Dracon

Acid reflux

Fanciful humans lament the fact that they live on a planet overrun with dragons - but all of those dragons are miniatures. Hungry dracons lament the fact that they live on a planet overrun with fat, meaty humans - but all of those humans are giants.
Noora bon Fad, Lahjian spinster, 3006 AoR
D
racons are a family of creatures that are ubiquitous throughout all of Excilior. There are dozens of confirmed variants under the dracon family, and cognoscenti have speculated that they may comprise hundreds of distinct species. Despite this great diversity, they share a host of traits that most find reminiscent of the mythological dragon. However, anyone inclined to draw direct correlations between dracons and dragons must first acknowledge that dracons, unlike their fictional brethren, are relatively tiny. The smallest known dracon species comes in at less than 10 centimeters. The largest grows no longer than a half meter. While casterway folktales are replete with dracons that somehow managed to grow far larger (thus filling the narrative role of the legendary dragon), there is absolutely no evidence to support the idea that any dracon, of any particular species, has ever grown to such a size (or even close to it).
 
Umbrella Term
While there are dozens of identified species under the dracon umbrella, each with their own colloquial names, it's common for many casterways to simply refer to any-and-all of them as dracons. Cognoscenti, Agnoscio, and other learned types will often refer specifically to individual species (e.g., the white-tailed dracon or Lebnah's dracon or the barrow dracon). But it's perfectly acceptable in everyday parlance to simply call them all dracons.

Basic Information

Anatomy

G
iven the incredible diversity of dracon species across the planet, it's important to note the features that are common to all of their kind. These are the anatomical characteristics that define what it means for an animal to truly be a dracon. Every known dracon species:
 
  • Is between 10 centimeters and 50 centimeters in length (at maturity).
  • Has leathery and/or scaly reptilian skin.
  • Has a long tail.
  • Lays eggs.
  • Has four limbs, the front two of which are adapted into leathery wings, with some kind of hook or claw or grasping appendages on those wings which assist them while they are not in flight.
  • Can fly. There are certainly some species that have evolved to become more land-based. Some even seem to be adapting in ways that are hindering their ability to fly. But no one has yet found a dracon species that is simply incapable of flight.
  • Mates while in flight.
  • Has some kind of offensive-or-defensive capabilities based on something that is spit/propelled from their mouth. Exactly what is propelled from their mouths can vary drastically from species-to-species, but they all have some ability to propel something from their mouths.

Biological Traits

I
t's difficult to classify universal dracon traits, because the family encompasses so many unique species that have adapted to colonize a great many habitats and occupy a wide range of ecological niches. But the trait that casterways most clearly associate with dracons is that of the "breath weapon". Every dracon has the ability to spit something. This mechanism can be used for attack, or defense, or for other purposes (like construction). And there is wide variance as to exactly what each species spits. But they all spit something.
Every grisled knot of scar tissue on my body is evidence of another dracon that I gleefully batted from the sky.
Alman Irgoshov, Oneian bookbinder, 2926 AoR
Acid
The most common breath trait amongst the greatest number of dracon species, is the ability to spit acid. Casterways frequently exaggerate this ability in folklore, implying that a single, diminutive dracon can launch huge streams of acid that are powerful enough to dissolve wood - or even stone. But the reality is more mundane. Some dracons launch their acid as an offensive measure - even going so far as to target other species while in flight and then trailing the wounded prey as it plummets to the ground. Others use their acid as a purely defensive measure. And many dracon acids are formidable. If even a single dracon spits its acid upon a human's unprotected skin, it can create immediate burning and severe pain, followed by many days of tender recovery. But there is no single dracon capable of killing (or, as some casterways would refer to it - melting) a human. In fact, there is not a single recorded instance of a dracon ever managing to kill a human (by spitting acid, or by any other means). As painful as it can be to experience dracon acid, the application is small enough that it is never fatal and rarely causes any permanent effects (other than scarring). In theory, a slew of dracons could incapacitate - or even, slay - a human if they were all to launch their acid in a coordinated attack, but such behavior has never been witnessed. Further diminishing their threat is the fact that all dracon acid is not the same. A handful of species do certainly launch acid that is powerful enough to cause hissing and smoking upon contact and leading to severe pain. But many other species utilize an "acid" that is much milder and generally only aids the dracon to pre-digest those creatures that they have already killed and are waiting to consume.
 
Variety
Although nearly half of all dracons spit some kind of acid, there are many other fascinating species that have adapted to launch other substances from their mouth. The speckled dracon of Ucarania shoots a sticky glob of concentrated mucous that immobilizes its prey. The spinning dracon of the lower Hammerhorn Mountains actually emits a constant stream that almost-immediately coalesces into a flexible, durable, and sticky fiber that can be used to bind existing prey, or even to create expansive webs that snare new prey. The birdsong dracon prevalent on the Leung Peninsula launches a caustic mixture of saliva and other chemicals from special glands in its mouth that will actually travel for a short distance before literally detonating in midair. These tiny explosions are relatively harmless to humans, but they effectively stun (or, in the most accurate circumstances, dismember) potential prey. The list of fascinating adaptations of this nature seems to constantly grow and cognoscenti are always finding new substances that are spit by previously-unknown species of the dracon family.
 
Fire
Despite all these amazing evolutionary adaptions, the one thing that no one has ever witnessed coming from a dracon's mouth is: fire. Legends overflow with tale after fanciful tale of armies of tiny flying dracons floating over the landscape and reigning hellfire down upon all who cross their path. But there is absolutely no evidence to believe that any dracon has ever had the ability to breathe fire. Of course, one can be forgiven for making this leap after watching a stream of hissing acid escape a dracon's mouth and incapacitate an unfortunate critter. But the ability to launch small doses of (admittedly powerful) acid is a far cry from the mythological ability to breathe fire.

Genetics and Reproduction

Today, little Gaon started asking me why the dracons keep crashing into each other and "hugging" while they're in the sky. I had no idea how you'd prefer me to handle such inquiries. So I promptly told her to shut up.
Sorn Yang, Hetmaan cobbler, 1971 AoE
O
ne of the dracon's distinguishing characteristics is the fact that they all mate while in flight. Even for those species that have evolved into a more land-based presence, they will still take wing when it's time to spread their seed. Dracon mating displays can be stunning, often with thousands of them filling the sky during courting rituals. Fruitful pairings produce a clutch of fertilized eggs. The majority of dracons watch over these eggs and care for their young once they've hatched - with some, it is just the mother, but with others, this duty is shared by both parents.

Growth Rate & Stages

S
maller species tend to reach their full size very quickly. Given proper nutrition, some attain their adult form in 60 days or less. Larger species will continue growing for up to a year. Once they've hatched, most endure an adolescent phase where they are incapable of flight. During this time, they are incredibly vulnerable to predators and are typically reliant upon meals delivered by a parent. This pre-flight phase can last anywhere from 5 to 30 days.

Ecology and Habitats

A
n abundance of distinct dracon species means that they have evolved to have a presence in nearly every possible habitat. The specialization of each species also means that there may be as many as a dozen different types of dracon living in any given area at any particular time. Their ecological niches may occasionally overlap, but more often than not, each dracon species within a region operates autonomously from, and in no conflict with, any of the other local variants. There are no known aquatic dracons, but there are certainly dracons that live very near the water and are specially adapted to hunt aquatic prey. Their small bodies cannot handle the extended cold at the extreme heights of the Hammerhorn Mountains, but their habitats extends to the very edge of the treeline. Some species are well adapted for snyres and they are even known to range into the Ontorlands while hunting prey.

Dietary Needs and Habits

M
ost dracons are carnivores, but a handful of species in cooler southern climates are known to be occasionally omnivorous and there is at least one known variant confirmed to be herbivorous. They will scavenge when necessary, but most prefer to capture and eat live prey. The volume they consume is roughly correlated with the type of prey and the frequency with which they take to the air. Those species that spend more time in flight must subsequently find a greater volume of prey to meet their energy needs. This larger volume is typically met by eating a greater number of small animals - especially, insects. Dracons that feed off larger animals eat less frequently and take flight only sparingly.

Additional Information

Domestication

P
et dracons have been a particular fascination in many casterway societies for centuries on end. Taming and/or rearing dracons is far from easy and highly impractical. They are not generally seen as good companions and their natural proclivity to take flight makes it challenging to keep them in a human's presence - and even more difficult to get them to a state where they will accept being grounded on-or-near humans. Those who have domesticated one of the acid-spitting varieties can be assured of absorbing numerous corrosive projectiles over the tedious process of taming the angry fliers. For this reason, those dracon species that do not vomit caustic chemicals are much more likely to be domesticated. Even in those instances where a dracon is thoroughly tamed, the creature typically does nothing that could be spun as being a benefit to its master. In the best case scenario, the docile dracon will just sit there, perched and waiting for some excuse to take flight.
When I was a lass, old Trinawat treated me - and everyone else - like absolute crap. He was surly and rude and quick with a switch. But he had a dracon on his shoulder - a goddamn dracon - that spit angry acid at anyone who dared get too close. And that man was my hero.
Mae Noi Wattan, Tumpian reeve, 3325 AoG
Status
Despite all these drawbacks, there is just a certain type of undeniable panache one acquires from having a living dracon looming on one's shoulder. Although the acid-flingers make some of the most problematic "pets", this attribute also puts them in high demand amongst those who want to project an image as a bonafide badass. This also marks dracon ownership as a clear and blatant sign of status. Any run-of-the-mill arbyr chief can spring for some choice finery or indulge the local bigwigs in an indulgent feast. But only the most audacious of power brokers conduct their daily business with a dracon perched on their shoulder. A rare handful of casterways have cultivated the skills necessary to supply tame dracons to a market in high demand. And those skills are certainly well-compensated.

Uses, Products & Exploitation

W
hile dracons hold an outsized influence in casterway lore, humans have found precious few practical uses for them. They can, theoretically, be eaten, but their meat is not of any particular favor, the effort to catch and prepare them is not considered worth the reward, and butchering dracons always carries a risk of receiving a nasty acid burn for those who aren't well trained in how to handle them. While there can be some value in their hides, which are often colorful and exceptionally resistant, their small size and difficulty to harvest, makes them rare choices for skinning and tanning. For those cultures that do not appreciate the usefulness of the bottonfly, they have found it helpful to foster dracon habitats around their dwellings - because dracons will hunt the bottonflies and can tamp down the pests' population.

Facial characteristics

M
ost dracons have long snouts with prominent nostrils. Although their teeth look diminutive, they are extremely sharp and should not be taken lightly. Dracon bites can easily draw blood or even lead to lost digits. Nearly two-thirds of dracon species feature some kind of horns, although the nature and "style" of those horns varies wildly. For some species, they can be a pair of singular spikes pointing backward from the temple. For others, they can almost seem like antlers. And yet for others, they feature multiple peaks that all point forward.

Geographic Origin and Distribution

A
ll of Excilior's continents are home to some assortment of dracons. Individual species can be confined to tight geographical regions, or they can range across an entire continent. The more confined the habitat, the more specialized the particular dracon species.

Average Intelligence

O
wing to their implicit connection to dragon mythology, many casterways across numerous cultures have placed an aura of higher intelligence on the creatures. Fairy tales featuring dracons usually describe them speaking and acting in an entirely intelligent manner. Most adult casterways understand these stories for what they are - fanciful yarns. But this doesn't stop the typical layperson from ascribing unnatural intelligence to the little beasts.
 
Animal Intelligence
The truth of the matter is far less tantalizing. Through extensive observation, by many different researchers, over the span of millennia, cognoscenti are now convinced that the average dracon is no more intelligent than any other "average" animal. Like everything else in the dracons' broad menagerie of subspecies, there are some noticeable differences in intelligence between one species and the next. For example, the bog dracon prevalent in the Hinterlands is known to be easily tricked and incapable of solving even basic puzzles. In contrast, the rainbow dracon from the Sentinnarean region demonstrates behavior while stalking prey that has been characterized as outright clever. But even the most advanced dracons, with the highest cognitive abilities, can only be reasonably considered "intelligent" in the context of other base animals.

Civilization and Culture

Common Myths and Legends

G
iven the creatures' uncanny resemblance to the dragons of casterway lore, dracons feature prominently in a great many legends. In fact, some of these legends are told so commonly that the average layperson cannot distinguish between all the fanciful attributes of mythical dracons versus the biological truths of real-life dracons. Especially in rural regions, there are plenty of casterways who would be incredulous at the idea that dracons can't talk, or that they don't breath fire.
I'm telling you. Just as a baby becomes a man. And a seedling becomes a canopeia. There must be some way to coax a dracon into a full-scale leviathan of destruction. And the first person to crack that code will bathe in the blood of their enemies.
Agarthi Somina, Kalan Agnoscio, 2666 AoR
Dreaming of Dragons
There are also numerous half-legends of devious researchers and mad scientists who have found ways to coax dracons into growing far, far larger. The idea that anyone has actually discovered any way to breed (or otherwise produce) giant dracons is most certainly a legend, with not a shred of empirical evidence to support it. But there is little doubt that many people throughout time - most prominently, the Agnoscio - have indeed made repeated attempts to create a larger, more formidable dracon. Some of these are simple breeding initiatives. Some have involved occult practices. And some have even tried chemical and biological means to crack the "secret" of dracon physiology, all in the hopes of birthing their own personal monster. In terms of verifiable outcomes, there is no doubt that people have occasionally bred a handful of larger-than-normal specimens, but no one has ever come close to producing a dragon from the modest seed of a real-life dracon.

Pronunciation DRAKK-uhn
Scientific Name
Dracorius
Lifespan
15 years
Average Height
5-25 centimeters
Average Weight
0.3-2.0 kilograms
Average Length
10-50 centimeters
Body Tint, Colouring and Marking
Coloring is one of the most striking features across the myriad dracon species. Each variant has their own color scheme and it does not waver within the species. But from one species to the next, there are massive variations in color and pattern. One species is all white. Another features chromacolor stripes against black scales. Some are masters of camouflage, even including the ability to change colors according to their environment and any perceived threats. Stripes and speckles are not uncommon. Many have wings of one brilliant hue, with bodies of contrasting tones. As a group, dracons are quite colorful indeed.

Comments

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30 Aug, 2019 23:13

I love the level of detail you put into your dragons!

Sage bytebodger
Adam Nathaniel Davis
31 Aug, 2019 03:37

Thank you so much! Given that this is, technically, a lost-tech/sci-fi kind of environment (although the civilizations are primitive), I didn't originally have any desire to have dragons at all. But then I started thinking, "What if there were many different variations of dragon-like critters - but they're all TINY?"   I'm glad you enjoyed the article!

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