Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Felimimus paradoxus

Leedy may have considered Feradracos to be "the strangest dragon ever discovered," but that title would be inhereted by a new species almost a century later. Felimimus paradoxus (Camp & Bello, 1991) is a small, flightless cat mimic from Alps, sharing territory with Spinodracos and the large wyvern Jugoceras. The cat dragon is just six feet long, with long limbs and a long, low-slung body. Bony black spines run down the back, rising to their highest point above the hips and shrinking along the tail. Felimimus has a short neck and a small, boxy skull. It is the only living dragon with external ears, giving it unusually keen hearing compared to its flighted cousins. The cat dragon is mostly orange and black, with grey lower limbs and a similarly grey underbelly.

The most extreme adaptation of Felimimus, however, has nothing to do with its feline profile. Rather, its wings have become tools used in predation. The wing-arms are quite long, but the fingers are very short and only loosely connected by the cheiropatagium. The first wing-finger (or "thumb" in many dragons) has become an enormous, bony skewer which the dragon uses to repeatedly stab its prey into submission. Young dragons, however, do not possess the giant skewer, and it only begins to develop once they leave their parents.

Cat dragons hunt sheep and small vertebrates among their rocky, mountainous homes. They tend to live in small family groups including a male, female, and up to three junveniles. The adults do most of the hunting by stalking prey in a very cat-like manner. They keep their bodies extremely low to the ground, using quick, deliberate forward movements to move ahead. Once a prey item has been chosen, the dragons gallop forward, chasing the surprised prey (usually a sheep) until it is within leaping distance. The dragon jumps, grabs the prey by the hindquarters, and begins forcefully stabbing the body with its skewers. Unless the dragon's grip is lost, the prey quickly succumbs. Among mated pairs, one dragon will attempt to force the prey into the path of the other dragon. Although the dragons are hunters, they prefer to scavenge, and can usually be seen within a safe distance of a fresh kill by Jugoceras or Spinodracos. The cat dragons know better than to challenge one of these large winged reptiles, and wait until the killer has had its fill before moving in.

Despite its size, Felimimus is a burrower, and will dig holes in the ground or rocks as a home for itself and its family. Family groups will stay in the same burrow until it is raided by another group or until the pups have grown and moved on. Fights between rival males will occasionally break out, but not often. In general, individual families are tolerant of the presence of others. Felimimus pairs have been known to hunt and kill juvenile Jugoceras, although they seem to stay away from Spinodracos pups.

Predictably, the taxonomic status of Felimimus is puzzling. Phelps & Nash (2004) found similarities in the limb proportions and braincase to Rugodracos, and although they suggested a recent common ancestry, most workers have considered these similarities to be convergences. The extreme modification of Felimimus' skeleton make pinpointing its origins difficult. No fossil forms are known, and genetic tests have not been performed. It is currently placed in its own family (Felimimidae, Irwin 1996).


Camp, B. & Bello, C. (1991). Felimimus paradoxus, a new dragon which converges on modern cats. Draconium 32(2): 236-257.

Phelps, F. & Nash, D. (2004). Phylogenetic re-evaluation of the bizarre cat mimic dragon, Felimimus paradoxus. In Dragons of the World (Carpenter, ed.). Prince Rupert Press: 89-111.

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

1 comment:

lantaro said...

Nice. Very interesting, to say the least. I like the pack-hunting type-a deal they've got going on.