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Anatomy of the Western Dragon by KatePfeilschiefter Anatomy of the Western Dragon by KatePfeilschiefter
I've updated this with a newer version here: [link]

This certainly took long. Oh the endless labeling...
I'm not entirely happy with the look of the muscled body, so I may update it later.
Much thanks to the Cyclopedia Anatomicae and the Manual of Ornithology, as well as to :iconjconway: :iconshartman: and :iconhumingbird: all of which I referenced heavily.

This is a large file, so full view to read the labels. This come with a warning, I am not an expert on anatomy or the complications of flight. (For example, I'm still not convinced if those small bones lining and stiffening the tail are called chevron). This is my attempt to create an anatomy reference for myself based on my current understanding of a plausibly realistic dragon. On that same note, this is not a reptilian dragon. I always describe my dragons as homeothermic. To clarify: dragons would be in their own group altogether separate from both mammals and reptiles, due to their extra limb set and other extreme differences.

Anyway, to the basics: This is a fairly boring design, and is meant to serve as a base with which to form wilder and more exaggerated creatures. This example is based equal parts on a lion, eagle, pterosaur and velociraptor. I took creative liberties with some of the anatomy to serve my own purposes, unlike in birds, the dragons back is not made up entirely of the fused thoracic vertebrae as he still has some lumbar vertebrae in the back for flexibility. I want the dragon to be able to run effectively and hunt both aerially and terrestrially. I also left out any kind of stabilizing device fan or tail feathers to keep the dragon extremely rudimentary in design.

The dragons head is based on both a lions and a dromeosaurs, I gave him more of a jaw than a raptors for added bite power. He also has some optional facial musculature for the purposes of expression. If I wanted to be extremely realistic, he would have neither teeth nor the bulkier jaw because of the excess weight, but what fun is a toothless dragon?

Some of this may be quoting John Conway's pterosaur research: The Pulmonary SASS (Subcutaneous air sac system) are a complex system of air sacs located beneath the skin that act as bellows for the lungs as well as to pneumatisize bones -filling them with air, meaning the bones can be bigger without being heavier or weaker. To be specific, they have post-cranial skeletal and soft-tissue pneumaticity; meaning there are hexagonal (honeycomb structured) spaces and pneumatic foramina filled with air within the bone and some tissue. The pneumatisation in the wings perhaps being fueled by the SASS. The air sacs may have have played a structural role in holding wing shape and posture, as they do in some birds. This feature aids in the oxygenation of the muscles, and unidirectional flow of oxygen in the lungs. Their large lungs, coupled with their efficiency of exacting oxygen from the air serve to support their size and powerful flight muscles. The SASS would also allow the animal to control the mechanical properties of the wing, perhaps even allowing the inflation to be used in display as it does in some birds.
Also from pterosaurs- the top layer of the wing is the actinofibrils, which help give shape and support to the wing.

About necks ((Knut Schmidt-Nielsen's “How animals work”, page 49 (1972))-
Long necks developed in dragons as well as in some birds and pterosaurs to allow ease of breath. Most dragons had long to mid-length wings for efficient flight and powerful downward thrust, but low wing beat frequency. And as wing-beat frequency determines respiratory frequency, this calls for bigger longer breaths, so a longer trachea and therefore longer neck is required to breath deeply without hyperventilating in flight. This creates the right dead space to tidal volume proportion to create the correct mixture of dead space air and fresh air upon inhalation and co2 concentration. Smaller dragons with shorter wings, higher wing beat frequency and shorter breath do not require this, and so have shorter necks.

Teeth- the dragon possesses incisors and canines similar to a lion and carnassials/molars for sheering and crushing. The other teeth (don't know the technical term) have strongly serrated backs and curve backwards like a raptors for holding onto prey.
The crushing back molars are useful for chewing bone as well as the minerals needed to spark their hydrogen and breathe fire. The hydrogen is produced by the dragons corrosive gut as a digestive byproduct and is stored in two long lung-like bladders that keep the dragon lightweight.

EDIT: Oh wow, a DD? Thanks guys so much!
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Daily Deviation

Given 2011-07-10
LadyNixie Featured By Owner Jun 27, 2018
I see the page numbers. What book is this in so I can go get it?
KatePfeilschiefter Featured By Owner Jul 9, 2018  Professional Digital Artist
It's not a real book alas, just designed to look like it came from one
DavidWalby Featured By Owner Mar 15, 2018  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
This is actually really nice, just like something I'd expect to see out of a dragon guide book. Keep it up!
AnnaRDunster Featured By Owner Feb 22, 2018  Hobbyist
Very nice, thanks for sharing :)
sphelon8565 Featured By Owner Apr 15, 2017  Hobbyist Filmographer
Honestly this is impressive :happybounce: for a guide of drawing dragons. I'd like it.
YesImPrecious Featured By Owner Feb 6, 2017
Wow the information here is just what I was looking for thank you so much!
KatePfeilschiefter Featured By Owner Feb 20, 2017  Professional Digital Artist
You're welcome, I'm glad you found it helpful
Timespinner2 Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2017  Hobbyist General Artist
How would the bone and muscle structure differ if the creature had two wings or front legs? or if the wings also functioned as legs
KatePfeilschiefter Featured By Owner Feb 20, 2017  Professional Digital Artist
I'm not sure I understand the first part of your question. But as for the second part, this skeleton was mostly based on birds, who have a more limited range of motion in the wings. Perhaps a more bat-like skeletal structure would allow a freer range of motion and allow the wings to switch duty from flying to acting as forelimbs. Bats lack the rigid pectoral girdle of a bird so they're generally weaker fliers but are more maneuverable. 
Timespinner2 Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2017  Hobbyist General Artist
Could you maybe explain the keel bone on the underside of the dragon
KatePfeilschiefter Featured By Owner Feb 20, 2017  Professional Digital Artist
Sure, that's a trait borrowed from birds. The keel is an extension of the sternum, essentially a flat projection running down the middle that provides a large surface area for the pectoral muscles to attach to. The pectorals are the most important muscles for flight as they make the downward thrust of a wing-beat powerful enough to produce lift.
Cloudy-dragons Featured By Owner Dec 17, 2016  Student General Artist
Very interesting, great job! :D
MarioSav Featured By Owner Dec 1, 2016  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Big job.......................
MidgetR Featured By Owner Oct 1, 2016
Impressive, detailed work! Excellent results - I can see that a lot of preparation went into this.
mcwolfyx Featured By Owner Sep 28, 2016  Student Digital Artist
incredible work!!!
BronyNo786 Featured By Owner Edited Aug 12, 2016  Hobbyist Digital Artist
maybe it's me being a httyd fan but the background texture looks like old parchment-like paper from the viking times.

Great work! this will be very helpful for my novel.
WanderingMogwai Featured By Owner Jul 3, 2016   Photographer
Wow!!  This is some really creative and beautiful work!  Impressive!
MelodicChronic Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2016  Professional Traditional Artist
Wow, unbelievable!
TheJasIllustrator Featured By Owner Feb 20, 2016  Professional General Artist
Very beautiful, fantasy creatures become much more realistic with planned out anatomy!!! Well done!
manofallart Featured By Owner Feb 9, 2016
Very nicely done!
ayjaycee Featured By Owner Jan 27, 2016
Very impressive detailed work
Ranakanth Featured By Owner Jul 6, 2015
This is absolutely awesome!
encharmed Featured By Owner Jun 13, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Anyone know where the ears are located? I assume they're extremely small, sort of like how some dinosaurs' were.
njanna Featured By Owner Jun 6, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
This is really nice!!!
Speciesunkn0wn Featured By Owner Dec 1, 2013
This is gonna help me out SOOOOOOOO much, to the point of i don't care it's an older version. My dragons (and dragon anthros) shall be better! whooooo
Silkkat Featured By Owner Jul 15, 2013  Student Traditional Artist
Amazing! Awesome anatomy and info
steel-worker Featured By Owner Jun 6, 2013
The detail and dedication of your way of exploring the matter is admirable¡
SilverDragon234 Featured By Owner May 8, 2013
If only Grand Wyverns would be as vicious as this bloak - only with a sickleclaw
ArcticDragon14 Featured By Owner Mar 28, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
rodro543 Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
gunneson88 Featured By Owner Dec 21, 2012
DragonFlame123 Featured By Owner Dec 16, 2012  Student Traditional Artist
I think your anatomy is spot on but I have to disagree with one thing.
dragonmaximus Featured By Owner Nov 15, 2012
Noirusd Featured By Owner Oct 10, 2012
nykol-haebrd Featured By Owner Oct 5, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Awesome! Such precise work!
Oharya Featured By Owner Sep 28, 2012
what materials used?
KatePfeilschiefter Featured By Owner Sep 28, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
graphite, and photoshop for the textures and labels.
Ragnarok6664 Featured By Owner Sep 27, 2012  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
O ye :dummy:
marcoancientpredator Featured By Owner Sep 8, 2012
Still it is done in a lot of details. I know it is not easy to invent or design a new bonestructure or a new use of muscles. I'm also writing a book of the medical care of dragons. I know that there will be a ton of comments and criticism, but I know that there will be a lot more laugthers and amazemend when others will read it. Gimme some time to finish it.
Atrash666 Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2012  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
WOOOOW! this is amazing!
Postmorteum Featured By Owner Sep 5, 2012
Do you have an "Eastern Dragon" one? Or know where I can find one? :paranoid:
KatePfeilschiefter Featured By Owner Sep 5, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
I haven't made one for them yet, as they're substantially simpler. I may in the future though. But if you'd like to know which creatures would be good anatomical reference for their body type, I'd suggest looking at otters, weasels, snakes and crocodiles
Postmorteum Featured By Owner Sep 8, 2012
Thank you so much!
Tifa22 Featured By Owner Sep 5, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Wow, cool! Thanks for sharing!
DoorStop1227 Featured By Owner Sep 3, 2012
Ojanassassin Featured By Owner Aug 31, 2012  Student Digital Artist
Awesom job
BeadyEyedGirl Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2012
megadracosaurus Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2012  Student
Perfect drawnings and detailed information...too awesome for words...
Daed-3-rewarD Featured By Owner Jun 15, 2012  Hobbyist Artist
this is truely amazing, much respect for all the sutdies you must've made to create this little masterpiece!
EclipsedPhoenix Featured By Owner May 21, 2012
I MUST come back later when I'm not so tired. This is worth the full experience; I know that much already. So I'll be back. I just got hooked by the Dromaeosaurian killing claw, and then the rest knocked me out. Also a lot to read through, but looking forward to it.
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Submitted on
June 14, 2011
Image Size
25.8 MB


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