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Imagine Dragons: 5 Lizards That Look Like Mythical Beasts

What’s mightier than a dragon? From epic fantasies like Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and Harry Potter to animated films like How to Train Your Dragon and Pixar’s Onward, these fearsome, fire-breathing animals swoop across pages and screens—sometimes as enemies and sometimes as allies. Did you know there are real-life lizards that would make even the Mother of Dragons swoon? 

Our planet is home to some amazing animals, and they all support Earth’s biodiversity. Here are five that make it easy to imagine dragons. These species don’t live on Middle Earth or Valyria, they live right here on Planet Earth.

  1. Draco Lizard
Draco lizard
Credit: H. Zell

The draco lizard (Draco volans), also known as the flying dragon, isn’t huge, but it makes up for its small size with a secret weapon: flight. In the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia, draco lizards leap and glide from tree to tree by unfurling their winglike arms, which connect to the sides of their body with folds of skin. Imagine looking up to see the silhouette of a soaring lizard. It’d feel pretty Middle Earth-y. 

  1. Komodo Dragon
Komodo dragon
Credit: Charles James Sharp

The Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensisis) is the Hungarian Horntail of real life. You would not want to face off with one of these oversized lizards in the wild (or the Triwizard Tournament). Native to a small handful of islands in Indonesia, Komodo dragons are the biggest lizards alive today, with males weighing up to 300 pounds. 

Of course, a Komodo dragon doesn’t breathe fire, but it does have a venomous bite and large, curved teeth. These predators are meat eaters, and once they’re fully grown, they prey on deer, wild boar, and even water buffalo. 

  1. Frilled Lizard
Frilled lizard
Credit: Miklos Schiberna

The frilled lizard (Chlamydosaurus kingii) uses a scare tactic that would make House Targaryen proud. When threatened, the lizard opens its mouth, lets out a hissing sound, and opens its frill—a scaly membrane around its head that makes it look big and intimidating. 

Native to Australia, frilled dragons make up for their lack of flight with their ability to run fast on two legs. A lizard running on two legs, mouth agape, with a big frill around its neck will shock even the most ferocious predators.

  1. Marine Iguana
marine iguana
Credit: Murray Foubister

If dragons could swim, they’d look like a marine iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) of the Galapagos Islands. With intimidating spikes along its back, bony bumps on the top of its head, and long, curved claws, this iguana looks tough to the core.

Marine iguanas dive into the ocean and scrape algae from rocks. Because their diet is so salty, their bodies must pull the extra salt from their blood and expel it through their nose (i.e., they sneeze salt). These iguanas are mostly black, but males in some populations have fiery, dragonesque streaks of green and/or red.

  1. Plumed Basilisk 
plumed basilisk
Credit: sgene on inaturalist

Dragon trainers on the Isle of Berk would definitely adopt a plumed basilisk lizard (Basiliscus plumifrons). Their green plumes look pretty fierce, and the males’ territorial behavior is straight out of a dragon-guarding-treasure’s playbook. 

Plumed basilisks live in southern Mexico and northern Colombia. Their claim to fame is their ability to “walk on water” by moving so quickly that they actually skim the surface of a body of water without sinking into it. 

Are these real-life dragons worthy of the House of Dragons? Tell us your favorite in the comments below.

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