Five things about dragons

by Dr Andi
Publish date
23 January 2012
Comments (2)

Happy Chinese New Year! In 2012 it's the Year of the Dragon. I've been stalking Wally the Gippsland Water Dragon in the Forest Gallery for days but couldn't get decent photo. I figured he should be the notional poster boy for this year's Chinese horoscope. Alas I am hopeless paparazzo because every time a customer service officer called me to say he was out and about and ready for his close-up, he would flee at the sight of me.

So I wandered down to the Live Exhibits lab to try get some tips on reptile whispering or to see if Wally had a stunt double, dead or alive. The staff responded by saying things like "oh, here I have a picture of Wally on my phone," and another said "here is a snap of another type of water dragon I took while bushwalking." You gotta love our museum staff.

1. Wally the Water Dragon only poses for visitors and Live Exhibits staff.

Wally's scientific name, Phisygnathus lesueurii howittii, has a connection to Museum Victoria. Our founding director Frederick McCoy named this species after "that excellent geologist, magistrate, and bushman, my accomplished friend Mr. A. Howitt... willing to aid in any scientific investigation of the natural products of Gippsland, and who with infinite difficulty succeeded in procuring three specimens for me of this River-Lizard."

McCoy also reported that that these lizards must have given rise to the rumours of crocodiles in Gippsland.

Wally the Gippsland Water Dragon Wally the Gippsland Water Dragon.
Image: Caitlyn Henderson
Source: Caitlyn Henderson

Eastern Water Dragon Wally's stunt double cousin, Eastern Water Dragon Physignathus lesueurii lesueurii.
Image: David Holmes
Source: David Holmes

2. Chinese dragons have four claws and Japanese dragons have three.

Next time you find yourself in a dragon-slaying situation, take a moment to count the claws on the foot of the dragon. That way you will know the its origin; if it has four claws it is Chinese but if it has three claws it is characteristically Japanese.

Japanese wood carving of dragon Japanese dragon carving in wood with articulated body, limbs and tongue. (ST 018385)
Source: Museum Victoria

3. Some dragons have fire in their bellies that sounds the passage of time.

Some dragons may breathe fire, but this Chinese dragon has fire in its belly; it's a reproduction of a Chinese fire clock. The dragon is boat-shaped with wires that support a burning incense stick or taper. This gradually ignites cords that then drop metal balls into a brass dish below.

Chinese fire clock replica Chinese fire clock replica, made by J. Bishop, Melbourne, 1959. (ST 024869)
Source: Museum Victoria

4. Dragon's blood was once used to stain violins and treat diarrhoea.

Dragon's blood is a red resin prepared from the fruits of a climbing palm (Daemonorops draco). It is used for colouring mahogany, varnishes, for staining marble and in the preparation of lacquers and dentifrices. It was also used medicinally for the treatment of diarrhoea and severe syphilis!

Dragon's blood Glass jar containing Dragon's Blood used in the pharmacy of a mental health hospital, Victoria, Australia, circa 1900 (SH 850502).
Source: Museum Victoria

5. Dragons are from mythical lands and Victorian coastlines.

The Victorian marine emblem is the Weedy Sea Dragon (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus). These wonderful fish are residents of Westernport and Hobsons Bays as well as Geelong and Portland.

Like most fish, sea dragons swim horizontally rather than in a vertical position, like seahorses. However, like seahorses, male seal dragons do the egg-carrying duty.

  Seagrass habitat with Sea Dragons. Seagrass habitat with two sea dragons.
Image: Mark Norman
Source: Museum Victoria

So in the tradition of Chinese New Year, forget all grudges, wish peace and happiness to all, and sweep away ill fortune to make way for incoming good luck.


Gippsland Water Dragon

Frederick McCoy's debunking of the Gippsland crocodile myth

Question of the Week: Dragon's den

Comments (2)

sort by
karl 24 January, 2012 18:56
delighful blog
Pennie 25 January, 2012 11:59
I believe the year of the water dragon only comes around every 60 years - so I agree that Wally should be the poster-boy. Great blog.
Write your comment below All fields are required

We love receiving comments, but can’t always respond.

About this blog

Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.