How do dragons breathe fire?
May 15, 2012 8:39 PM   Subscribe

How do dragons breathe fire?

Okay, this is obviously a theoretical/mythical question, but are there any books or myths that address the actual mechanism of how a dragon breathes fire? Some sort of faux biological book that might discuss it?
posted by aloiv2 to Pets & Animals (15 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
This is what Dragonology is for! :D

If I had my copy readily available I would quote the various explanations, as I believe it differs from species to species.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 8:42 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Flight of Dragons, the book.
posted by Nomyte at 8:42 PM on May 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

In the Pern books, they eat a special kind of rock called firestone that reacts with their stomach acid to release gas which ignites on hitting open air and were genetically modified from native lizards for that purpose.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:44 PM on May 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Swamp Dragons (Draco vulgaris) are small, fly badly and tend to explode, due to the generation of various flammable gases in their internal plumbing. They are, in short, dragons as they would have to be in order to work in reality. Swamp dragons are inexplicably popular as pets, and there are a number of different breeds. They will eat and drink anything that can be used as or converted to fuel for fire-breathing (and as such are fond of coal and fuel oil), and they have a corrosive saliva.
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:46 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not dragons, but anatomical drawings of Kaiju showing how they breathe fire and do other things... (uranium sacks!)

Check out Gamera in particular. I love these drawings.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 8:48 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

According to my son's copy of the Field Guide to Fantastic Creatures, "Some have speculated that dragons' stomachs have evolved to produce and store flammable methane gas, which they ignite with sparks from their teeth. But no one has got close enough to find out for certain!".

It's an awesome book for small boys who are into mythological creatures, by the way.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 8:51 PM on May 15, 2012

In Glory Road, (1962) the only full fantasy novel he wrote, Robert Heinlein described dragon flames as the result of a hypergolic reaction, with the two reagent chemicals stored in separate stomachs, which spontaneously ignite when they come in contact with each other as they are expelled from the dragon's mouth. It's an engineer's explanation, to be sure, but there you go...
posted by seasparrow at 9:15 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

In Reign of Fire, (a movie, but still) the dragons have two sets of glands in their mouth, which excrete different chemicals, the mixture of which turns out to be highly flammable in contact with air.
posted by dithmer at 9:16 PM on May 15, 2012

According to renowned dragon scholar J.H. Brennan, one of the less commonly known facts about dragons is that every morning before dawn, they wake up and feed on old leaves and vegetation. Leaves eaten before this time pass into a 2nd stomach that processes them more slowly. One consequence of this unique digestion is that dragons exhale a steady stream of methane from the decaying humus in this 2nd stomach. Another lesser known fact is that they have crystalline growths similar to quartz on the back of their most prominent upper and lower fangs. When the dragon snaps its jaws rapidly shut, piezoelectricity creates a spark, igniting the methane gas.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 10:20 PM on May 15, 2012

Not quite what you're looking for but in an 1883 book Folk-lore of Shakespeare by Thomas Firminger Thiselton Dyer (html, Google Books):
In Bullokar's "English Expositor" (1616), we have a quaint account of this phenomenon, "Fire-drake; a fire sometimes seen flying in the night like a dragon. Common people think it a spirit that keepeth some treasure hid, but philosophers affirme it to be a great unequal exhalation inflamed betweene two clouds, the one hot, the other cold, which is the reason that it also smoketh, the middle part whereof, according to the proportion of the hot cloud being greater than the rest, maketh it seem like a bellie, and both ends like unto a head and tail."
posted by XMLicious at 1:54 AM on May 16, 2012

From the Discworld & Terry Pratchett Wiki:

"Swamp dragons compensate for this by evolving a huge appetite for anything that can be used for combustion. Swamp dragons can rearrange their "internal plumbing", guts, stomach, other miscellaneous tubes, to make the best use of what they have eaten, and to make the hottest flame they can. When having indigestion (a common ailment for swamp dragons), or being over-excited, a dragon tends to explode, which is the most common (practically the only) cause of death for swamp dragons. Swamp dragons are almost permanently ill; the famous swamp dragon breeder, Lady Sybil Ramkin, has written a book listing all swamp dragon diseases, their symptoms, causes, treatments, and so on."
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:26 AM on May 16, 2012

It depends on the author, really. If the world has magic then the answer to "How do dragons breathe fire?" is usually "magic" which is also the answer to how they fly, because aerodynamically, dragon wings are pretty much useless.
posted by Edogy at 7:31 AM on May 16, 2012

You'll find that a lot of modern fantasy (for adults) works hard to explain the mechanics of its dragons. Robin Hobb is good for this, as are all of the authors mentioned above.

If you're looking for a biology type thing, do check out the Dragonology stuff. It's very fun.
posted by AmandaA at 7:45 AM on May 16, 2012

I remember something about this in Dragonheart (1996) - how the bad guys expelled streams of flammable liquid from their lower jaw. Erm. Maybe watch that movie?
posted by TrinsicWS at 8:05 AM on May 16, 2012

If dragons had wings that buzzed like a bees, they could overcome the fact that bees' wings are small relative to their bodies.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:21 AM on June 14, 2012

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