Dragon Anatomy and Muscular Structure
By Renee LeCompte *Maggock*
So, you clicked on this link, you must want to know about a dragon's muscular structure? Now, before I get started, I want to say one thing. Since dragons are open to many interpretations, and look wildly different at times, this guide may or may not be for you. I attempt to break down the anatomy of the classical western dragon in such a way that it might conceivably be able to function. I also know I'm no animal anatomy major, heck, I'm justa kid! So my illustrations may not be entirely accurate or even possible. But I tried, and I looked at more than a few books for references, and I hope I have something that will help a few people. This also is not exactly an article for beginners. I don't say 'this is how you draw a dragon'. I don't give very many directions at all! But if you have any basic knowledge on drawing dragons, this should help!
What is a Classical Dragon?
|What?!? You don't know what a classical western dragon is? Put simply, it is a scaled reptilian like beast generally seen with two forelegs, two wings, and two hind legs. A perfect example (and what I used as a model) would be Draco from Dragonheart. What!!? You haven't seen Dragonheart?!? Then get ye gone, foul -- I mean, I've graciously provided a picture for you to view. As you can see, he has all the characteristics of the classical dragon.
(If you want to see more Draco pictures, go here!)
From the Inside Out
The best way to figure out the anatomy of any creature is to work from the inside out. That is, from the skeleton to the muscles to the skin. Below is a skeletal system, modeled from a cheetah, giraffe, and various birds. You can click on any picture to enlarge it.
The Skull and Neck
As you can see, I've included both a long and short neck version of the dragon, mostly because the muscular structure of the two is vastly different. Since I based my dragon skeleton on that of a mammal, the neck only has seven vertebrae, no matter what the length. The teeth in this picture are also mammalian teeth.
Front and Back
|The front end, I suppose what many people would call the tough area, because it contains the area of anatomy for which there is no earthly equivalent. If you would keep in mind for a minute the immense breast muscles on a bird, you'll realize the configuration to the right is impossible. There is barely any room at all for the flight muscles. the configuration below (in my opinion anyway) is much more accurate.
As you can see, I completely separated the flight bones from the foreleg bones to allow for the largest possible flight muscles. The front section is modeled after a light agile cheetah (though the dragon would theoretically have hollow bones to allow for less weight). The back section is modeled after a hawk. I found it impossible to combine the two sections as each bone is necessary for the operation of the different muscles. For example, the large flight muscles need both the wishbone and keel for anchorage. The back end of the dragon was a fairly simple thing to figure out, since it is not exceptionally different like the front end. It is essentially the hind end of a cheetah with a slightly modified tail.
The wings were not too difficult to figure out either. There are two types though, a bat wing and a bird wing. (Note that the fingers are cut off in the bat wing) Each different type of wing has its own strengths and weaknesses. I neglected to illustrate a pterosaur wing, mostly because it is rarely drawn on a dragon. Wings are also mostly bony, not overly many muscles on them, so I didn't draw musculature studies for them.
Fleshing out the Beast
The Skull and Neck (Once again)
The skull, as you can see, has powerful muscles surrounding the jaw, giving the dragon an immensely powerful bite. If you will notice, I also drew these two dragons with reptilian teeth. The neck of the short dragon is based on that of a cheetah, once again. The muscular structure of the long necked dragon was a bit more difficult. I decided to base it on that of a giraffe (though now I think I should have based it on a snake!).
Back and Front
Once again, the front end of the dragon was quite a bit more difficult to create than the back end. It required both the combination of cheetah and hawk muscles. The result is quite complex, so I highly recommend clicking on the image to view the larger version. The dragon does not have a lot of flexible toward the flight muscles, because to the necessary rigidity of the spinal column. The back end of the dragon, once again, is modeled directly from a cheetah with only slight modifications in the tail. You can actually see some of the muscles on the wings in this picture too.
The Last Step (Skin)
|Skin is essentially a thin, well, skin over the muscles. Be sure not to make your dragon overly muscled. Good reference pictures to look at would be, of course Draco, or my own musculature studies. Another good artist to study from would be Martin Knuth. He has excellent knowledge of both draconian and gryphon anatomy.
These musculature studies can be used for dragons, gryphons, even humanoid creatures with wings, with a sufficient amount of modification.
Another good article on the anatomy of dragons can be found here.
A Few More Thoughts...
Okay, this little section is really getting into my own thoughts and ramblings.... Now, obviously even with the large flight muscles, this dragon could not conceivably be able to fly. It needs even larger flight muscles, wings, and less mass in order to do so. So, my challenge to you is to make a unique dragon that would be able to fly (or glide) After a length of thought, I came up with my own. It is still a uniquely different creature, and still large and powerful, but I think it could fly. It does not have any hind legs, because I don't think that they are really essential to the dragon. So what do you think? Have any better ideas? Let me know! :)
| ||Cheetahs (Zoobooks Series) by Wildlife Education Ltd Staff|
Actually, I recommend looking at any Zoobook! They have wonderful skeleton and musculature drawing of the animal, and they're quite cheap, when compared to other books.
| ||Eagles (Zoobooks)|
Another Zoobook, this one covering the eagle. I love these books!
| ||Ostriches and Other Ratities (Zoobooks)|
Okay one more Zoobook, this one on Ostriches!
| ||Eyewitness: Eagles & Birds of Prey|
I have to admit, childrens books seem to be your best bet for nice musculature studies. This particular book goes quite a bit more in depth than the Zoobook on eagles.
| ||Eyewitness: Cat|
Same story. This goes more in depth than the Zoobook on cheetahs. Also quit interesting to read!
FARP Article Guestbook
|12 Aug 2011|| Anon.|
Back legs as wings is an interesting idea, but keep in mind that a large proportion of any animal’s weight is supported over the front half - the head and thorax. In flight this would mean the dragon would be flying with its bum in the air and its head pointed down, not ideal for controlled flight
|1 Nov 2011|| MegaDragon|
|25 Dec 2011|| Anon.|
Dragons are tricky to make fly, i do not believe your dragon with back wings could. It might end up flying backwards or something. I suggest a small dragon, maby twice the size of a lab dog, that was lightly built with no front legs. Gas used for flight is an interesting idea and could also explain fire, but it does not seem that realistic in an animal.
|12 Feb 2012|| DragonZap|
I think that hind legs are essential becuase outherwise they couldn`t jump up from hte gorund (if they fall to it) high enough for flight, Aslo, you didn`t include the holow snout required to hold cihmicals that interacts with nitrogen and uses the oxigen in the air as fuel. they need frount legs too, to balence while takeing off. also, you forgot the spines, and scales (hollow scales of corce). the horns and spines i think wouldn`t be hollow though, nor the teet, more powerfull that way, and they would have from 3-5 conectors in there wings. btw i have watched dragonheart.
|12 Feb 2012|| DragonZap|
sodum gass would be in there maw, or the cavity in there head and they would have oil pouches of a spacific type of clorein and its sliva would be made of the same substan in oder fo them not to light on fire.
|17 Feb 2012|| Anon.|
Hummingbirds cannot realistically fly, either. Yet they do. Same with dragons.
|16 May 2012|| Anon.|
although your points on making room for flight muscles are totally valid and reasonable, you appear to have neglected to take into consideration the balance and rest of the body. the skin and webbing of the wings would cause him to fly with his back to the direction he was going and his head down. it would look like a kid holding his toy dragon by the tail and making it ’fly’. also if he were to fly using diff techniques from bats or birds, it would be less efficient. you should check this out: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/04/bat-wings-flight/#m- ore-105709 dragons are extremely similar to bats. I’m doing a whole project on dragon kinesiology, skeletal structure, and aspects like that. I’ve been using this as a source. Thanks
|26 Aug 2012|| Anon.|
WHO LIKES RPSSS
|20 Jun 2013|| Thomas|
Dragons could use hydrogen to breathe fire but also to make themselves lighter.
|30 Sep 2013|| Anon.|
Thank you sooo much!
I was trying to create a dragon-like creature, and this really helped. ;3
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