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EDIT: After reading alot of great suggestions I've decided that these dragons will be a mix between warm-blooded and cold blooded animals. They stalk their prey and ambush them along well traveled paths or funnels. They do not chase and prefer to conserve energy. Thanks again.

I am working on a short story inspired by hunter/conservationist Jim Corbett. I am taking what I love from Corbett's tales and placing them in a medieval fantasy world where the protagonist hunts man-eating Dragons and Griffins.

My problem lies in the behavior of these dragons. How would they hunt? Would they stick to the reptilian fashion of waiting for prey to pass within striking distance? Or would they take a more mammalian approach and actively stalk and pursue prey?

These dragons have no supernatural element to them and are somewhere between 7-10 feet long with snake-like bodies, short legs and of course, a set of wings. Their habitat is predominantly forested foothills littered with river valleys and agricultural land. Their eyesight and hearing is close to a human, but their sense of smell is far better. They prefer to hunt between dusk and dawn.

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  • $\begingroup$ Do your dragons like to lie in the sun all day like snakes, or does it prefer to fly around all the time like a bird? What doe they eat? Do they have fangs? Use poison? Coil around their prey? Do they digest quickly or slowly? Flight would suggest their eyes are stronger than their noses, like birds. True? How about their hearing? $\endgroup$ – JBH Jan 6 '18 at 3:13
  • $\begingroup$ I was thinking they are warm-blooded. They prefer to walk most of the time but have the ability to fly (not long distance). They subsist mostly on deer and wild pig, but this particular dragon has some kind of wound or sickness that does not allow it to hunt its normal prey, so it has begun hunting humans instead. Their eyesight is much like ours as is their hearing, but their sense of smell is excellent. $\endgroup$ – JMark Jan 6 '18 at 8:17
  • $\begingroup$ :-) I'm sorry to make you do it, but plese edit your question with these clarifications. It's actually quite difficult to read through comments to find all this information. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – JBH Jan 6 '18 at 15:13
  • $\begingroup$ How is your dragon different from a wyvern? Why does a 7-10 ft long flying creature pose genuine threat to a human and isn't threatened by a human in turn? Qaudropedal land animals can afford to weight more and be stronger than a human at comparable sizes, a flying one can not. $\endgroup$ – Nick Dzink Jan 11 '18 at 23:24
  • $\begingroup$ They are threatened by humans. The whole point of a man-eating creature is that they lose some or all of that fear, making them dangerous. With dragons, some creative license is required. If we were to throw out all the tropes in favor of realism, we would end up with a big snake. An animal doesn't necessarily have to be stronger than a person to be a threat if they have the proper weapons, claws and teeth for example. $\endgroup$ – JMark Jan 13 '18 at 0:23
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How your dragons behave will largely be up to how they are built biologically, especially since there isn't a supernatural element. This is obviously up to you, but here is a quick rundown of the typical lifestyles of these types of animals based on organisms that actually exist (or used to exist).

Endothermic or Ectothermic?

Here's really your largest factor in terms of general behavior. Endo and ectothermic refer to how an animal gets its body heat, and, in general, this affects how they act. Think of your run-of-the-mill reptile for instance. Reptiles (for the most part if we aren't talking about anything extinct) are ectothermic, which just means that they get their body heat from an outside source. In reptiles, this results in an animal that is less active when the weather is cooler, which lends itself to a lifestyle of basking and waiting for prey to pass by, as you mentioned. Mammals, birds, and possibly non-avian dinosaurs however are (and were in the case of the dinosaurs) endothermic, meaning that they generate their own heat, which lends itself to a more active lifestyle.

Hip and Leg Posture

This may not seem all that important, but it really is. Many of the endothermic and active animals I mentioned early have a very particular hip structure, which allows them to stand directly upright (like a human being for instance). This stance gives them an advantage over animals with sprawled legs, allowing them to run faster and for longer. This would again contribute to a more active lifestyle.

Flight

The exact form of flight you want your dragons to use may also hint at a likely lifestyle for them. Birds (and likely the ancient pterosaurs of the Mesozoic) have extremely developed brains to help process the overload of information that comes with powered flight. Not only that, but powered flight takes a lot of energy and endurance, hinting at an endothermic animal (though there may be outliers). If your dragons have powered flight, I'd say its pretty likely that they would follow this trend. However, there are other avenues to take here. If you aren't as on board with an active lifestyle, two types of endothermic animals have also taken to the air: the draco lizards (Draco) and the flying tree snakes (Chrysopelea). Both of these groups of animals have developed "wings" made of ribs with specialized skin and muscle forming a sort of parachute that can be extended at will to glide between high places like trees. So, if your dragons need to be more inactive and able to fly or glide at the same time, "rib wings" might be perfect for their snake like builds, as long as they can find a high place to leap from.

In Conclusion

If your dragons are ectothermic and slink around on sprawled legs or glide on draco lizard like "rib wings", they would seem to be more likely to hunt in a less active fashion, striking out in short, quick bursts of speed. However, if your dragons are endothermic, with carefully controlled flight, then I'd say a more active mode of hunting, such as dive bombing or long distance running is pretty likely.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks so much for your comment. I was aware of ecto vs endo, and have done a good bit of research on them. However, you explained them perfectly! I am siding more with endothermic. The common fairy tale dragon seems very endothermic to me. Thanks again. $\endgroup$ – JMark Jan 6 '18 at 8:03
  • $\begingroup$ really the more you have decided on the anatomy of your creatures the more you already know their behavior, the two are fairly tightly linked. $\endgroup$ – John Jan 7 '18 at 3:47
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks again. I was doing a little research and came across the theory that dinosaurs might have been "luke-warm blooded" or mesothermic, allowing for a creature to be sort of in-between. I really like this theory and think it might work. $\endgroup$ – JMark Jan 7 '18 at 20:11
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Carrion feeders

Reptiles love them some carrion, and wings are the perfect way to get around. Imagine your dragons as the world's biggest vultures, chasing mere birds out of the way and commandeering carcasses. This would work well in locations with a lot of meat on the hoof, like tropical grasslands, or along big herd migration routes.

Deep sea fishermen

If they are snake-like, then they might be able to swim as well as ... well ... sea snakes. This would give them the ability to scout out big shoals of fish. The advantage of being on wings means they can find sardines or anchovies before the sharks and tunas and other waterbound competition does. Once there they can dive and swim to get what they can. Especially if they attack in groups, they should have success herding the fish into schools and rounding them up.

Glide bombing

A good low energy attack method is to glide downwards at your prey, faster than your prey can move. From a great height, a dragon could spot a medium-large prey item on the open plains. Something not too big to knock to the ground, and not too agile. A horse or wildebeest would be about the right size. First, the dragon(s) would rouse the prey into running. Then, once they were running, each dragon (if more than one hunted in a group) would swoop down and try to tackle its prey from above. With a good dive speed, it could break the back of a horse and get its kill.

The dragons would want the prey running in a direction so they know which way to swoop. If a horse is stationary, it could bold in any direction at the last minute, ruining the attack. Also, I think the dragon would only get one shot at this. A horse's speed and stamina would probably take it out of range by the time a dragon got sufficient altitude for a second shot.

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  • $\begingroup$ The story takes place mostly in forested and semi-forested country. These dragons don't do much flying unless startled. Plus, they aren't HUGE like most fantasy dragons, they are about 10 feet long and slender. I was debating giving them a weak jaw and having them use poison/fire as a means of killing and softening their prey for consumption. Thanks for your answer! $\endgroup$ – JMark Jan 6 '18 at 8:08
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    $\begingroup$ @JMark Since that information makes my answer mostly useless, you should have included it in the original question. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Jan 6 '18 at 12:20
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    $\begingroup$ I didn't ask this question to get answers concerning MY version of dragons. I asked it to see what others have created and what thought processes they used to create them. Your answer wasn't useless. I never thought of dragons as carrion eaters. $\endgroup$ – JMark Jan 6 '18 at 15:15

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