I love dragons–I’ve been obsessed with them as long as I can remember. Big mythical creatures that breathe fire and are infused with magic. If I could be a dragon, I would be one.
I like wyverns, too, and if I had the chance, I’d also be a wyvern. But what drives me crazy is when fantasy books and movies mix up dragons and wyverns. They aren’t the same, and a wyvern should never be called a dragon.
So what’s the difference between the two? First off, dragons have four legs in addition to their wings.
Wyverns only have two hind legs, with claws on their wings that act as front legs. This is a major difference, and it’s the difference that’s often mistaken in fantasy.
Many fans and creators portray wyverns as dragons. Whether they choose to do this because of aesthetic reasons or they don’t understand the difference, it depends on the person. But the mistake is common.
Peter Jackson’s Hobbit Trilogy has the same issue. Smaug, which is a dragon in the book and was drawn so by J.R.R. Tolkien, is portrayed as a wyvern in the films.
The top answer to the question What’s the difference between dragons, wyverns, drakes, and wyrms? gives a more detailed account of the differences between drakes and wyrms, those the comparisons and definitions are less solid in the fantasy and mythology communities.
Other than the number of legs, there are other differences between dragons and wyverns, but a lot of these are debatable depending on the lore you go by. In fact, most of this is specific to European dragons. Chinese dragons, as with other culture’s dragons, have different appearances and lore altogether.
Wyverns tend to be smaller than dragons, less powerful, and faster. Dragons are older, more powerful, and breathe fire. Then again, this all depends on the lore you follow. The real, main difference that is agreed upon by most European lore sources is that wyverns don’t have four legs.
So if the book you’re reading or movie you’re watching says it’s a dragon and it’s missing some legs, you’re really looking at a wyvern. Or a mistake between book and movie, as we saw with The Hobbit.
In the end, both are magnificent creatures. I’d give a lot just to be either of them for a day. The background image of my website is a wyvern (though my books feature actual dragons instead of wyverns). Just keep the definitions straight in your own stories and everyone will love you–myself included.