9 Legendary Dragons From Around The World

A dragon sand sculpture in Yokohama, Japan
A dragon sand sculpture in Yokohama, Japan
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

From Asia to Europe, South America to Africa—and even the United States—stories about dragons pervade mythology. Some of these dragons are said to bring luck, while others feast on humans; some protect water, while others steal it. In a few of these stories, dragons can even talk. Here's a selection of dragon tales from across the globe.

1. NINKI NANKA // GAMBIA

In Gambia and other parts of West Africa, the Ninki Nanka (sometimes translated as "Dragon Devil") is believed to live in swampy areas. The beast is said to be over 150 feet long and very fierce, with a face like a horse, a crest of skin on its head, and mirror-like scales. Many say that if you see the Ninki Nanka, you will die within a few weeks. Parents sometimes reportedly tell their misbehaving kids that they're going to send them to the swamp, where the Ninki Nanka will take them if they don’t starting acting properly.

2. MESTER SNOOR WORM // THE ORKNEY ISLANDS, SCOTLAND

Mester Snoor Worm was a sea dragon of the Orkney Islands who was said to wake up every Saturday at sunrise, open his giant mouth, and yawn nine times. Then he would set out to procure seven virgins to eat for breakfast. As an old fable says: "Although he was a venomous beast, he had a dainty taste." An accompanying legend describes how an old wizard said the land could be saved from the dragon's appetites for good if the beast ate the king's daughter. Fortunately, a hero showed up to slay the dragon and save the princess, and the dragon's falling teeth turned into the Orkney, Shetland, and Faroe Islands, while its body turned into Iceland.

3. SNALLYGASTER // UNITED STATES

The snallygaster lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Maryland, especially Frederick County. Its name is derived from the German words schnelle geeschter, meaning "quick spirit," and the myths around it are thought to have begun with German immigrants who settled in the area starting in the 1700s (perhaps helped along by some clever newspaper editors in the 1920s and 1930s). The snallygaster is said to be half-bird and half-reptile, with a metal beak, and swoops down from the sky to carry off victims and suck their blood. It has a werewolf-like arch enemy named the Dwayyo, and the two are said to have ferocious mythical battles.

4. XIUHCOATL // PRE-COLUMBIAN MEXICO

A stone statue of Xiuhcoatl at an Aztec site
A stone statue of Xiuhcoatl at an Aztec site in Tenayuca, Mexico
Maunus, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In Aztec mythology, Xiuhcoatl was a flaming serpent associated with turquoise, drought, and the fire god Xiuhtecuhtli. He was said to have been used by the god Huitzilopochtli to behead his sister Coyolxauhqui, in a triumph of light over darkness. He was a national and political symbol for the Aztecs, and ancient incense burners have been discovered carved in his image.

5. MINOKAWA // PHILIPPINES

Minokawa is a bird-dragon who shows up in Filipino mythology. The creature is said to be as big as an island and has sharp feathers like swords and mirrors for eyes. It lives in the sky near the eastern horizon, and once swallowed the moon, causing people on Earth to scream and cry. Minokawa was so curious about the strange noises they were making it opened its mouth in surprise, whereupon the moon jumped out and escaped. After that, the moon was afraid of Minokawa, and so hid from the dragon inside a series of holes in the horizon. Minokawa generally gets blamed for eclipses, when humans need to make as much noise as possible so that the beast will drop the moon.

6. VRITRA // INDIA

In the Vedic religion of early India, Vritra is a serpentine dragon and the animalistic representation of drought. In some versions, he hoards the waters and the rains. He is also the enemy of Indra, the King of Heaven, who heroically destroys him and his “deceiving forces” after Vritra blocks the courses of the rivers. When Vritra battles Indra and swallows him, Indra uses his sword to slice the monster open from inside his stomach. Vrirtra is sometimes also blamed for stealing cows.

7. THE WAWEL DRAGON // POLAND

A Wawel dragon sculpture outside the Dragon's Cave in Poland
Jennifer Boyer, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The Wawel Dragon, a.k.a. the Dragon of Wawel Hill, terrorized ancient Kraków, Poland. He inhabited Smocza Jama (“dragon’s den”), a limestone river cave on the banks of the Vistula, which flows below the hill where Wawel Castle sits. He was said to poison the air with his breath and devour both humans and cattle, until one day when a local hero fed him a lamb filled with sulfur—which made him so thirsty that he drank river water until he exploded. A stylized, fire-breathing metal statue of the Wawel Dragon is a tourist attraction in Kraków, and the dragon itself is a symbol of the city.

8. PEUCHEN // CHILE

In the Mapuche and Chilote cultures of Chile, a shapeshifting dragon called the Peuchen is widely feared and revered. The Peuchen takes the form of a huge flying snake most of the time, but can camouflage itself to look like other creatures while trying to suck the blood of various animals (generally sheep). This dragon makes high-pierced whistling sounds and can paralyze its victims with its gaze. It can only be killed by a machi (a medicine woman). The word peuchen is also the Chilean word for the common vampire bat, and some folks believe the bat is the basis of this myth. Other cryptozoologists think the peuchen is a local version of the chupacabra.

9. MO’O // HAWAII

The ancient Hawaiians believed that long black lizard- or dragon-like creatures called moʻo lived in pools, caves, and ponds, and were aggressive guardians of freshwater sources. They were said to be omniscient and able to control the weather, as well as morph into seductive women or mermaids. When slain, their bodies became a part of the landscape—for example, the cinder cone Puʻu Olaʻi and Molokini crater are said to be chopped-up pieces of an unfortunate moʻo who crossed the volcano goddess, Pele. Meanwhile, Molokaʻi’s Kamalo Ridge is said to display a gray outline of Kapulei, a male moʻo who pledged to watch over the area in life and in death.

7 Ships That Disappeared Without a Trace

iStock/stock_colors
iStock/stock_colors

There’s something ghoulishly fascinating about a mysterious disappearance, and our vast oceans offer seemingly endless space in which to vanish. The true fate of many of these ships will never be known, but speculation suggests that storms, piracy, mutiny, accidental bombing, and even the attack of a giant squid could be responsible for their vanishings. Below are seven ships that have disappeared without leaving a trace.

1. The Patriot // The disappearance of Theodosia Burr Alston

Theodosia Burr Alston (1783–1813) was the daughter of American politician and third vice president of the United States Aaron Burr. Theodosia had a privileged upbringing and a good education, and in 1801 she married wealthy landowner Joseph Alston, who went on to become governor of South Carolina. Sadly, in 1812, Theodosia lost her only son to a fever and she became sick with grief. Desperate for a change of scene, on New Year’s Eve 1812 she boarded the schooner Patriot in South Carolina to visit her father in New York. It is known that the ship left dock and sailed north, but what happened after that is a mystery. It never arrived in New York, and no trace of the ship or crew was ever found. A number of theories and legends have sprung up around the fate of Theodosia—some claim the ship was attacked by pirates and that she was forced to walk the plank, while others suggest that the Patriot got caught up in the War of 1812 and was sunk accidentally by an enemy ship. Perhaps most fanciful of all is the story put forward by a Karankawa Indian chief, who claimed that he rescued a woman who had washed up on shore after a shipwreck, and that before she died she gifted him her locket—with the name Theodosia inscribed upon it. Whatever the story, it is likely that after more than 200 years we shall never know the real fate of the Patriot and Theodosia Burr Alston.

2. The Merchant Royal // One of the richest shipwrecks never found

The Merchant Royal was tasked with taking treasures from the New World to Spain under the command of one Captain John Limbrey. In 1641 the ship was loaded with 100,000 pounds of gold, 400 bars of Mexican silver and a huge amount of precious jewels. As the ship entered the English waters, the weather turned bad, but unfortunately the pumps on board the ship broke and it began to take on water. Its sister ship, the Dover Merchant, with whom it had been sailing in tandem, came to the rescue of the captain and crew but were unable to take any of the cargo. The ship disappeared beneath the waves, somewhere off the coast of Land’s End.

Of course, with such valuable cargo, countless people have attempted to find the wreck, which has become known as the “Eldorado of the seas.” In 2007, it was thought that Odyssey Marine Exploration may have found the wreck after it salvaged 500,000 pieces of gold and silver from a site off the southwestern tip of Great Britain. This was later identified as treasure from a Spanish vessel—meaning that the unimagined riches of the Merchant Royal still await discovery.

3. USS Cyclops // Victim of the Bermuda Triangle?

The USS Cyclops was a huge steel-hulled fuel ship, tasked with carrying coal and other useful supplies for the U.S. Navy in the 1910s. On her final journey, the Cyclops set sail from Rio de Janeiro, with a full load of 10,800 tons of manganese ore and over 300 people on board. On March 4, 1918 the ship was spotted for the last time as it left Barbados and sailed into what we now sometimes call the Bermuda Triangle. The ship seemingly disappeared without a trace, and the case has been seen as especially mysterious since no distress call was made and no bad weather was reported in the region. Theories began to surface (some more imaginative than others) that the ship had been sunk by the Germans, attacked by a giant squid or octopus, or been victim of a violent mutiny. A huge search for the Cyclops was launched with a number of boats and planes scouring the area for debris or survivors, but nothing of the enormous ship was ever seen again.

4. The Witchcraft // The “unsinkable” luxury yacht

On December 22, 1967, experienced yachtsman Dan Burack and his friend, Father Patrick Horgan, set sail in the 23-foot luxury yacht Witchcraft to see the holiday lights off the coast of Miami. Unfortunately after just one mile the pair experienced difficulty when it seemed as if the yacht had hit something. Burack calmly called the Miami Coast Guard to report the trouble and request assistance. The official who took the call later commented that Burack seemed unconcerned—perhaps because the yacht was fitted with a special flotation device that was supposed to make the vessel unsinkable. The Coast Guard arrived at the scene just 19 minutes after the call, and were surprised to find no trace of the large yacht, no debris, and no sign of Burack or Horgan. Over the next six days, hundreds of square miles of ocean were searched, but nothing was ever found, and the Witchcraft has been chalked up as another vessel mysteriously lost to the Bermuda Triangle.

5. Andrea Gail // Lost in the “perfect storm”

The Andrea Gail was a 72-foot-long-liner boat that fished in the North Atlantic for swordfish. In September 1991 the ship, along with several other fishing vessels, set sail from Gloucester, Massachusetts for the last fishing session of the season. By October, the Andrea Gail and its six-man crew was out off the coast of Newfoundland when the confluence of terrible weather fronts conspired to create what has been dubbed “the perfect storm.” The massively powerful winds were whipping waves as high as 100 feet, and any ship caught in their path faced being sucked into the wave and flipped over repeatedly. The devastating storm battered the coast of New England and Canada, and after the worst of it had passed and the Andrea Gail had failed to return to port, a number of rescue missions set out to find the ship—but nothing was ever found. The story of the storm and the imagined fate of the Andrea Gail and her crew was later told in the book The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger, as well as a Hollywood movie of the same name.

6. The USS Porpoise // Caught in a typhoon

USS Porpoise was a brig involved in 19th century exploration and surveying missions, taking part in a voyage in 1838 that confirmed the existence of Antarctica and later circumnavigating the globe. In 1854 the ship set sail from Hong Kong carrying 69 men in order to carry out a survey of the South Sea Islands. Somewhere between China and Taiwan, the ship sailed into dense fog and was separated from its partner ship, the USS Vincennes, and never seen again. Many ships searched for the ill-fated brig for over a year, but no sign was ever found, and it's thought to have been wrecked in a typhoon with all hands lost.

7. HMS Sappho // Presumed Wrecked Off Australian Coast

Over the course of a 20-year career, the British Navy ship HMS Sappho worked to suppress the slave trade off the coast of West Africa, intercepting a number of ships loaded with slaves and freeing hundreds of people. In 1857, after wrongly chasing down and boarding an American ship—an event that caused something of a diplomatic crisis between America and Great Britain—the ship was ordered to set sail to Australia. The Sappho reached Cape Town without incident, and from there headed toward the Bass Strait, where it was last spotted by a passing brig on February 18, 1878. Bad weather was reported in the area, and it has been assumed that high winds caused the ship to founder and sink. No sign of the 147 crewmembers was ever found, but rumors abounded that the captain, Fairfax Moresby, had somehow escaped the wreck and made it to an island off Australia, where he was said to have lost his mind.

Bonus: Baychimo // Arctic ghost ship

The SS Baychimo somewhere in Canada
The SS Baychimo somewhere in Canada
Mysterious Disappearances, Wikimedia // Public Domain

The SS Baychimo started life as a German trading vessel before being given to Great Britain after World War I as part of reparations. The Baychimo came under the ownership of the Hudson Bay Company, and made many voyages across the Atlantic from Scotland to Canada to trade with local Inuit tribes. In 1931, while journeying to Vancouver with a cargo of furs, the Baychimo fell victim to an early winter, as ice floes surrounded the ship and locked it in an icy embrace. The crew escaped the stricken vessel and fled across the ice floes to safety, but some returned a few days later to try to rescue the ship and its valuable cargo.

After over a month of braving the treacherous weather in a flimsy camp, a huge blizzard hit and the remaining crew lost sight of the ship. Once the storm had cleared, the watching crew were surprised to find the Baychimo had disappeared. They assumed it had sunk without trace. A week later the ship was spotted by an Inuit hunter and the crew raced back on board to gather as much of the cargo as possible. The captain decided the ship was too badly damaged to be seaworthy and so abandoned it, thinking it would soon break apart. How wrong he was. Over the years, the Baychimo was sighted a number of times, sometimes caught fast in ice, other times floating ghost-like through the Arctic waters. The last confirmed sighting was in 1969—an astonishing 37 years after it had been abandoned to its fate.

This list was first published in 2016 and republished in 2019.

5 Terrifyingly Huge Spiders

iStock/clauselsted
iStock/clauselsted

This week, woman in Tasmania came upon a massive huntsman spider devouring a pygmy possum at a lodge in the island's Mount Field National Park. The alarmingly huge arachnid was at least the size of a grown man's hand, and it's not the only giant spider out there. The enormous spiders below can’t be dispatched by a shoe or a rolled-up newspaper. They're sure to give you nightmares—even if you're not an arachnophobe.

1. Poecilotheria rajaei

Poecilotheria rajaei, a huge spider native to Sri Lanka
Ranil Nanayakkara/British Tarantula Society, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

This species of tarantula, discovered in northern Sri Lanka in 2013, has a leg span of 8 inches. That's roughly the size of your face! It’s part of an arboreal group called tiger spiders, which are indigenous to India and Sri Lanka. A dead male specimen of P. rajaei—which is distinguished from other tiger spiders by the markings on its legs and abdomen—was first presented to scientists in October 2009 by a local villager; a survey of the area revealed enough females and juveniles that scientists are confident they've found a new species. “They are quite rare,” Ranil Nanayakkara, co-founder of Sri Lanka’s Biodiversity Education and Research, told WIRED. “They prefer well-established old trees, but due to deforestation the number have dwindled and due to lack of suitable habitat they enter old buildings.” P. rajaei was named after a police officer who helped scientists navigate the area where it was found.

2. Theraphosa blondi

A Goliath bird-eating spider
universoaracnido, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.5

Though Theraphosa blondi is called the Goliath bird-eating spider, it doesn’t actually eat birds. Reportedly, it got its name when an explorer saw it eating a hummingbird, but like other tarantulas, its diet consists mainly of insects, frogs, and rodents. But we’ll forgive you if you’re not comforted by that fact. After all, this spider can have a leg span nearly a foot across—the size of a dinner plate—and weigh up to 6 ounces, making it the largest spider in the world by mass. Its fangs, up to an inch long, can break human skin. (Though venomous, its poison won't bring down a human.) Native to South America, the spider makes noise by rubbing the bristles on its legs together; the sound can be heard up to 15 feet away.

3. Heteropoda maxima

A Heteropoda maxima spider
Petra & Wilifried, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Yet another reason to avoid dark caverns: Discovered in a cave in Laos in 2011, the giant huntsman spider has a leg span of 12 inches. It’s just one of over 1000 species of huntsman spider. These speedy arachnids can chase down their prey with ease and have legs that extend forward, like a crab’s.

4. Golden silk orb-weavers

These arachnids, of the genus Nephila, have a fearsome relative: the largest fossilized spider ever found is an ancestor. Females of this group of spiders, which are found around the world, can have leg spans up to 6 inches (the males are smaller). Though these orb-weavers typically eat large insects, in Australia, some of these spiders have been snapped eating snakes and birds that got caught in their strong, 5-foot-diameter webs.

5. Phoneutria nigriventer

Sure, Phoneutria nigriventer's nearly 6-inch leg span is scary—but there's something else about this spider that makes it even more terrifying: its venom, a neurotoxin that can be fatal to humans. In fact, along with P. fera, this spider is the most toxic on Earth (thankfully, a good antivenom exists). Native to Central and South America, P. nigriventer is also called the Brazilian wandering spider, for its tendency to roam the forest at night, and the banana spider, both because it hides in banana plants during the day and sometimes stows away in shipments of the fruit. When threatened, the spider lifts its front two pairs of legs and sways side to side, as you can see in the video above.

This story originally appeared in 2013.

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