The World of Dragons: The Gnawing Tree Dragon

26 April 2021

“Níðhöggr lived beneath the great tree Yggdrasil. He gnawed on its roots, growing bigger each day. The roots were so tangled that they twisted around his body; the more he ate, the bigger he became; the bigger he became, the more the roots curled around him, trapping him where he lay. And from where he lay, he felt the coming of Ragnarök. So he gnawed and he gnawed, until finally he cut clean through the roots. Free at last, he burst out of the ground and into the sky, warning of Ragnarök to all who would listen.” – A History of Dragons: The Truth in Mythology by Ailuv Drah Gonz

Scientific name: Draco radices.

Origin: Scandinavia and Iceland.  

Diet: Herbivorous. Primarily tree roots.  

Life span: 200 years.

Size: Up to fifty centimetres wide and five metres long. 

Colour: Varies. Usually earthy or rocky tones. 

Notable features: Winged. Spiked ridges along spine. 

The gnawing tree dragon is one of the few herbivorous dragon species, surviving on a diet of roots and tubers. As such, they live almost entirely below ground, where their food source is abundant. Moving from tree to tree, they leave enough of the root system intact to allow it to thrive.

The gnawing tree dragon has a rough hide, similar in appearance to tree bark or cracked stone. This acts as camouflage, concealing them from potential predators and often making them difficult for humans to identify. Sharp spines protrude from their backs, helping them slice through packed earth and stone to travel underground. Their wings tuck neatly beside their bodies, small enough to allow them to tunnel unhindered. However, despite their small wings, they are more than capable of soaring far from peril when the need arises. 

Able to sense danger, these dragons only emerge from the ground when they detect a threat, often a natural disaster. Tearing themselves from the earth and shooting up into the sky, they make a trumpeting call which can be heard for many kilometres. This is described in a diary fragment found in the mid-13th century:

I wast walking to milke the cows, when alle of a sudden the dirt ‘rupt’d ’round me, and a mightie dragonne rear’d it’s headd from the earth. It did turn its headd towards me, regarding me f’r but a moment. Then it did shoot up into the sky with a shrieking call. I ranneth to town, shouting of what i hadst seen. F’r what couldst it be but an omen? 

We look’d to the sky to track its path. And there we saw a plume of smoke on the h’rizon, a blacke cloud above the mountains. Gath’ring what we couldst, we did flee to greenton, high on the hill. Yond evening, flame burst from the mountain and cover’d our village. Hadst yond dragonne not warn’d us, not one of us would be alive.”

This is not the only account of a warning given by a gnawing tree dragon. Ailuv Drah Gonz suggests that Níðhöggr, one of these dragons, heralded Ragnarök, an unconfirmed but seemingly catastrophic event. In recent years, reports from 2010 indicate the presence of at least one gnawing tree dragon before the eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull. Several people reported hearing strange sounds in the night before its eruption, including local farmer Elín Magnúsbur who mentioned it in a tweet the next morning:

“Anyone else wake up to a weird sound late last night? Sounded like a siren or maybe some sort of animal call. Never heard anything like it before.” 

Their tweet quickly gained traction as several others shared their own stories of the call. Days later, after locals had been evacuated to avoid flooding caused by the eruption, reports of the sound spread as far as Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavík. Dragonologists in Iceland and worldwide realised that only one sound fit the descriptions and could be heard from so far away: the call of a gnawing tree dragon.

Thankfully, there were no fatalities, but the question remains: next time a gnawing tree dragon issues a warning, will we listen? Or by the time we recognise it as the warning it is, will it be too late?


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