How Dragons Work

Modern Dragons and Pop Culture

Not all dragons are purported to have had wings and lived in mountaintop caves. Some, like the much-debated Loch Ness monster, are believed to have fins and live in the water -- as in, live currently, today.

About 1,500 years ago, native people living near a lake in northern Scotland drew pictures of a serpentine water beast with flippers. And since the 1930s, reports of "Nessie" sightings have surfaced at least once a decade, including a June 2011 glimpse by local shop owners [source: The Inverness Courier]. However, scientists dispute the Loch Ness monster's existence, citing the nebulous nature of eyewitness sightings and out-of-focus photographs. Others, though, believe Nessie may be a dinosaur. If that's the case, this shy lake creature could be a plesiosaur -- a giant reptile with four fins, and a long tale and neck -- thought to have been extinct for 65 million years [source: Lyons].

Modern-day dragons aren't found only in European lakes. There's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" book and movie series by Stieg Larsson, a resurgence in Dungeons & Dragons game fans and, of course, the animated dragons in movies like "Shrek" and "How to Tame Your Dragon." Clothing designers like Ed Hardy and Martin Ksohoh have added dragons' likenesses to pricey clothing and accessories. And former reality star Jon Gosselin got a large, Korean-style dragon tattoo on his back after his public divorce [source:].

Thanks in part to the work of cryptozoologists -- researchers who study legendary or extinct creatures -- dragons continue to turn up in our collective consciousness. Although critics argue that cryptozoology is pseudoscience, supporters point to discoveries of outlandish animals that have proved real. The okapi, which looks like a cross between a giraffe, donkey and zebra, was once thought to be fictional. However, in the 1800s, scientists pursued the myth and discovered that the okapi is alive and well, and living in Africa [source: Naish].

Maybe we will someday say the same of dragons.

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