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Do dragons have stripes?

Do dragons have stripes?

The question of whether dragons have stripes has fascinated people for centuries. Dragons are mythical creatures that appear in many cultures around the world, from European folklore to Asian art and literature. Their depictions vary widely, with some dragons having scales, others having fur, and some being illustrated with stripes or patterns on their bodies. Determining if dragons have stripes requires looking at historical accounts of dragons across different cultures and examining how their physical characteristics have been described in myths, legends, and artwork over time.

In this article, we will dive into the history and depictions of dragons to see what evidence exists for striped dragons. Looking at dragon myths and symbols from Europe, China, and other parts of Asia, we will analyze patterns in their descriptions and any mentions of stripes, bands, or other markings. We will also look at how dragons have been illustrated in ancient texts, paintings, sculptures, and more modern fantasy works. By surveying a range of sources, we can assess whether dragons are consistently portrayed with stripes or if this is an unusual or uncommon attribute.

Understanding whether dragons have stripes requires an open yet critical look at the available information on their mythical biology. This fascinating question allows us to explore deep traditions around dragons in human culture and what common threads may emerge. As we seek answers about their stripes, we gain insight into the rich creative symbolism of the dragon across different civilizations.

The European Dragon

In European folklore, myths, and legends, dragons are most commonly depicted as having scaly or leathery skin, large bat-like wings, claws, and the ability to breathe fire. Their long, snakelike bodies do not typically display stripes, bands, or patterns.

One of the earliest known European dragons appears in the epic Old English poem Beowulf, written in the 8th to 11th century. Beowulf’s dragon foe is described as having a purple, gold-speckled body, but no stripes are mentioned:

“…the dragon, fearful tyrant
with flame and fiery breath—he was fifty feet
in length when he uncoiled himself to move…”

In other medieval European tales, saints are said to have slain dragons, like Saint George and the Dragon or Saint Martha’s conquest of the Tarasque. These dragons are envisioned as large, green, four-legged beasts without notable coloration patterns.

European dragons were seen as symbols of sin, greed, and the devil. Their monstrous forms were meant to evoke terror. Decorative illustrations in medieval manuscripts show them with reptilian features and wings but no stripes that would diminish their sinister appearance.

Later in the medieval period, dragons became popular in heraldry, adorning crests and coats of arms of noble families across Europe. Heraldic dragons were most often colored solid red, black, green or blue, once again with no stripes or bands depicted.

The Oriental Dragon

In contrast to European dragons, Oriental or Asian dragons from cultures like China, Japan, Korea and others are often shown with longer, serpentine bodies without wings. They are not considered evil, but rather are powerful mythological beings associated with water, seasons, and natural forces.

Because they represent natural phenomena like rainfall, storms, and bodies of water, Oriental dragons are frequently illustrated with stripes, similar to the movement of flowing water.

For example, ancient Chinese texts describe four major types of dragons, several of which have stripes. The shenlong is colored red or blue and has a two-horned head with stripes. The chiwei has red scales with yellow stripes. The bi’an has black and yellow stripes over its entire body.

In Japanese mythology, the ryu is depicted as a large, coiling dragon with blue, black, red or yellow stripes along its body. It is a water spirit that lives in seas, lakes, or rivers.

Chinese art commonly shows the lung dragon with a twisting, snake-like body decorated with swirling stripes. This is meant to represent its association with rivers, rainfall, and other water sources.

Unlike the menacing European dragon, the lung is a benevolent symbol of strength, goodness, and blessings in Chinese culture. Its striped design reflects this connection to life-giving water.

Type of Asian Dragon Description
Shenlong Red or blue scales with horned head and stripes
Chiwei Red scales with yellow stripes
Bi’an Black and yellow stripes over entire body
Ryu Blue, black, red or yellow stripes along body
Lung Twisting, snake-like body with swirling stripes

Dragons in Modern Fantasy

In contemporary books, films, and games featuring dragons, these beasts display a wide array of colors, patterns, and other attributes that authors or artists have imagined. With no need to adhere to ancient mythological conventions, modern dragons can take on a rainbow of different looks and traits.

For instance, the dragons in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth fantasy novels come in many varieties. Some, like Smaug from The Hobbit, are typical European-style dragons with no stripes mentioned. But others, including Scatha the Worm, are said to have long serpentine bodies with cold-drake hides bearing dark patterns.

The popular How to Train Your Dragon book and movie series features dragons with unique patterned hides. The two-headed Hideous Zippleback has striped and mottled green skin, while the rain-making Thunderdrum has blue scales with lighter bands down its length.

Fantasy authors like Anne McCaffrey have detailed entire ecologies of dragons in their fictional worlds. Her Pern dragons have colors and markings that indicate their age, rank, and abilities. Younger dragons start with darker base colors and gradually lighten as they grow older.

So while classical myths tend to portray European dragons without stripes and Asian ones bearing striped water-linked symbolism, modern fictional dragons draw from both traditions and add endless creative variety in their scaly ornamentation.


Examination of how dragons have been envisioned over centuries and across civilizations provides clues to answer our original question. Historical accounts suggest European dragons lack stripes, with their scale patterns tending more toward solid colors, metallic sheens, or speckled hides. However, Asian dragons are very frequently depicted with striped bodies, likely representing the flowing movement of water.

This trend maps broadly across ancient myths, artwork, sculptures, and other records, though exceptions can be found in both traditions. When it comes to more contemporary fictional dragons, all bets are off, as authors invent dragons of all hues and designs to suit their stories.

So while striped dragons seem be mostly an Asian motif linked to water symbols, modern creations open the possibility of striped European-style dragons as well. With so many different iterations of dragons across various cultures, stripes ultimately remain an artistic choice in their imagined biology.