Dragon Hunting Notes: Pteropod Dragons
Here's my take on dragons for a dragon hunter setting. They:
1) Fly like pterosaurs
2) Run like tyrannosaurs
3) Have armor like crocodilians
4) Spread fire like firehawks
In this fantasy world, pterosaurs had scute armor because they evolved from crocodyliforms. Stronger winds, increased air density, and reduced gravity helped increase their max weight and size beyond Quetzalcoatlus.
Some pterosaurs survived their K-T event. These evolved from quadrupedal pterosaurs into bipedal "pteropods" ("wing feet"). The pteropods took over niches left behind by large theropods. Bipedalism let them get even bigger than before, thanks to running launch.
Pteropod arms are powerful, used for both flying and running. Their hind legs are almost vestigial, being used only to help shape the wings for maneuvers in flight, and help fold away the wings on the ground.
The "knees" are actually wrists. The "ankles" are actually finger roots. The "feet" are actually fingers, ending in hooves.
The stiff armor scutes are like an exoskeleton. This makes the body pretty stiff, but the neck can still bend well side-to-side so the pteropod can preen itself.
Different pteropods had different lifestyles. Some spent most of their time on the ground; some went flightless. These went extinct when their megafauna food sources were killed off by hominids. Others were vulture-like, but they shrank along with the food supply. The remaining giant pteropods are the "true" dragons - dragons that can "breathe" fire.
Dragons don't project fire like a flame thrower, but rather they hold burning brush/twigs in their beaks which they use to set other things on fire. They control the fire by exhaling through the mouth to fan the flames, or closing their beak to keep it from burning too hot.
Dragons strategically set fires, like firehawks, to flush out and trap herds. Then, they can slay the concentrated animals left and right on the ground, expending little effort for a lot of food. Thus,they don't depend on megafauna like their extinct relatives. (This strategy would have been too risky for flightless pteropods, but the "true" dragons can fly if needed to escape the fire.)
These dragons are very intelligent, as fire hunting requires a lot of intelligence to pull off. Some use flint to initiate fire on demand. Others use lava if available; others may maintain ongoing fires. In all cases, fire hunting only works in dry conditions with a herd in a position within suitable fuel. Dragons can rest in a reduced energy state to wait out wet conditions, and then soar to scan for a herd in a good position.
Ironically, hominids caused dragons to increase
in size. Before hominids, dragons were mostly social pack hunters. But these smaller dragons were vulnerable to hominids with spears. The bigger solitary dragons were too tough for hominids to take on, and they got even bigger and tougher without food competition from the pack hunters.
These dragons are an utter terror for humans. Obviously livestock and humans are easy snacks, and this is a big problem when a dragon hasn't been able to fire hunt in a while. But also, dragons like to randomly set human stuff on fire just to see them scurrying around. This isn't just malice, it's an evolved play behavior to practice fire setting and study how fire propagates and corrals prey. However, the human victims just see a dragon taking sadistic pleasure in watching them suffer.
So, these dragons are tough, they're big, and they're cunning. And the humans have incentive to hunt and kill them ... if they can ...