A scaly beast climbs up onto a mossy log from a dark forest pool. Surrounded by dense forest, this menacing monster has an elongated jaw full of jagged teeth, and it looks ready to snap them down on some unsuspecting passerby.
This beast is obviously a crocodile, but it’s in the wrong place. Rather than living in tropical wetlands, this particular animal finds itself in a temperate forest.
There are a lot of dragons in European folklore, but one particular story caught my interest: The Dragon of Brno. Brno is a city in the Czech Republic. The story tells of a dragon terrorizing the town and devouring livestock. Eventually it is killed by a traveling butcher who poisons it by feeding it an ox hide filled with lime. Various other towns in the area have very similar legends all with the dragon being poisoned by a butcher in the end.
What makes this story particularly unusual though is that it has evidence. Hanging in the town hall of Brno is the carcass of the dragon, and…guess what…it’s clearly the body a crocodile.
Now imagine going back a few centuries to a time when travel was never faster than the speed of a horse. Though they may have heard of such an animal, it’s highly unlikely that most of the people of a central European town had ever actually seen a crocodile. So, if a crocodile somehow wound up in a nearby body of water, one could easily understand that such a creature would be identified as a dragon. Though, of course, it is entirely possible that the croc body was placed in the town hall at a later date and just named after the legendary dragon.
On a side note, such an event recently happened near me. I live in north Georgia where begin the Piedmont Plateau there should be no wild alligators. Yet a large one was recently trapped on the Chattahoochee river. Perhaps that inspired me a bit to depict a crocodile in my art.