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I was having a discussion with several people on whether or not a lightning dragon can be biologically plausible, without any magic involved. We came to two main possibilities and I'd love to see feedback on them:

1- If it was a conventional flying dragon, it would be the conduit rather than the source of electricity. While gliding among the clouds, its large wings would gather the static electricity in the water molecules and somehow store it in its body. Then the dragon directs the stored electricity into a bolt aimed at the target. In such scenario it would only be able to shoot lightning in ideal weather conditions and while flying. I, however, really lack the knowledge of how electricity works exactly or affects an animal in this scenario, and whether this makes much sense. One of the people in the discussion suggested the dragon could have an organ specialized for storing said electricity, but that really doesn't sound how organs work to me.

2- The most plausible option I could come up with is if the dragon was heavily inspired on electric eels, and in this case it wouldn't really shoot lightning nor be able to fly at all. The issue with electric eels whenever people try to use them as explanation for electric/lightning powers is that, well, it's often overlooked that only this portion of their bodies is the actual fish, the rest is literally all specialized muscle and organs necessary to create such high voltage of electricity. If we were to apply that to a large dragon its body would look nothing like a conventional, flying dragon. It would require a proportionally huge portion of its anatomy to be specialized musculature and organs, and also possibly have a sluggish behavior, given its metabolism will be focused on charging up. My friend and I even doodled rough sketches of what this kind of concept could look like, you can see our attempts here and here. We aren't certain of how electricity would affect the teeth(I've heard that enamel teeth really doesn't go well with it) and feathers, and in such scenario the animal's attack would be based on delivering a discharge via biting or slamming its muscular tail on the target.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for your efforts on the electric eel dragon. I'm not sure that flying through clouds is enough to build up a lightning-bolt like charge. You might be able to use some other means to encourage thunderclouds to discharge at a target of your choice, though. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Oct 12 at 19:21
  • $\begingroup$ @StarfishPrime thanks! While the electric eel dragon sounds plausible enough, I still can't help but wish for a way to make those badass dragons that can fly and shoot lightning at will a possibility XD. The option of controlling thunder clouds does sound interesting too. $\endgroup$ – Lilian Silva Oct 12 at 20:07
  • $\begingroup$ Aiming is going to be a major problem, unless at point blank range, and a dragon has more efficient melee options $\endgroup$ – nzaman Oct 13 at 11:50
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Biological electrolasers.

Basically, an electrolaser is a device that uses a pulsed laser to create an ionised path through the air that an electrical current can be passed down along.

In order to create a biological electrolaser, you’d therefore first need to be able to generate the biological laser. Fortunately, that’s entirely possible: the COIL laser is a chemically pumped laser that uses a combination of gaseous chlorine, molecular iodine, and a liquid solution of bleach and lye. Many of these chemicals are poisonous or corrosive, but a specialised series of organs similar to the human stomach should be capable of producing and storing them- and as a bonus, they’d also give the dragon a breath of poison gas and a venomous bite, if they were to expel the chemicals that way instead of using them to lase.

To produce the laser, it would release the chemicals into an eye-like organ with an internal reflective coating (partially reflective over the pupil), and a laser would become emitted from the pupil of the eye; by using irises and lenses, it would then be able to focus the laser.

Once the laser begins to form the channel of ionised air to its target, it would then use its electric eel muscles to generate an electric shock that would be conducted down the path to shock its victim.

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    $\begingroup$ Biological electrolasers. – by far the most exciting way start to a post I've read recently. +1 $\endgroup$ – Djave Oct 15 at 11:13
  • $\begingroup$ Just prior to being electrocuted to death, the victim sees the dragon's eyes light up. It sounds so badass. Do you happen to know what color the laser would be? $\endgroup$ – Muuski Oct 25 at 21:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Muuski Infrared, according to a quick google search. 1315 nanometers. $\endgroup$ – nick012000 Oct 26 at 7:41
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I don’t think any form of land based lightening dragon would be possible. This is because there is no material that could provide sufficient insulation in a thin enough layer to prevent electrical leakage and discharge between the dragon and its surrounding ground and vegetation.

An Aerial lightening dragon would also suffer similar problems to some extent, however air is a good insulator and it should be possible for a flying dragon to build up a very high voltage with respect to the ground. But although high voltage is necessary it is not sufficient. To be effective a significant current would need to be delivered.

One way this might be achieved is by directing the massive stores of electric charge in clouds. If the dragon was able to extrude a very fine thread behind itself perhaps similar to spider silk it could dive onto its prey and at some very low altitude the charge in the clouds would discharge down the thread through the dragon (which would have to have some very exotic insulator insides) and then out of the dragon straight down to the prey below it.

Perhaps more chillingly it might work better in reverse. The dragon could drop a lot of goo onto the prey and then fly up until it was itself struck by lightning. The discharge would then flow a filament of thread down to the prey and boom electrically fried dinner for the dragon to eat.

Note the fine thread would be burnt up completely in these attacks. The purpose of it is to create a path of low resistance for the lightening strike. Damp silk or thread with a high water content would work best.

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  • $\begingroup$ A mix of both might be nice. Build up some charge, then drop a thread. The resulting high voltage low current discharge would make it even more probable that a highly charged cloud would discharge through the target. Also: If your hide incorporates similar materials to the thread your insides can be regular squishy meat: any strike will preferentially flow through your skin. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Oct 15 at 7:52
  • $\begingroup$ Heck, if the dragon spins itself up in a tangle of thread prior to diving it would be even more safe. Also look cool. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Oct 15 at 7:55
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe the flying dragon can charge up electricity in its saliva and then literally shoot a charged spit at its target. This would cause a lightning like effect when the spit gets close to the target. Of course it can not have the same amount of energy of a lightning because it would mean instant discharge. But when close enough will surely look like a lightning. On the positive side I think it solves the problem of how much of electricity an animal can bear. You can look up artificial lightning to see how it would look like. $\endgroup$ – Yashar PourMohammad Oct 15 at 20:43
  • $\begingroup$ I must say, I love your concept. It's very unique and definitely a cool way to solve the issue of shooting actual lightning. I also like what the others suggested and think mixing all these aspects would be very effective. $\endgroup$ – Lilian Silva Oct 17 at 1:32
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The trouble with lightning is that it is a very energetic phenomenon - carrying 500MJ to 35GJ of energy. Should the dragon absorb this energy rather than channeling it, an average lightning bolt would deliver energy equivalent to - and with effects similar to - 12kg of TNT... and no creature ever evolved on earth could survive being subjected to that amount of energy.

So... unless channeling a lightning bolt and exploding is a means of posthumously distributing its offspring... I can't see any way that something like what the OP wants could evolve. Lightning is far too likely to cause a fatality, and evolution tells the tale of the survivors.

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  • $\begingroup$ Seems like this is resolved by being made out of materials that don't conduct electricity very well. $\endgroup$ – Muuski Oct 25 at 21:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Muuski air doesn't conduct electricity very well... yet we still have the phenomenon of lightning passing through it, getting it hot enough to become a plasma. That wouldn't help. The problem is that high-resistance materials have a voltage at which they break down and become low-resistance materials, and lightning typically comes at voltages above such breakdown-voltages. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Oct 28 at 5:44
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Your dragon needs not to be "flashy"

In fact electricity often goes unnoticed except of course when an electric arc forms. Also no creature can ever harness much less withstand a lightning strike.

Two solutions:

The first is a conductive liquid similar to battery liquid, which by the way is often acidic. When a lead acid battery is fully charged, the electrolyte is composed of a solution that consists of up to 40% sulfuric acid, with the remainder consisting of regular water. As the battery discharges, the positive and negative plates gradually turn into lead sulfate. The electrolyte loses much of its sulfuric acid content during this process, and it eventually becomes a very weak solution of sulfuric acid and water.

Since this is a reversible chemical process, charging a car battery causes the positive plates to turn back into lead oxide, while the negative plates turn back into pure, spongy lead, and the electrolyte becomes a stronger solution of sulfuric acid and water. This process can occur many thousands of times.

Your lighting dragon would simply have to possess an organ that stores electricity in this manner. You can also have your dragon spray its target with a conductive liquid and then zap them with an electric organ.

The second is static electricity. I don't know if you've heard about this but the arc of the covenant is extremely conductive! It is basically a giant capacitor. Mostly made of wood and gold the arc could effectively collect static electricity from the ground and the air. The two cherubim placed on top had their wings touch each other which functioned as the positive poll. Your dragons scales can be made similarly, wooden but coated with gold (I assume your dragon is a fan treasures). Then to unleash an electric attack it would simply join the tips of its wings together to generate a current.

Your are free to use both at the same time for a dangerous dragon. It would develop a need for both gold and sulfur to sustain this power however.

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I agree with one of the people. Just use electric eel genes to make a dragon have electric powers. Since the dragon is bigger, it probably will create a much bigger charge.

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