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In Praise of the Rare and Unusual.

Not on one strand are all life’s jewels strung.
…William Morris

Jabberwocky

As many of you know, the world of Dragons is divided between the True Dragons (Western, Eastern, and Feathered) and the pseudo or lesser dragons.[1] While the Big Three get most of the press, it is their lesser kin who most people come across on a daily basis and who effect their lives on a local level.

As with politics, so with Dragons: All Dragons are local.

So, on Jabberwocky Appreciation Day, we tip our hats to the rare and unusual the little known and oft-forgot gems of the draconic world.

Enumerating the more exotic pseudo dragons is a labor that would make Hercules go all fetal and suck his thumb. So I won’t even try. But I would like to talk briefly about two classes of p-ds, tree-skimmers and diggers, and trust that curiosity will lead you further. (House dragons get their own special day.)

Tree-skimmers, like the ropen and iaculus, are a family of small to medium-sized dragons presumed to be offshoots of the proto-dragons who survived the Triassic-Jurassic Extinction and took to the trees for safety and snacks. Found in broad-leaf, old-growth forests from temperate zones to the tropics, they seldom – if ever – descend to the forest floor. And why should they when everything from roost to nuts is right at their wingtips.

Hanging tree dragon – eternalseven

As we raze their natural habitats, these elusive fliers have adapted to jungles of concrete and steel becoming positively cosmopolitan. They dine on rats, pigeons, squirrels, and in harbor sites, gulls, joining birds of prey to keep those we consider vermin in check. Finding essential greens is more difficult. Taking advantage of human wastefulness, dragons will go dumpster-diving around supermarkets and restaurants as the need arises. More brazen individuals have been known to make aerial attacks on fruit stands and farmers’ markets, picking off choice bok choy or muskmelons and vanishing in a flash.

Die Male Doms – Home of Amazons

Urban dracophiles intent upon spotting tree-skimmers would do well to get good pairs of binoculars and look up, particularly in the great cities of Europe with their mighty Gothic cathedrals and palaces. Perched among granite gargoyles, they will sit for hours, camouflaged from all save the most discerning eye. In New World metropolises, with their hard-edged skyscrapers, the dragons are considerably more conspicuous. They must count on human ignorance, which lets them pass for large avians—or even fruit bats in the right climate—and, in the United States, remnants of the nineteenth century’s Gothic Revival, which provide welcome, if rare, retreats.

Where skimmers are above, diggers are below. Solid, powerful, usually wingless, diggers range from legless to four-footed and are often equipped with venom in fangs, quills, frills, and spurs. Though used as defenses of last resort, combined with the fact that they have been severely misused by humans through the millennia, this does make creatures like India’s Golkonda gota and the Chilean copperback potentially lethal.

Copperback profile

With talons slicing through hardpan like butter, diggers tunneled deep underground, exposing veins of ore and lodes of gems.[2] To the uninformed and avaricious, this looked as though they’re not only collecting riches but actually dwelling in jewel-encrusted abodes. One thing leading to another, in no time at all, these simple, unassuming creatures became fabled hoarders with caches sure to make Croesus weep with envy. Despite the fiction at its core, this hypothesis soon became part of the draconic canon. Of course, while sparklies may contribute to a burrow’s décor they’re hardly worth risking life and limb for. Digger aggression – which is well documented – is a result of guarding families – not fortunes – from unwelcome guests. Since we’ve been plundering their homes for millennia, a hostile reception is no less than we deserve.dragon_SELFS

Since Neolithic times, canny digger-watching has been a sure route to riches with which even modern metal detectors and radiographs can’t compete. Copper and iron for tools, gold, silver, and colorful crystals for currency and status, their burrows accessed treasures our ancestors had theretofore not even imagined. Timna ouroboros, once abundant between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba, were instrumental in Solomon’s mining operations; Yowah growlers unearthed mounds of opals in Queensland; and lindworm trails from Zarafshan to Orapa have led people to jade, diamonds, rainbows of precious beryl, and, of modern interest, promethium, thorium, and other rare elements.

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Today, the largest of the diggers are gone, victims of urban expansion and modern mining methods. It was impossible for them to survive when we blew the tops off their mountains and stripped the earth bare. Smaller species can still be found, often taking up residence in shafts once theirs, then ours, now theirs again. A cosmic cycle of survival. In the U.K., for example, abandoned tin mines are particular favorites of the Cornish tyr druics—earth dragons[3]—bipedal diggers three-meters long with vestigial winglets, spatulate tails, stubby legs, and nostril and mental scales modified into hard beaks, together as useful as backhoes for moving through rock and soil. Every now and then, when the moon is full, they can be spotted ambling across Bodmin moor, their eyes shimmering with moonshine.

dragonsnake010

As any cryptohistorian can tell you, humans owe these terrestrial prowlers a great debt, one which we have fallen far short in repaying. That they have not taken us to task for our dereliction speaks volumes about their natures. Still, use due diligence when exploring caves and old shafts, and keep a discreet distance from any digger you espy. They are understandably skittish and even the smallest can take off an intrusive limb with ease.

This is just the tip of the pseudo-dragon iceberg. As you walk through the world, keep your eyes open. Look up and down; take great care when spelunking  (packing a bag of dragon treats is always a good idea) or swimming unknown waters. Treasure the diversity of pseudo dragons.

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[1] More popular pseudo dragons like drakes, lake dragons, and wyverns are often confused with True Dragons but this is an apocryphal association at best.

[2] The Horta from of the “Devil in the Dark” episode of Star Trek was clearly an alien variation on the digger dragons of Earth. Unfortunately, many dragon species did not fare as well as this prolific tunneler of Janus VI.

[3] The ancestors of Cornish tyr druics are believed to have been Gallic guivres who crossed the Channel ahead of Julius Caesar’s attempted conquest of Britain (55-54 BCE). Unlike their French cousins, there were not blamed for spreading plagues and pestilence, a minor distinction when it came to landing on slayers’ lists. Being dragons was more than enough cause. It is possible that the 6th-centruy dragon St. Petroc encouraged to leave Padstow was a hapless guivre eager to return to Brittany.

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