Great and winged beasts can be found within countless tales and mythologies around the world, soaring above the clouds as symbols of power and destruction. While the exact forms of these awe-inspiring creatures vary from story to story, it is evident that they are known under a common name – dragons - and yet other tales refer to some of these majestic beasts of legend differently, calling them drakes, wyverns, and wyrms.
How are dragons, drakes, wyverns and wyrms different?
In the simplest sense, these beasts are distinguished through their wings, limbs, and legs. Dragons often have an extra pair of legs than wyverns. Wyrms are often entirely limbless. Read on to see in which other regards do dragons, wyverns and wyrms differ.
What is a Dragon?
The classic form of a dragon in Western myths resembles a gigantic reptilian beast with huge, bat-like wings, wickedly sharp claws, and thick scales covering its entire body as natural armor. They can also possess long, spiked tails that double as whips.
Although they are already formidable physically, a dragon’s strength is incomplete without magical or supernatural abilities. Their quintessential power is breathing fire. Creatures in the dragon family may also wield lightning, frost, poison, or other elements.
Mentally, dragons can be anywhere from animalistic predators to infinitely-wise, god-like beings. In myths, they are often guardians of great treasures.
Like other legendary beasts, dragons are usually immortal or have long lifespans. They are occasionally depicted as being able to reproduce. Drakes – a related term – usually refer to juvenile dragons or a lesser subspecies.
What is a Wyvern?
Wyverns are a fairly recent offshoot of dragons in the historical sense – it was first conceptualized by as late as the 1600s. In fact, while the ancient Greco-Roman origin of the word “dragon” means “snake/serpent,” wyverns are Middle English for “viper.”
Physiologically, wyverns are quite similar to dragons – however, they are usually smaller and possess fewer limbs. The wings of many wyverns are also attached to their front limbs instead of their backs, making them resemble bats or birds in flight.
In addition to their “degraded” appearance, wyverns are typically portrayed as primal beasts rather than sapient creatures. They may use magic as a natural defense mechanism rather than a learned skill.
What is a Wyrm?
Among its relatives in the family of draconic creatures, the wyrm is easily distinguished by its lack of limbs and wings. It retains the scale armor found in other dragons, lending it the appearance of a great, flying snake or a legendary serpent.
Wyrms may not feature any wings, but they may still fly through magic or other means. Consequently, they tend to move quite gracefully. As such, these wingless wyrms are quite similar to the typical form of dragons from East Asian mythology.
Due to their serpentine appearance, wyrms are likely to be seen inhabiting dense, foggy forests, swamps, bogs and other perilous locales.
Differences between a Dragon, Wyvern and Wyrm
Dragons – and by extensions, drakes – possess giant wings on its back. Wings are also a common feature of wyverns, although these body parts tend to project from their arms or front limbs instead. For both creatures, their wings are frequently modeled after bat wings, but some fantasy settings may depict them with avian, feathered wings as well.
Wyrms are devoid of any specialized organs for flight. They may still float, glide, and move through the air using their supernatural abilities.
Since wyrms, by definition, lack limbs, the main distinction in this category concerns dragons and wyverns.
Both species may be depicted with a variable number of limbs, depending on the type of fantasy or myth. As a convention, the front pair of limbs in both species is generally treated as arms for grabbing, grappling, crawling, scratching or other motions. The rest of their limbs are used as legs.
Typically, dragons possess four to six bulky limbs. Wyverns can have two to four limbs that may be bulky or considerably leaner.
The mental ability for all three draconic species can vary immensely from tale to tale. Old folktales habitually concerned conflicts between man and nature – thus, the beasts from these stories might be entirely animalistic.
In other stories, dragons are intelligent, capable of communicating in human speech to make demands or repel intruders. Some dragons may be benevolent instead, and help heroes with their wisdom. These instances may even teach others how to use their own powers.
Wyverns are generally treated as beasts rather than rational beings. Wyrms may be primal or rival intelligent dragons in wisdom – especially the lung or traditional Chinese dragon.
Powers and Abilities
Oftentimes, all three draconic beasts will possess “breath”-based powers, releasing huge amounts of flame, chilling ice, or other harmful substances against enemies. Their full set of powers is only limited by authors and readers.
Dragon’s blood is often powerful by itself; transfusions may result in gaining draconic power, or it may be processed into an incendiary weapon.
A dragon’s bulkiness makes it an easy target to hit, necessitating the use of thick, shielding scales. Wyverns and wyrms can be more agile and avoid incoming attacks. Wyverns might also engage in more melee-oriented combat, while wyrms, being limbless, would rely on their wit and magic.
Some tales feature miniature forms of dragons called fae dragons. Drakes – especially wingless ones – can also be considered as relatives to the many-headed hydra and the equine-like kirin.
Wyverns also have a smaller subspecies – the cockatrice – which is usually the size of a large turkey.
Wyrms come in different forms. Varieties with two legs are called lindwurms; those with multiple legs (usually eight) are salamanders. Aquatic wyrms with fins are seen as sea serpents.
Comparison Chart: Dragon Vs Wyvern Vs Wyrm
|On the back
|Attached to front limbs
|6-8; considerably bulky
|4-6; bulky or lean
|Anywhere from animalistic to highly intelligent
|Typically behaves like an animal
|Can be bestial or extremely wise
|Powers and Abilities
|Breath weaponry, sturdy armor
|Breath weaponry, excels in melee
|Breath weaponry, magical superiority
|Lindwurms, salamanders, sea serpents
How are Dragons, Wyverns and Wyrms similar?
All three of these legendary beasts largely occupy the same role in a story – they act as primary or prominent antagonists with immense power. They often guard important places or people.
Dragons, wyverns and wyrms are all serpentine or reptilian in appearance. Physiologically, they often share a chimeric body plan, with body parts modeled after many different animals.
Significant overlap exists with regard to their abilities, especially in the field of magic. In fiction, all three creatures can plausibly use breath weapons, channel elemental forces, or wield other, more esoteric powers.
Why are dragons associated with medieval times?
During the European Middle Ages – which roughly encompasses the 5th to 15th centuries – folktales and myths typically depicted dragons as harbingers of evil – either as creatures of hell or as one of the Devil’s most powerful forms. Over time, these tales codified what dragons were in the public imagination.
The prominence of dragons in European and Christian myths goes further back. In fact, St. Michael himself slays a formidable dragon in the Book of Revelations.
The Legend of St. George and the Dragon stands as one of the most popular and influential works involving dragons, helping define the classic story of a hero rescuing a princess from her terrible draconic attacker.
Do wyverns breathe fire?
In fictional works, theoretically, nothing prevents a writer from creating fire-breathing wyverns. However, in the art of heraldry and crest-making, wyverns are seldom portrayed as breathing fire, unlike their dragon counterparts. Wyverns without fire-breathing can possess alternative weapons, most commonly based on venom.
Dragons, wyverns and wyrms all radiate power as a dominating force in many tales and mythologies. They are broadly similar in their reptilian physiology and magical abilities.
Some differences between these three draconic creatures are quite distinct. Dragons are often bulkier, possess more legs, and command greater intelligence – while drakes exist as juveniles or a lesser breed. Most wyverns are smaller, more beastly, feature fewer limbs, and prefer close combat. Wyrms are limbless and wingless, move gracefully, and emphasize superior magical strength.