In several fantasy works they have the iconic dragons, giant reptile creatures and that commonly breathe fire. In some works these creatures were tamed and trained to serve as military weapons in wars, making it rare or even impossible to find wild fire dragons. However, in other works the dragons are generally wild and many even live in forests and that is where the problem lies. Many wild landscapes in which these dragons live are often quite green and full of trees.

What would a territory inhabited by wild fire-breathing dragons look like, would it be as green as in the popular imagination?

Note: forget about magic, talking trees and anything else fantastic that contributes to plant growth. In this case, only dragons are real and the rest of things follow the natural laws of our world.

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ Are these dragons intelligent? $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Commented Oct 3, 2021 at 2:50
  • $\begingroup$ No, it's just giant fire-breathing lizards, it's not like they can stop and think "hey, I think we better preserve nature and avoid using fire in the forests so we don't cause fires". $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 3, 2021 at 5:59
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    $\begingroup$ Green means it rains often too - the whole forest shouldn't be too flammable. I would be more worried about their ability to fly through the forest - and if they can't, would they want to live there (and not adapt by losing ability to fly)? $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 4, 2021 at 12:16
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    $\begingroup$ You've committed a classic error. You've evolved a dragon in isolation from its environment. If fire is being thrown around casually by any one species most other species would also have a level of fire adaptation, whether resistance, use, or both. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented Oct 4, 2021 at 13:23
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    $\begingroup$ there are already flying animals that hunt with fire, see fire hawks. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Oct 4, 2021 at 23:39

9 Answers 9


Lush, Lush, Lush:

You need an environment suitable for the support of a large predator the size of a dinosaur, with the metabolic rate to support both flight and flaming gasses to boot. An environment that won't be devastated by fire every time your dragon gets into a tiff with something.

In short, you need the kind of lush environment filled with large prey animals that was present to support the dinosaurs. You want an environment similar to the Jurassic period, with abundant forests and high CO2 levels and temperatures. Big jungles, vast polar swamps, and food, food, food everywhere. Otherwise, your dragons will simply starve to death, and the only trace of them will be in a fossil record.

As an added bonus, high levels of moisture and constant rain to support all this vegetation mean that it's unlikely for forest fires to be rampant, even if the dragons spew fire everywhere.

Jurassic forest

This does not mean it's the ONLY environment that could support dragons. A plains area with abundant large herbivores would provide herds for dragons to follow, only roosting (?) during an egg-laying/raising season. An oceanic area with large aquatic mammals that can be targeted when they surface could provide a unique feeding opportunity (but would require a swim-capable dragon). Non-flying dragons will have slightly different requirements, but will work in vegetation too thick for flying dragons to hunt easily in (like dense jungle). Most dense non-tropical forests probably don't have the food supply to support a dragon.

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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps also relevant is that frequent forest fires are healthy for forests. Mankinds tendency to safeguard forests from forestfires increases the amount of forest that burns down when a fire does break out, while without intervention the fires are smaller in scale and more frequent. Some trees even have high fire resistance and spread flammables in their environment to increase fire hazards as a way to reduce competition from other species. Dragons could be a natural firestarter and keep the forest healthy (besifes that trees dont burn instantly and dragons would use breath sporadically) $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Commented Oct 3, 2021 at 7:18
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    $\begingroup$ @Demigan it's not so much mankind's tendency as tendency of modern forestry. It developed in central Europe where forests don't need to regularly burn so as it spread to other places it carried the notion of fire as bad in all cases. Native inhabitants of America and Australia did start fires regularly before that. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Commented Oct 5, 2021 at 5:15
  • $\begingroup$ The increased CO2 levels would also help with keeping fires small $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Commented Oct 5, 2021 at 10:20

Fire can help forests.

forest fire https://www.facebook.com/OkaWenNF/photos/central-washington-good-fire-planned-on-over-11000-acres-this-fallfrom-the-canad/2303697833081055/


Forests need ‘good fire’

Forests across much of North America need fire to maintain healthy structures and watershed conditions and support biodiversity. For centuries, Native Americans deliberately set fires to facilitate hunting, protect communities and foster plants needed for food and fiber.

As Native Americans used to, the dragons help the forest with fire. It also helps themselves. Opening things up and fertilizing with ash lets new growth thrive, and the things that come to eat the new growth are the things the dragons eat. Old and lucky trees in this forest can withstand the regular small fires the dragons cause, like redwoods and oaks do in our world.

In our world, lack of regular fires is the problem and consequent "fire debt" - the accumulated wealth of carbon burns so hot that everything dies.

Dragons prevent that. Theirs is a life giving fire. Unless you actually catch on fire; then you die. But otherwise lifegiving.

  • $\begingroup$ This. Australia is another example. Early colonists wrote back to England that it looks green and lush like a giant royal park. It always had fires, many of them set intentionally by the natives much like in America. $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Commented Oct 5, 2021 at 6:19
  • $\begingroup$ This is incorrect. Or maybe not quite correct. The fire destroys the living layer of the given habitat, impoverishing it. Yes, ashes are rich fertilizer, but fertilizer needs to be in the soil, not on it, where it will be blown away by winds. The Native Americans were using controlled fires mostly to clear the forest for conversion to grassland, savanna, or re-growth by desirable food source plants, and to get rid of excess debris, deadwood for easier hunting. What you're describing is fire farming, widespread in primitive cultures, but there were reasons it was abandoned as farming method. $\endgroup$
    – AcePL
    Commented Oct 5, 2021 at 11:07

Lions and all predators can kill, but are not on a killing spree every moment of the day.

Similarly, that an animal can breathe fire it doesn't necessarily mean it will do it 24/7.

Occasional fires started by the dragon might happen, as already happens with lightning started fires, but that's nothing that a healthy and adapted environment cannot manage.

It's definitely possible that a wild dragon environment is forest like.


Dry and grassy

African savanna with few scattered trees, high grasses, and a giraffe

As large, flying animals, dragons need wide open space to hunt. They can’t fly through dense forests without crashing into trees, so a forest is actually a very bad environment for them.

Instead, dragons would live in a savannah, prairie, or grassland. There should be more than enough herding animals to eat.

The dragon would maintain its territory by burning down any trees that try to grow. In addition, it might regularly use fire in interspecies combat, or in hunting. The regular fires would mean fertile soil.

Note that this means dragons won’t live in areas that are too wet; wet trees are hard to burn down, and trees might pop up faster than the dragon can remove them.

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    $\begingroup$ This doesn’t answer the second aspect of the question about whether forest-dwelling dragons are even possible. It lays out a case for savannah but not against forest. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Commented Oct 3, 2021 at 14:50
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    $\begingroup$ @SRM yes it does. Forest dragons don’t work because they would crash into trees if they tried to fly. $\endgroup$
    – Globin347
    Commented Oct 3, 2021 at 21:29

Opening: "What would a territory inhabited by wild fire-breathing dragons look like, would it be as green as in the popular imagination?"

Nice and green, full of life.

Wild Dragons are predators. What evolutionary purpose would be served, to destroy food ? And if it were accidental: why would a dragon need to use fire for hunting ? It hunts from up in the air, surprising prey on the ground, like eagles and falcons do. Only difference is: dragons pick up cattle, not mice.

Mating season

Dragons can ignite and maintain their fire for a short while, but a "reload" will take hours. Only male dragons sometimes waste their fire in the open. When it is mating season, the dragon will do its fireworks. It's in the open field and looks spectacular, but it will not hurt the trees, or other animals. Dragons are uncommon species. The purpose of the fireworks is to lure females from far away. The dragon will spew its fire upward, the flames will not reach the ground.

Reverse thrust for landing

There's one place that will not be nice and green.. and that is the immediate vicinity of the nest of the Wild Dragon, up in the mountains. Frequent dragon fire will cause a desolate landscape, not allowing vegetation anywhere near. Reason: a flying dragon cannot hover. When flying, the heavy dragon always develops a considerable forward airspeed. Approaching the nest, it will use its fire breath as a reverse thrust, to slow down and land safely.

Wild dragons use their fire to bake meat for offspring

This is a little known fact about dragons. Life expectancy of these animals is 300-800 years. Dragon offspring will stay in the nest for many years. When a dragon feeds offspring, it will behave like a large preying bird: they pick up their prey alive and drag it into their nest, where it is killed and fed to the offspring. Because dragon offspring has only rudimentary teeth and a very slow immune system at first, dragons have the habit to bake their meal.

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    $\begingroup$ Not a bad answer, but I think this is weaker than the others by assuming too much worldbuilding on the nature of dragons that might not apply to the question’s world. Still, good thoughts here. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Commented Oct 3, 2021 at 14:53
  • $\begingroup$ These are facts. I studied them in my dreams. I'm the Jane Goodall of wild dragons. rooaarrrr $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Commented Oct 3, 2021 at 15:10
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    $\begingroup$ Using fire for reverse thrust would be horribly inefficient. Turning the wings to high angle of attack and flapping forward a few times like birds do would take much less effort. But mainly dragons nest on top of cliffs where they land using the same technique as swifts: they approach low, then turn straight up along the cliff, trading speed for altitude so they come to a stop just as the upper edge gets within the reach of their claws. Then take-off is the opposite, jumping off the cliff to gain speed and flying off before they hit the ground. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Commented Oct 5, 2021 at 5:21

Mountainous as heck

Your forests fill relatively well separated alpine valleys, with lots of glacial lakes. The dragons roost in the mountain peaks. Fire breathing has evolved here for a couple of reasons, from your average, winged, non burny giant flying lizard.

The first is hunting - we see this behavior in firehawks, where they seem to use burning things to flush out prey. While the dragons are too big to maneuver among the trees, they simply set fire to one end of the valley, and the animals living there panic and run. They can then either pick them off with controlled flaming, or dive down and grab them as they flee into the water.

The second is thermals - being able to set fires makes flight easier for these big, ungainly flying things. They may not be able to get over the mountains without this help.

From this, I'd propose a proto-draconic ancestor - much smaller, with limited fire starting ability. These dragons would be closer in size to flying lizards, and would use a limited fire breath to ward of predators. Eventually, they start using little blazes to fly greater distances, and even starting fires to migrate to new valleys.

I'd also propose a dragon life cycle - dragons hibernate for long periods, perhaps into the multiple years, probably high up on the mountains. Every few years, they emerge, set fire to the valley, mate, gorge themselves on prey that's either been cooked or picked off from the lake, lay eggs in the embers, and then return with their young to the top of the mountains, where they hibernate in caves.

It solves for the ecological devastation issue of a giant burning lizard, and matches with other highly destructive lifecycles we find in nature (i.e, locusts), where a swarm emerges after a long period of hibernation.


I don't think that dragons would get along well with forests. While forests do need the occasional fire, a fire every couple weeks is just a tad too much for the ecology to handle. Therefore, I'd like to suggest an alternative.


Lit. "Place of the scrub oak"

Fire-breathing dragons would probably love chaparral, and the chaparral would love them back.

Predominated by scrub oaks, sage, and other herbaceous plants, chaparral is home to lots of deer, elk, and other such tasty critters. Additionally, dragons don't need to worry too much about knights (their natural predator), since the hilly terrain and the plants' density would hinder their travel. For that matter, the dragons wouldn't need to worry about people in general, either; while it's possible for people to live there, they have to rebuild their houses every couple years.

That brings me to my other point: dragons' fire wouldn't be ecologically destructive in chaparral. Wildfires are a common occurrence there, and are in fact necessary to revitalize the soil and get rid of old, dead growth.


If you're a stickler for "dragons in forests," it is worth noting that some variants of chaparral can be a sort of low forest. It's not quite verdant forest, but it's as close as you're probably going to get. For visualization purposes, take a look at this picture of a Scout camp in North Texas:

enter image description here


Dragons Don't Breathe Fire...

All the time. Or even most of the time. When hunting a dragon will act more like a bird of prey; Diving at prey animals from on high and ambushing them. The powerful claws, fangs, and even tail can all be used to kill prey before they even have a chance to run or fight back.

Except For Self-Defense

Which is good, because things get heated when dragons feel threatened. Dragons act like any other big predator and eat their meat raw. The fire breath they are so well known for is not used in hunting and instead is a means of defense that is mainly deployed against the few creatures desperate or mean enough to attack an apex predator. Against other dragons the fire is less effective as a weapon (given their natural resistance to heat) but can be blinding, which provides opportunities to attack or flee as necessary.

Two's a Crowd

A single dragon in any environment is not going to cause too big of an impact compared to any other large apex predator. They would probably have a larger hunting ground, since they can fly and will need to cover a wide area to prevent exhausting food, but for the most part I would not expect a single dragon to cause too much fire damage in their living area.

The problem comes when other dragons are added to the mix. Dragon fights are famed for their collateral damage. Older dragons are smart enough to take the fight away from the most flammable parts of the territory, but a fight between younger dragons can and has led to such widespread destruction that even the victor had to move on and find a new home. Less common are fires that were caused by non-dragon aggressors against a dragon. Typically this is a desperate animal or pack of scavengers attacking a weaker dragon. Usually a few small spurts of fire is enough to scare off the attackers and the dragon is very injured they can use their powerful wings to put out any errant flames before they spread too far.


Dragons are in essence overgrown lizards with wings. They love to sunbathe and like hot-ish environment, hence I present to you: the desert dragon.

Nobody knows what came first: the dragon or the desert. Some ancient tales report the deserts to be lush and green before the giant lizards took root - but nobody knows for sure.

Be it as it may, dragons and desert are well suited to each other:

  • plenty of hot sand to sand-bath
  • almost no combustible material that blazes up if the dragon sneezes
  • deserts being inherently dangerous to humans - so not much danger of tin-boxed would-be dragon slayers pestering the dragon

And only one to four hours of flying away: plenty of food and funnily screaming small-ones when the dragon touches down, breathing fire and taking the livestock away.

And then there are the other dragons - preferring swamps and breathing poisonous gas, delving into the deeps of the sea and spitting chlorine gas - or even weirder ones. But you only asked for firey-breathy ones.


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