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.

10 Terrifyingly Huge Birds You Should Know

AndreaWillmore/iStock via Getty Images
AndreaWillmore/iStock via Getty Images

They’re gigantic, they’re often defensive, and you wouldn’t want to run into them in a zoo after hours. Meet a few of the world’s biggest birds with attitude, from flightless giants to modern-day pterodactyls.

1. Ostrich

Everyone knows that the ostrich is the world’s biggest bird, weighing an average of 230 pounds and standing 7 feet tall (and some individuals can grow up to 9 feet). They can also chase you down: Ostriches are the fastest species on two legs, with a top speed of about 43 mph. They can maintain a swift 30 mph pace for 10 miles, making them the marathon champs of the avian world.

2. Southern Cassowary

Often called the most dangerous bird on Earth, in addition to being one of the planet’s biggest birds, the southern cassowary is roughly 150 pounds of mean. On each foot is a 5-inch claw that cassowaries use to defend themselves. At least two people have been kicked to death by cassowaries, the most recent being a Florida man who unwisely kept one of the birds as a pet.

3. Emu

Emu with eggs
JohnCarnemolla/iStock via Getty Images

Like a smaller, shaggier ostrich, the 5- to 6-foot emu is the second-largest bird on Earth (as well as a goofy spokesbird for insurance). During the breeding season, female emus fight enthusiastically over unattached males. But the results of this mating ritual are impressive: clutches of forest-green, oval eggs that resemble giant avocados.

4. Greater Rhea

This flightless bird is named for the Titan goddess Rhea, who gave birth to all of the Olympian gods and goddesses in Greek mythology. At up to 5 feet tall and 66 pounds, the greater rhea may not seem like as much of a terror as the ostrich. But it gathers in massive flocks of up to 100 birds during the non-breeding season, so watch out if you happen to be in its South American habitat.

5. Dalmatian Pelican

Dalmatian pelicans
musicinside/iStock via Getty Images

How scary can a pelican be, you ask? When it stands almost 6 feet tall, weighs 33 pounds, and has a wingspan of 9 feet—all traits of the Dalmatian pelican—it's pretty petrifying. These scruffy-feathered monsters, native to Europe and Asia, breed in colonies of up to 250 pairs and can gulp impressive mouthfuls of fish in one go.

6. Mute Swan

One of the heaviest flying birds, mute swans look harmless as they glide over ponds, lakes, and rivers. But mute swans are far from silent when defending their families and territory. Male swans warn interlopers that they’re getting too close with a hiss, then can launch a straight-up assault, bashing the intruder with their wings. They’ll even attack kayakers, canoeists, and people just minding their own business.

7. Andean Condor

Andean condor
Donyanedomam/iStock via Getty Images

This freakishly big vulture isn’t satisfied with just any carrion—it prefers large carcasses like cattle and deer for dinner. Maintaining its average weight of 25 pounds requires a lot of calories, after all. Its wingspan is slightly less than its northern cousin, the California condor, but it still reaches a dramatic 9 to 10 feet.

8. Cinereous Vulture

Another big bird with a 10-foot wingspan, this Old World vulture has excellent vision to spot carrion while it flies, and a featherless head that resists the accumulation of gore when it feeds. Though it’s intimidating to look at, the cinereous vulture plays an important role in its ecosystem by cleaning up roadkill and other dead animals.

9. Marabou Stork

Marabou stork
Sander Meertins/iStock via Getty Images

As if its red-tinged wattle, black back, and dagger-esque bill weren’t alarming enough, the marabou stork is sometimes called the “undertaker bird” thanks to its Dracula-like appearance. It also eats other birds. The largest verified wingspan on a marabou stork measured 10.5 feet, though unverified reports cited a specimen with 13.3-foot span.

10. Shoebill

Shoebill storks may not be the tallest, heaviest, or widest-winged birds, but just look at that death stare. On top of having a nutcracker for a face, the 5-foot-tall shoebill leads a fearsome lifestyle. It stands absolutely still for hours to hunt prey, watching for lungfish or baby crocodiles, then spreads its wings and collapses over it while trapping the target in its bill.

10 Dramatic Downton Abbey Fan Theories

Jim Carter as Mr. Carson in Downton Abbey (2019).
Jim Carter as Mr. Carson in Downton Abbey (2019).
Focus Features

Despite its exhaustively polished veneer, Downton Abbey was always a soap opera. Julian Fellowes's historical drama about a family of aristocrats and their many servants could never resist a good shocker, and it deployed plenty of them over the course of six seasons. The valet was suspected of murder (twice). One of the Crawley sisters got knocked up by her older married boyfriend, who promptly went missing. And another sister’s first sexual encounter ended in death. Considering all this, it should come as no surprise that fans have developed similarly wacky theories about the show. These fan theories include secret parentage, undercover spies, and, of course, poison.

Brush up on the best of them before the Downton Abbey movie hits theaters—just in case the whole miscarriage curse comes up.

1. Mr. Carson is Lady Mary’s father.

This theory all comes down to eyes. As you may recall from science class, certain genes are dominant and others are recessive. This is perhaps most easily understood through eye color, where brown eye color, a dominant gene, is expressed as BB and blue eye color, a recessive gene, is expressed as bb. A parent with brown eyes might carry the recessive blue eye gene (i.e. Bb), but if you plot out genetic probabilities on a basic Punnett square, two blue-eyed parents with double bbs have seemingly no shot at producing a Bb baby. Now, what does any of this have to do with Downton Abbey? Both Lord and Lady Grantham have blue eyes, but their eldest daughter, Mary, has brown eyes. This has led some fans to speculate that Lady Mary is actually the daughter of Carson, the family’s beloved butler who has always acted as as sort of second father to Mary. As debunkers have noted, two blue-eyed people can have a brown-eyed child, because recessive genes aren’t that simple. But isn’t it wild to think of Carson and Cora having an affair?

2. Thomas Barrow poisoned Kemal Pamuk.

One of the soapiest subplots of Downton Abbey's first season involved “poor Mr. Pamuk,” the dashing Turkish diplomat who makes a fateful visit to the Abbey. After enjoying a day of fox hunting and an evening of sparkling conversation, Kemal Pamuk drops dead ... right in Lady Mary’s bed. The cause, it is later revealed, was a heart attack, but many viewers suspected something more sinister. Earlier in the episode, the Crawleys’ closeted footman, Thomas Barrow, made a pass at Pamuk, which the diplomat rejected quite forcefully—so much so that he threatened to get Thomas fired. That placed the footman in a tricky situation, but it was nothing a little poison couldn't fix, and that’s exactly why some fans believe Thomas slipped something into Mr. Pamuk’s dinner.

3. Lady Grantham’s miscarriage started a curse.

In the Season 1 finale, tragedy strikes. The newly pregnant Lady Grantham slips on a bar of soap, falling onto the bathroom tiles and inducing a miscarriage. It’s a sad moment, but it’s also, Reddit claims, the source of the house’s future misfortune. According to this theory, the miscarriage kicks off a curse of deadly pregnancies: Lady Sybil dies in childbirth; Matthew Crawley dies in a car accident soon after the birth of his son; and when the maid Ethel Parks becomes pregnant with Major Bryant’s child, he dies, too.

4. Mr. Bates is actually a bad guy.

Brendan Coyle and Joanne Froggatt in Downton Abbey (2019).
Brendan Coyle and Joanne Froggatt in Downton Abbey (2019).
Focus Features

Downton Abbey invests a lot of time and effort in convincing us that John Bates, Lord Grantham's trusty, is a great guy—despite his checkered past and multiple murder allegations. But what if everyone’s assumptions about Bates are exactly right? Some Redditors believe Bates is just a remorseless serial killer, pointing to his intense hatred of his first wife and “creepy vibes” as evidence. Anna had better watch out.

5. Michael Gregson is a spy.

Lady Edith’s boss and lover Michael Gregson is the publisher of a London magazine, The Sketch. Thanks to his job, he knows tons of important people, travels all over the world, and speaks multiple languages. He eventually disappears inside Germany in season 4, and later dispatches to the Crawley family imply that he was a victim of Adolf Hitler’s “thugs.” (The show timeline places Gregson in Munich right around the time of the Beer Hall Putsch.) Or at least, that’s the official story. Another one suggests that Gregson was a British spy gathering intel on the insurgent Nazis—and he might not have died at all. His superiors simply needed to feed Edith a lie that would discourage her from poking around, so they made up a cover story that someone who follows the news would believe.

6. Lady Rosamund Painswick is Lady Edith’s mother.

When Lady Edith becomes pregnant with Michael Gregson’s child, she finds a strong support system in her aunt, Lady Rosamund Painswick. Upon learning Edith’s secret, Rosamund travels to Downton Abbey to help her niece through her pregnancy, and suggests adoption options as the due date draws near. Some fans have interpreted this empathy as a clue that Rosamund, not Lady Grantham, is Edith’s true mother. It could also explain why Edith looks (and behaves) so different from her sisters. Or it could just be a sign that Rosamund cares about her niece.

7. Lady Mary’s “operation” was IVF.

In season 3, Lady Mary claims to have undergone a “small operation” that will help her start a family with Matthew. It’s maddeningly unclear what this operation entails, but one wild guess is that she had an early version of IVF. The complete crackpot theory is that this was a cover for Matthew’s infertility, which the doctors wouldn’t disclose to him, presumably to preserve his 1920s masculinity.

8. Lady Mary’s son George becomes a Royal Air Force pilot in World War II.

Lady Mary’s son George is only five years old in the series finale of Downton Abbey. But that means he would theoretically be 18 in the fall of 1939, which is exactly when World War II broke out in Europe. He would almost certainly enlist, as show creator Julian Fellowes himself has suggested. But Decider has more specifically theorized that George would join the Royal Air Force (RAF), “with a desire to rebel against his emotionally distant mother and find purpose in a greater cause.” Sounds like George would be taking part in some dangerous missions, putting the entire family’s future at risk.

9. Public tours keep the estate alive.

The Crawleys spend much of Downton Abbey fretting about the future management of their estate—partially because Lord Grantham is kind of bad at it. But Lady Mary has taken over when the series ends, and Fellowes believes she’d find savvy ways to keep her family’s home in their hands. “She would probably have opened the house to the public in the 1960s, as so many of them did,” Fellowes told Deadline. “And she’d have retreated to a wing, and maybe only occupied the whole house during the winters. My own belief is that the Crawleys would still be there.”

10. The Dowager Countess keeps Denker and Spratt around for the drama.

Gladys Denker is a maid to the Dowager Countess. Septimus Spratt is her butler. These two do not like each other, and they’re quite public about it. Denker and Spratt’s unprofessional squabbles would’ve gotten plenty of other servants fired, but fans believe the Dowager Countess keeps them employed for her own amusement.

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