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In fantasy literature wyvern’s often have their habitat set as extreme mountains. Sometimes even depicted as needing to drop from a height in order to take off. Evolutionarily speaking this does not make sense to me. It seems to me the calorie requirements of a flying creature large enough to carry people would be quite high and not supportable in standard mountain biome. Also, if such a creature evolved naturally it is more likely that it could take off on its own without the drop.

What are the environmental requirements/considerations for a wyvern’s habitat from an evolutionary perspective?

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    $\begingroup$ I cannot recall the name, but there is a 'documentary' filmed in 'if dragons were real' manner. They examine habitat and diet if I recall correctly. It may serve as inspiration. Unfortunately i cant recall the name of the documentary, but I am sure you could track it down. $\endgroup$ – Firelight Jun 9 '17 at 14:38
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    $\begingroup$ "it is more likely that it could take off on its own without the drop". There are a lot of birds that nest on cliff because they require the cliff to take off. Depending on the flying method and the shape of the wing, the wyvern could require the cliff because taking off is a lot harder that the flight (like for the albatross that can fly long distance but have a really hard time to take off) $\endgroup$ – nefas Jun 9 '17 at 15:27
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    $\begingroup$ Pterosaurs might be a good reference, some of them were quite large. pterosaur.net $\endgroup$ – Era Jun 10 '17 at 0:16
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    $\begingroup$ You really need to specify what you mean by "Wyvern" there are literally hundreds of different interpretations with drastically different abilities and anatomies. $\endgroup$ – John Jun 10 '17 at 2:50
  • $\begingroup$ A creature of that size, lack of aerodynamic build, and implied weight, has no business being able to fly. It's wings can't produce enough lift for it's weight, and even if it could the energy requirement would be prohibitive and it definitely can't pick up other creatures of any size. To make wyrven plausible I would first focus on justifying how they fly, and then tackling their habitat based off of whatever you learn about the species from that question. see worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/25281/… $\endgroup$ – dsollen Jun 15 '17 at 17:35
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Just as a start, and other answers may not have to do this, let's really assert the fact that a wyvern is a large reptile. Disregarding any of its advantages with flight or hunting preferences, we have to establish that it's somewhere warm & sunny.

That's right, these big guys are ectotherms like any other lizard and need to bask in order to regulate their body temperature. They could even spread their wings to radiate excess heat or fold them in to stay warm (I think half a dozen basking wyverns on a beach makes for a good visual). For ideas on how active your wyverns can be, you can look at the Komodo dragon or Marine iguana of the Galapagos. Time spent swimming or flying means a big decrease in body temperature and high energy consumption, so it's doubtful that swimming and flying are things that your wyvern can do for a very long period.

Of course this is a narrow definition of behavior, and not the only one seen in reptilian evolution, but anything you choose or want in terms of behavior and habitat will hinge on your reptile's ability to regulate its body temperature and get enough energy for activity for some time during the day.

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  • $\begingroup$ Great answer! Couldn't it bask at low altitudes while flying? $\endgroup$ – Cameron Leary Jun 9 '17 at 16:49
  • $\begingroup$ @CameronLeary With some handwaving you could say this, but realistically a lot of cooler air will be rushing over & under its body, which does a lot to sap body heat. Even if you could achieve a low-power glide with little exertion, that wouldn't be ideal I think. $\endgroup$ – Ross Jun 12 '17 at 13:15
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It is not hard to find mountains immediately adjacent to grasslands and herds of large grazers / browsers. Below see Grand Teton and Kilmanjaro (Kilmanjaro has the elephants!). I can imagine wyverns up on those mountains.

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If you are big, powerful and mobile you do not need to eat right where you live. You can commute. I am thinking of whales which live and breed up at the top of the water (because they need to breathe!) but dive down and hunt in the abyss, a mile or more below. The wyverns could live up on the mountains and then glide out over the grasslands to hunt. I think a mountain would be fine vantage point from which to scout out likely buffalo or elephants to eat.

Benefits of mountains: no bugs, no nest predators, great visibility. Sweet updrafts for gliding. Less humidity = less wing fungus. Delicious snow to eat.

Re: mountain too cold for lizards - even cold blooded animals are not necessarily endothermic. Both tuna and great white sharks have (different) methods to warm their muscles with metabolic activity. I have read theories that dinosaurs may have had similar methods.

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  • $\begingroup$ This would've been my answer, just with the added note that most of earths big flying hunters like eagles, hawks and the condor (together they are actually called raptors) almost all live in mountains - and they all hunt quite big prey. $\endgroup$ – Nicolai Jun 14 '17 at 1:53
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I'm not familiar with wyverns in fantasy literature, but in mythology, the wyvern is a sea dragon - two legs instead of four, and a tail adapted to swimming. I'm inclined to think that a creature like that would have similar calorie requirements to other amphibious creatures of similar mass.

Is this just curiosity or are you writing a story? If the latter, then you can make up a few rules of your own and make your wyvern distinct.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm a world continueity editer for an author friend of mine. We are starting to brainstorm the next project and I am working to get my head arround a few of the nutz and boltz. I know I can make up rules, but I always prefer a grounding in reality. I kinda hate hand waves and almost used the hard-science tag for this. $\endgroup$ – PCSgtL Jun 9 '17 at 15:41
  • $\begingroup$ Cool - know what you mean about wanting to firmly root things in the possible rather than making it all up. In that case, I'd really recommend checking out the Wyvern in real-world mythology. It's as close as you'll get to 'grounding in reality,' and subverting what fantasy audiences think they know can add some real power to your creation. $\endgroup$ – Paula Jun 13 '17 at 20:50
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First, let's get one thing out of the way. A wyvern is NOT necessarily reptilian. You can, taxonomically, make a wyvern whatever you want. With this in mind, I will be writing two scenarios.

Scenario 1 In this scenario, wyverns are mammalian, venomous creatures, sort of like an oversized cross between bats and pangolins. The wyvern may get its venom from snakes, giant bugs, or crustaceans it eats, or simply manufacture its own venom like Blarina brevicauda. In this case, it would likely live in alpine climates (Most likely the actual Alps or the Himalayas)and feed on mountain goats or yaks.

Scenario 2 In our second scenario, wyverns are reptilian, similar to pterosaurs, with venom glands like the spitting cobra, and serrated teeth like a monitor lizard. These wyverns would likely dwell on volcanic islands, diving for large fish, or in rainforests, luring megafauna to its territory by shaking the canopy as it flies by.

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The key points that need to be taken into account are the fact that it's a large predator and that it flies. You need to have an environment with prey either large or plentiful enough to feed it.

If you make it warm-blooded it will have a pretty high energy requirement and it will hunt frequently, this will probably necessitate that it hunt on the ocean rather than on land (depending on how large you make it).

Cold-blooded it will need perches to sun itself but can get away with not eating that often (so it lends itself better to a standard fantasy environment).

If you want a creature that soars/glides rather than flaps (think of eagles/hawks as opposed to bats) it will be a fairly delicate creature that hunts relatively meek and delicate prey. It also can't hunt on the open ocean because there are no thermals for it to glide on so it would be a coastal predator at most (if it hunts on water).

If you want a flapper then it will be a heavy bulky creature that can probably take on stronger prey but also will have a consequently higher energy requirement.

So depending on which combination of things you put in you'll need to incorporate certain environmental conditions.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the answer, can you provide support/clarefication for your "no thermals" over the the ocean comment? paraglidingforum.com/viewtopic.php?t=21502 $\endgroup$ – PCSgtL Jun 15 '17 at 15:06
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not an expert and could be wrong, however by my understanding for a thermal to occur you need a temperature difference which is highly unlikely over the open ocean since that is all perfectly homogeneous. You could get it when a cold front hits a warm front in the middle of the ocean but that's uncommon. As far as I can tell the thermals in that forum post seem to occur in coastal locations and also in at least a few cases are combined with ridge lift (rising air caused by wind hitting a slope or cliff, the lift used commonly by seagulls). en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lift_(soaring) $\endgroup$ – Taha Attari Jun 17 '17 at 1:25
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I think of a wyvern as a lesser kind of fantasy reptile. Smaller, less powerful, and without the fiery-breath element. Perhaps an opportunistic scavenger, as opposed to the big old regular dragons at the top of the food chain. Maybe they'd pick over the scraps of dragons' kills and piggyback off the bigger guys' caloric expenditure, rather than waste their own energy in hunting and killing prey themselves. A 'lesser wyrm' kind of reputation, as a hyena might be to a lion, or a vulture to an eagle.

If they relied mainly on bigger dragons to get their food for them, then they'd probably live wherever dragons live – which could be anywhere you like. But realistically, they'd be the most successful around arid brush and savannah.

I agree that a hot habitat would make the most sense for a reptile. But bear in mind that higher altitudes will be significantly colder, so a large reptile that relies on its bodyheat to get airborne and stay there may nest around warmer foothills, crags and outcrops. (Rather than high dramatic peaks). Unless of course it's a fire-breather itself, in which case it could warm itself at will and live wherever you'd like.

To answer your question, maybe ask yourself what it's likely to eat. A wyvern could evolve for many different environments, which would dictate the size that it needs to be. Say a tiny one that preys on frogs in swampland, or pack-hunting wyverns that dive on huge shoals of fish off the coast. The environment would also dictate their shape and colour, to camouflage them from prey (or predators). Hope this helps!

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Argentavis and pterosaurs seem to provide strong precedent for this big bird.

Argentavis was a scavenger that scouted for carcasses across savannas. It didn't have the easiest time getting into the air, compared to the v-toll of a pigeon.

Pterosaurs are believed to have hunted smaller airbornes and fish, as well as some land creatures, don't forget that they had teeth.

You need open spaces for this to work and a lack of stealthy, threatening creatures. Breathing fire to clear forests or a technique for scaring prey out of cover would be invaluable. The ability to climb or perch would be pretty neat too, helping them survive in diverse climates.

Seaside habitats would help generate the kinds of winds a creature like this would desire, occasionally creating convenient convection currents.

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