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Taking into account the some limitations of the square-cube law, biology, and aviation, I have tried to make a dragon-like creature and a hominid that participate in a symbiotic relationship. For starters, the dragon is reptilian, and related to varanids (possibly in the varanoidea superfamily). In particular, I researched varanoidea as an evolutionary candidate because of the air-sac like structures seen in varanids and already impressive and diverse evolutionary history (if mosasaurs could take to the sea, with a little hand-waving, perhaps these guys could take to the air.)

I would call the dragons wyvern-like and small, compared to other fictional beasts. For the sake of stats, I would put their general size and weight in the category of quetzalcoatlus (150-250kg mass and a wingspan of around 11m). I would say that convergent evolution would be our friend here, as most characteristics are similar to that of quetzalcoatlus, save for the tail and head anatomy. These varanid-like dragons have an aerodynamic, flattened tail and a squamate-based head. Perhaps the wings could be larger, but I would like to leave a lot of physiological qualities vague and up to interpretation because I suck at math, and I'm not any kind of aviation specialist.

For takeoff, the creatures could probably vault themselves into the air using their wings, and because the largest 'dragon' species live in alpine environments, they could rely on the altitude to take off from peaks over valleys as well.

One crucial detail for the dragons is their ability to lift prey. They generally prey on goat-like animals such as tahr and sheep that are typically less than 45kg. This is the characteristic that I expect would help the case of dragon riders. Only the mature adults would make good mount material.

The riders themselves are smaller than humans with the larger men usually less than 55kg. They are human-like primates that have adapted to high altitude environments, hence why taking a ride on a dragon's back may be alright for them.

TL;DR: Could tiny people ride a quetzalcoatlus thing?

Considering physics and biology (I'll save the issues of taming the 'dragons', culture, saddles, etc. for later), would these tiny people be able to ride these wyvern-like beasts? Could the weight the dragons would have to endure be too great for powered flight?

As far as handwaving goes, a little is welcome if needed as you see fit, but the more scientifically plausible, the better. Of course, if no math could line up and/or this is completely unsalvageable science-wise, please do say so.

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    $\begingroup$ Just an interesting detail- the Sherpa people of Nepal have adapted to the altitude of the Himalayas are known to use oxygen more effeciently than non-Sherpa, allowing them to go up and down mountains easily with no symptoms of altitude sickness. Maybe the dragon riding people have similar adaptations? $\endgroup$ – Roki Jan 4 at 19:59
  • $\begingroup$ Need you humans be heavier than the goats? One of the answers points out that the weight ratio 'works' if you compare vs eagles (not sure if there's some square/cube stuff that will mess with us here, but hey, let's go with it). If the humans are really similar in size to the prey, then it seems fine to have the humans ride them just to, like, get around. One thing to think of, though, is that once a bird has it's prey, it is just carrying it to a convenient place to eat -- no more need for grace. If you want to have acrobatic aerial battles, your riders should be much lighter than the prey. $\endgroup$ – Zwuwdz Jan 7 at 22:38
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Your dragon riders are children.

The largest dragons can carry some extra weight, but not too much more and not for any great length of time. A 20 kg child, however, is not a great strain. These are 6 and 7 year olds. From the time children can walk they are around the dragons, riding them with their older brothers and sisters until they are strong enough to ride alone.

The riders are immensely valuable to their society during the few years that they are small enough to ride. They know it and they take it seriously. But they are still kids, and sometimes they mess around.

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The general rule of thumb for eagles is that they can carry up to half their own body mass in prey.

https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-maximum-weight-a-bird-can-carry-while-flying

This means that a 250kg mass dragon can probably be physically handwaved to carry a 55kg adult warrior, plus equipment.

The bigger concern is probably how such an animal might be tamed enough to be ridden. One suggestion could be that these dragons typically carry young on their own back until they ready to fly on their own, and so a rider-dragon relationship might develop out of the humanoids playing the role of the young, especially seeking out female dragons that have failed to breed for whatever reason.

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