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Smaug giganteus
A Smaug giganteus. If you do as much as think about slaying it, I'll force feed you gasoline and shove a match down your throat.

Sungazers are awesome. They're so awesome I decided to base some parts of my dragons' appearance on them.

Dragons in my setting are hexapodal, roughly horse-sized, omnivorous creatures with human intelligence, maybe at around 300-400 kg in weight. They use unlikely, but biologically synthesizable materials like graphene in their body. The setting has guns and (wannabe) dragon slayers, but magic will take care of those for now.

I despise spiked armor (but in all honesty, it looks cute on sungazers), but I want to keep it for now. I want to feel better about my decision, so I need an excuse. This excuse should be a practical advantage that spiked (natural) armor grants. Being a way to attract mates is an aesthetic reason, so it won't cut it.

What would be the most important practical advantage spiked (natural) armor could grant for dragons?

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    $\begingroup$ Well, in could increase drag in air to the point where flight becomes impractical, and creature designers can concentrate on stuff that merely looks awesome instead of being an engineering nightmare ;-) $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Oct 16 at 18:56
  • $\begingroup$ If you hate spike armor why do you want it on your dragons? $\endgroup$ – theonlygusti Oct 17 at 10:33
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    $\begingroup$ Evoltuion / nature doesn't give a shit about whether a reason or advantage is 'aesthetic' or pratcial - if something increases your likelihood of reproduction it will be selected for, no matter if it's just appearance mate attraction or prolonged survival. $\endgroup$ – Nicolai Oct 17 at 11:43
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    $\begingroup$ @theonlygusti Cognitive dissonance $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles Oct 17 at 13:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Nicolai Watch your profanity, I don't tolerate bad words, war profiteering and spam here! $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles Oct 17 at 15:01
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The most obvious reason for retaining the spikey look is the fact that the spikes are not scales but scutes. Although developed from the same squamous exodermis cells a scute or osteoderm is very different from a scale. While scales can be shed regularly to allow for growth, scutes may have continuous growth from a lower level of vascularity within the body, and if not ablated by wear or maintenance, may naturally become larger, as with alligators & crocodiles, or in the case of the Sungazer, horned lizards, horned toads and others, may grow long and spikey.

Do to additional vascularity within the scute it may be used to regulate body temperature as well.

Your solution is self evident.

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    $\begingroup$ This also gives you a really good visual indication of the age of a dragon, assuming they have the traditional long lifespans. The difference between a fully mature dragon and a truly elder dragon is not body mass, but spikiness. $\endgroup$ – D.Spetz Oct 17 at 12:46
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The spikes on your little sungazer seem to be arranged to discourage attacks from behind. To grab the (usually) vulnerable neck from behind, an attacker would have to rake his (always) vulnerable belly across those very jagged spinal scales.

This could also be used to dissuade unwelcome sexual advances which human-intelligent female dragons would find very useful.

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Reasons for "spikes" in dragons:

  • Temperature regulation. Being able to move those in different angles to the sun, and "vent" heat is one reason.
  • Sexual prowress/sexual selection, which you are already allowing for.
  • Water collection. As in the thorny devil of Australia, the Texas horned lizard in North America and Horvath's toad-headed agama in Turkey--all are spikey, all use that as a mechanism to channel precious water onto their skin, and thorny devils actually "drink" using their skin, sometimes even by burrowing through dew-laden sand.
  • Predator protection. While it might not be a thing for the older, larger dragons, it might have been good for the smaller ones, or it even could be an artifact of earlier evolution from when they were smaller. Since then, it's been chosen as a trait because of natural sexual selection attractiveness.
  • For flight control. The spikes can be retracted somewhat and also used to steer or slow flight, similar to the way aircraft use flaps. Since they have so many, that might mean finer control.

In fact, I would say that it could be ALL of these things rather than just one..

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Gigantic Snakes

And I mean large ones, big enough to eat a horse and dragons the size of a horse. (Which actually exist in certain parts of the world. I'd show a picture, except a snake eating a deer and/or alligators is somewhat graphic.) In a setting with graphene-enhanced dragons, it stands to reason that there'd be graphene-enhanced snakes. And these snakes would love to hunt dragons.

So the dragons did what prey does - they evolved. Generations of dragons with gradually sharper scales led way to the construction of spikes from the scales. Thus, when a giant snakes come slithering along to eat the modern-day dragon, the dragon merely allows itself to be caught and the snake gets ripped to shreds on the dragon's spikes when the snake starts squeezing.

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When they are crawling through their dragon holes underground, the spikes keep them from falling down backwards when heading towards the surface.

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Hollow Spikes

Polar bears have transparent and hollow fur which scatter light, which is why they look white... https://www.earthrangers.com/wildwire/risk/polar-bears-have-clear-hair-so-why-do-they-look-white/ What if the spikes of your dragon work the same way... Add a bit of magical ability so that your dragon has the ability to manipulate the transparency and width of spikes...it can change color :)... Camouflage ability acquired.. Which can then be used as an offensive attack ability and a defensive mechanism.

Add in all the advantages listed by all other answers ...

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Spiked armour is normally considered silly because instead of deflecting a sword, it will catch it (despite looking cool). The same doesn't hold true for dragons, which evolved before swords; most would-be predators of a dragon will be attacking with natural weapons (claws, teeth), and if those weapons are not long enough then softer parts of the attacker can easily be caught on spikes, making it vulnerable to counter-attack.

Another advantage is that a spike can be damaged and simply break off, which will not cause a great deal of harm to the rest of the dragon - it can "take a hit" for the softer body underneath.

I'd expect this to be an advantage against guns, too (the different angles everywhere will make it difficult to get a shot that won't ricochet off the dragon), but that probably wasn't a factor in how the spikes got there in the first place.

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    $\begingroup$ The angles might also help to scatter sonar/radar too... Stealth Dragons! $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Oct 17 at 10:17
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This is a Diodon holocanthus. Notice the spikes.

A.K.A. long spined porcupinefish

It is a very cute critter but only until it feels threatened. This is the same beast when it goes hulk-mad:

COME AT ME BRO!


Your dragons are the same. When angry or scared or fighting for territory or when in heat they become round and many times larger, and the spikes point out. No other creature with more than a couple neurons will have enough courage to come anywhere close to such magnificent balls of spiky death.

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    $\begingroup$ The fish rapidly swallows lots of water to blow itself up. Land dwelling dragons will need an alternative - probably gas. This combines nicely with an idea presented in The Flight of Dragons: dragons produce hydrogen in their gut - both for flight (it is lighter than air) and to breath flames. Ignore the hard-science calculations for the ridiculous size a dragon will need to reach to produce enough lift, and the blowing up makes sense - it could've developed for either flight or defense, and later became useful for the other reason as well. $\endgroup$ – G0BLiN Oct 17 at 12:20
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    $\begingroup$ Probably just as well for the predators, since eating one of those things is a very bad idea even without the spikes. More than 90% of it is laced with tetrodotoxins, the so-called "zombie-poison". The tiny part of the fish that is actually safe to eat is considered a delicacy, but it takes considerable skill to extract it safely. $\endgroup$ – Darrel Hoffman Oct 17 at 15:00

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