automatically set to flight are poor cantidates, as are species that are automatically set to fight. Hence the reason that deer and bear are not domesticated.
6. Social Structure - Loner animals are poor domesticates as they do not have an instinctive social organization, and rarely interact well with other members of their species.
Dragons and Domestication
Without exception, the traditional Occidental Dragon fails all of the AK requirements. While there might be some measure of leeway, given the rather loose parameters of what a dragon is, the basics are pretty much the basics.
1. Carnivore - Dragons make sport of eating livestock, virginal maidens, and valiant knights. This makes them a poor choice for domestication, as a semi-tame dragon can slip the proverbial leash and start eating it’s handlers, trainers, and riders.
2. Slow Growing - In the majority of settings, Dragons are long lived and slow growing. It is a poor mount that takes a century to reach a size large enough to ride. Another aspect is that with a slow growth rate comes a slow rate of reproduction, so there losses in combat would be hard to replace. The loss of a group of dragon knights could take a century or longer to replace, simply in terms of mounts.
3. Breeding is a touchly subject as not many people have dwelt too long on the basics of dragon courtship, mating, and reproduction. I my be assuming a bit too much here but I suspect that Dragon mating is an ugly and violent thing. I doubt this would translate well in captivity.
4. Dragons are the epitome of nasty dispositions, being walking and flying, fire spewing, armor clad living war engines. Injured animals quickly turn on their own masters, and a toy dog can leave bites that take stitches to close up. Now imagine a multi-ton fire breathing lizard with half a sword stuck in it’s foot and the poor bastards trying to get the sword out without getting mauled for making it hurt worse.
5. If dragons had a tendancy to run away rather than stay and fight, there might be a shred of of hope for domestication, instead the basic aggressive nature of the occidental dragon meets a challenge or adversary with displays of strength and force. It is said among horse riders that the rider will always loose a physical contest against his horse. If a rider attempted a physical contest against a dragon, he is much more likely to end up dead.
6. With remote lairs and large hunting ranges, dragons are also loners by nature. this makes social interaction difficult, both between the humans and the dragon to be domesticated, and between other dragons who are being domesticated.
Assuming that all of the above problems were solved, and dragons were indeed domesticated, there remains a bloody mess of a problem. Dragons are large carnivores, and given their level of activity and fire breathing and whatnot- their caloric demands are going to be massive. If a dragon were to consume a fifth of it’s body weight (assuming a 30 foot long, five ton dragon) it eats an entire cow in one sitting. Multiply this by the number of times a week the dragon needs to eat, then times the number of dragons to be domesticated, and the numbers quickly become unsustainable.
There is the counter-point of having only a small number of dragons. This would reduce the strain on local livestock, but creates another problem. Domestication is an ongoing process of breeding animals for desireable traits, and in the case of dragons it would be managable dispositions, submissiveness, and acceptance of human dominance. If the breeding pool is too small, then inbreeding becomes a significant problem, creating dragons that might be considered domesticated, but would have mental issues, compromised immune systems, and other biological defects.
Some Herbivorous Q&A
A herbivorous dragon (what an odd concept) would likely be much more likely to accept domestication for the creation of Dragon mounts. While this would make the beast much more likely to serve as a mount, it brings up some basic questions:
1. Will a herbivorous dragon retain it’s wings? Does it still need to fly?
2. Will a herbivorous dragon retain it’s breath weapon?
3. Assuming smart animal intelligence, would a herbivorous dragon have magic, or magical abilities?
4. Is there a difference between the herbivorous dragon and a herbivore dinosaur? (I only add this question because an iguanadont or hadrosaur would pretty much be a herbivorous dragon, and that is more Dinotopia than Swords and Sorcery)
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