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EDIT: I have been asked to create a more concise and specific question.

The question I would ask is what would be a (good) reason for my dragons as a species, having no inherent reason to share human values, to hoard gold?

Here are some background from TV Tropes to prepare for my question and discussion (see full page https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DragonHoard for more insights):

In some settings, dragons tend to guard hoards of treasure — typically by lying on top of it. [...] Curiously, there is no consensus as to why dragons do this. Justifications in-story for why a dragon sits on a hoard, including backstories of how hoard and dragon came together, vary considerably. In some ways, hoard-guarding dragons are no different from other treasure guardians: [...] Dragons have a peculiarity, though, in that they are especially attached to gold: dragon-hoards almost always contain at least a substantial share of gold. Whatever the reasons, on average dragons show noticeably less interest in other treasures, like silver or even jewels. People have also long noticed — see that Beowulf quote — that dragons have no apparent use for treasure: they cannot spend, wear or process it. More often than not, they don't do anything beyond brood over or sleep on their treasure. Dragons, it was concluded, must be pathologically avaricious and stingy—kind of like a species of compulsive hoarders with a Money Fetish. In fact, up to the 17th century, dragons were considered the emblematic representation of Greed.

The idea to have dragons as a symbol of greed, seems to me to be a result of the human conceit that a separate species should possess the same values about gold and greed that humans do; a human conceit.

My worlds have dragons, very intelligent dragons I might add for context. I would like to evoke some typical dragon attributes from mythology, folklore and older fantasy, but I'd like to make justifications for them that would work alongside my own take on dragons. The question of the practical use for the dragons in my world to hoard gold has proven to be a challenge to satisfyingly answer for myself, in relation to the context of my dragons.

Here are some pointers of my worlds dragons that influence my thought on their gold hoarding:

  1. As a species, they predate the existence of humans (homo sapiens), by maybe a greater time spans than mere millenia. A dragon species that predates humans shouldn't possess the same thoughts on and values regarding gold that humans do, but have their own reasons that existed before the human species and human civilization. They would have hoarded gold nuggets in the time before humans made coins and cups of the metal (and then some dragons would have gone over to plundering humans instead).

  2. They developed the (supernatural?) ability to perceive the presence of (large?) concentrations of gold at a distance, a "gold sense". Before, I made this sound like a natural evolution, but my own idea was that the dragons, a species in possession of magic, modified themselves as a species to give them the ability. If they found gold important enough to modify their very species (think human gene-editing) to have an easier time of finding it, gold should have some practical use for the dragons.

  3. The dragons are solitary creatures, each self-sufficient enough to survive and even thrive on their own without the help of another member of their species. Now, being intelligent, they could engage in some social exchange, there always comes the time for procreation, and some dragons might form pairs that last longer than they have to rear the young (who might be self-sufficient very quickly, being dragons). But I don't envision them conglomerating into settlments as a general rule (though a rare encounter with a village of dragons sounds interesting...); they could have a common culture, but perhaps nothing akin to a human society. The point of all of this being, the dragons probably wouldn't have use for anything, including gold, for monetary purposes (as in currency). (See also TV Tropes "dragon's cannot spend gold" for comparison.)

  4. The dragons are intelligent and mighty in magic (I don't know how structured or wild their magic is, though), but they lack the limb appendages to make use of gold as humans do in goldsmithing and engineering. Some kind of magical technique could work as a replacement of human hands, I guess, but otherwise it's seems less likely that dragons would make use of gold as humans do. Also, as a self-sufficient organism mighty in magic, it would seem to me that the dragons would have had no reason to develop any such technology as humans might have done, so I would guess that dragon's would not hoard gold for gold's uses in engineering. I would rather think that there would be some reason rooted in magic. (See also TV Tropes "dragon's cannot process gold" for comparison).

Because of that last thought on a magical reason, I tried to research the magical uses of gold in real world mythology and folklore to use as a baseline. Here is a question I asked on the Mythology Stack Exchange for that purpose:

https://mythology.stackexchange.com/questions/5224/what-are-the-supernatural-properties-of-gold-in-mythology-and-folklore

But I found very little that could be of practical use. At most, I found that gold is associated with eternity and immortality, and that Chinese alchemists might have thought that it could be used to confer immortality, or at the very least act as a healing agent. That last part sounded useful, but then I remembered that using gold for healing purposes is already in use in the Feruchemy of Brandon Sandersons Mistborn, and I don't know if it would be safe to use that idea (correct me if I am wrong here). (Regarding immortality, I find it of less use for my dragons because I already think of them as living forever barring mortal injury, though that could be changed to extremely long-lived, I guess).

Researching the reason for dragons to hoard gold elsewhere, I found some alternatives. One is the suggestion of dragons hoarding gold (or shining items in general) to attract mates. Another is that they hoard gold for just the reason to sleep on it, with gold being a soft metal (dragon's have armor-scales and probably dull tactile senses) that does not catch fire (from dragon fire-breath) and does not corrode (from acidic exudations).

They are valid suggestions, in that they give reasons that make sense, but I personally would like other reasons for my dragons. In context, if they went so far as to modifiy their own species to sense gold at a distance, it feels like it should be for a greater purpose than to find bedding material. And while finding mates definitly seems of greater importance than bedding material, I feel like it wouldn't justify going so far as to modify their species. As a side note I thought of as I wrote this, I would think that dragons would have it in their mentality that if their only reason for collecting gold was to attract mates, they would have refrained from introducing a gold sense into their species in order to make it a much harder exercise to find gold to attract mates, thus promoting the most successful dragons above the less succesful ones; a "winner takes all" mentality that seems like a natural fit for the very powerful dragon species.

Now, this question is asked in the name of world building for fantasy, so it doesn't need a science fiction answer, but a science fiction answer could also be usable in some fantasy.

This is outside of the question, but if the possible answers also could include other types of treasure that dragons could hoard (gems, silver, etc.), it would be a bonus.

The question formulated another way and as a reminder: A non-human (and perhaps non-scientific) reason for members of my dragon species to hoard gold, what would that be?

If anyone gives an answer here, I will make additions below this paragraph where I make comments that hopefully improve the discussion about this topic.

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closed as primarily opinion-based by L.Dutch Nov 6 '18 at 18:07

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site, Netsrym. Please note that the Worldbuilding SE is dedicated to providing detailed answers to specific questions you have while developing your fictional world. Further, the community expects the value of an answer to be objective, to be able to determine a "best" answer. To that end, how does "Gold makes a fine bed" answer this question better or worse than "Gold tastes delicious"? (Both of these are reasons in the D&D universe.) As is, this may be closed for being primarily opinion-based. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Nov 6 '18 at 17:53
  • $\begingroup$ As pointed out in the previous comment, answers to this question are going to be extremely opinion based, unless you provide an evaluation metric. Moreover, can you cut away the unnecessary parts and go more directly to the question? $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Nov 6 '18 at 18:09
  • $\begingroup$ see related: mythology.stackexchange.com/questions/3501/… $\endgroup$ – depperm Nov 6 '18 at 18:09
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    $\begingroup$ The gold hoard is clearly a lure for delicious adventurers who just can't resist... $\endgroup$ – Giter Nov 6 '18 at 18:10
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    $\begingroup$ It may just be that dragons evolved from magpies. $\endgroup$ – Renan Nov 6 '18 at 19:01
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Phototaxis

Dragons don't like exactly gold or silver. They like shiny thinks, which usually are gold, silver, mirrors, polished bronze, etc.
Why do they like shiny things?

Well, we can answer that with another question: Why do most of the insects get attracted by artificial light?

That kind of insect has a positive phototaxis on them. positive means they get attracted by it, photo that it's about light and taxis that is something like a reflex (not exactly, reflex are more developed). This insect looks for light because most of their activities are done during the day (or at least with light). Also, they fly in circles around it because of a defect on their neural system about they eye-muscles coordination, but that isn't part of the question...

Maybe dragons have some kind of phototaxis, and because in Medieval Ages lamps and lanterns didn't exist, they can only look for shiny items which reflex light.

Defense

The idea above could be quite general. It's an inherited factor of their ancestors, there is a lot of stuff on animals that aren't useful, they just remnants of old evolutions.

Another idea could be a defence mechanism. They don't have phototaxis, but their enemies have photophobia (negative phototaxis). I don't know if dragons have a predator, but if that predator has fear of light, shiny stuff could be a defence mechanism. Also, if they only want gold, maybe the enemy's eyes aren't evolved to see golden-yellow light fine, so they use it as a camouflage advantage.

Atack

On maybe its the opposite of the idea above.

Their preys have a positive phototaxis or are vulnerable to yellow light. Using vast amount of gold they can make easier to capture they prey. It works as a bait and as a distracting mechanism. Also, you don't need to invent a new creature, maybe they have already existent (that explain why dragons are so uncommon), or you can use an existent creature:

Usually, dragons eat animals with a very high affinity over golden, shiny and expensive stuff, with lack of intelligence, and with a like for defying and fear situations with a high reward on that items -AKA: humans adventurers-.

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  • $\begingroup$ ...”reflectotaxis”? Lol $\endgroup$ – Dubukay Nov 6 '18 at 19:06
  • $\begingroup$ This was a very clever way of looking at the problem. Cheers! $\endgroup$ – JBH Nov 6 '18 at 21:15
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    $\begingroup$ All human knows that dragon always hoard pile of gold. But this trend is just begin hundreds years ago when one chubby dragon whose living inside abandoned dwarf goldmine have his prey, the half wit race called human regularly visit him voluntarily. Soon every dragon, decorate their lairs with gold, most of the time it's just magic illusion. $\endgroup$ – Hariz Rizki Nov 7 '18 at 12:37
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  • Silver has anti-microbial properties. Maybe dragons have some kind of a virus or skin condition that is vulnerable to gold rather than silver.

  • Dragons like to sleep in gold piles. Dragons breathe fire, and could have acidic sweat, so other metals will rust, oxidize or flake. Gold stays smooth and comfortable. Rocks are too hard, soil would gunk up the scales, wood will burn up.

  • It is a mating display. Some birds (and fishes) build a nest to attract a mate. Dragons do the same. No point to it, besides demonstrating fitness: dragon with biggest hoard is strongest and smartest. Even if dragons are too few to find mates now, the instinct lives on.

  • Gold reminds dragons of some food they used to eat it before it went extinct. Or rocks where they used to nest. This is again instinctive.

  • Chicken and some other birds swallow small stones to aid with food processing (gravel in gizzard grinds up seeds). Maybe dragons have similar needs, but they are met by gold. E.g. gold serves as catalyst to some digestive or fire-breathing process: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heterogeneous_gold_catalysis
    Unlike chickens, dragons poop the gold out, and need to constantly eat more, and let poopy gold sit for a while so it loses the stench.

  • Gold has some radioactive isotopes, that are actually used IRL to treat cancer:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isotopes_of_gold
    Perhaps dragons need that radiation for their own body, or for their eggs. Their ability to detect this radiation could explain how they find gold. But: gold's radioactive isotopes do not last long, and are a tiny fraction of naturally occuring gold, so they were originally supplied by dragon's creators. Now creators are gone, and so is isotopic gold (so dragons cannot reproduce anymore), but the instinct to seek out gold has survived. In fact, perhaps dragons were created specifically to seek out and mine gold for their masters, with isotopes as a failsafe to prevent uncontrollable growth of their population.

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I've heard before that perhaps dragon eggs need to be surrounded by a certain chemical or substance produced by gold/silver/other treasures to hatch, thus the dragons hoard gold for their current or future offspring.

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