Sunday, April 13, 2008

Argos argos

At least one lineage of the Draconia became adapted to a fully marine existence. Argos argos, a large Pacific sea serpent, is representative of that group. Butler had two dead specimens on hand when he described the beast, in 1879. Both were males, although female specimens were described in later years (Butler, 1893). Argos averages about twenty feet long, and males tend to be significantly more robust than females. The wings have developed into muscular flippers, although the thumb still retains a hypertrophied claw. Surprisingly, the hindlimbs are nearly mirror images, structurally, as the wings, having themselves been transformed into flippers, minus the claw. The forelimbs are thin and end in three fingered hands. These atrophied limbs are used for holding on to mates and prey.

The body is laterally compressed, but retains a fairly circular cross-section. The tail, however, is more noticably flattened. Rather than scales, Argos argos' body is covered by overlapping "sections" of lightweight bony armor rings. These rings are loosely connected by skin and muscular tissue, giving the creature's movement through the water a unique look. The creature's cervical and dorsal neural spines are elongated, but not connected by any fin or epidermal structure. The skull is unique in having many caudally-directed bony protuberances, including a large "trident" above the eyes. Like the body behind it, the head is laterally compressed, and the mouth features many large, interlocking fangs. The mandible is distally downturned, giving the dragon a look of perpetual unhappiness.

Most interestingly, however, Argos argos has developed a "fishing lure" similar to those of angler fish. Its function remains the same: the dragon dangles the bioluminecent bulb in front of its gaping jaw, and when a curious fish comes to investigate, it snapped up. Argos argos shares the same waters as Lemiscusaurus enigmatus, but the two operate in very different depths and have radically different feeding styles. While Lemiscusaurus lives in the epipelagic zone, Argos is usually seen in the mesopelagic and occasionally the upper bathypelagic zones. Like all air-breathers, however, Argos must occasionally come up for air, which is when it is commonly seen. Further, it does not seem adverse to staying in the epipelagic zome for short periods, snapping up any fish it can opportunistically catch while there. Stevens (1947) remarked that the sea serpents appeared "lethargic" while in the upper oceanic zone.

In its native mesopelagic zone, however, Argos is an aggressive creature that has been known to attack both manned and unmanned submersibles. The males are violently territorial, and are thought to lord over a harem of between four and six females. Sadly, their mating habits are unknown given the expense of submersible observation.

In their review of draconian phylogeny, Irwin & Jones (1978) suggested that Palusodracos may share a common ancestor with Argos, citing the general pattern of cranial ornamentation, laterally flattened body, and wings which aided in marine transportation. They named this group Pacificodraconia," although by 1996, Irwin had abandoned such monophyly after a new fossil form related to Palusodracos (Protopaluso, Arnold 1988) suggested that the swamp dragon was closer to the European dragons than to Argos. Although Irwin still suspected some connection because of the unique cranial horns, he hypothesized that the marine adaptations of Palusodracos and Argos arose independantly as they converged on an aquatic existence.


Butler, J. A. (1879). A large aquatic sea serpent from the Pacific Ocean. Royal Journal of the Natural Sciences 80(2): 212-243.

Butler, J. A. (1893). On the discovery of an additional specimen of Argos argos. Royal Journal of the Natural Sciences 94(1): 68-75.

Stevens, C. A. (1947). Observations on Argos argos. Science Notes 24: 560-563.

Irwin, B. E. & Jones, D. (1978). Monophyly of the Draconia. Draconium 19(1): 25-59.

Irwin, B. (1996). A revised phylogeny of the extent Draconia. In A Brief History of Draconology (Suet & Svenson, eds.). Prince Rupert Press: 56-73.

Coming up: Taurodracos ungulatus, a bizarre flightless African dragon!

1 comment:

lantaro said...

Ooooooh tasty treats. Wonder what dragon sushi tastes like?