This is a novelty book, published in 1982, by Paul and Karin Johnsgard. They are a father and daughter team who wrote just this one book together. Paul is a zoology professor (now retired) who penned numerous books on ornithology and similar wildlife topics. Evidently he decided to take a walk on the fun side and do a what-if book with his daughter, Karin. Paul also created the illustrations, which are pen and ink and very much natural-history style.
The premise is to treat mythical beasts the way they would real ones. So they posit that dragons are cryptids (unknown creatures) descended from dinosaurs. There are breakdowns of several varieties, distinguishing lake dragons from flying dragons and flightless dragons. Interesting ideas are presented about dragon habitats and behaviors, and reasons for the age-old conflict with humans. They weave in as many traditional folk beliefs about dragons as they can.
Perhaps most interesting is the explanation they offer for fire-breath. According to the Johnsgards, this is the result of dragons being mostly vegetarian. Dragons digest greenery through fermentation, which generates methane gas. To prevent painful bloating, the methane is isolated in a secondary stomach. It can be expelled slowly while breathing or in bursts for self-defense.
This book is fun, in a dry and reserved way that is appropriate for a faux nature documentary. I don’t recommend it for kids because of the sparse illustration, but teens and adults with a wry sense of humor should get a smile out of Dragons and Unicorns, A Natural History.
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