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What is a Wyvern?

By Wanda Albano
Updated Feb 24, 2024
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The wyvern is a mythological creature frequently found in European lore. The word "wyvern" comes from the Saxon wivere, meaning serpent. This legendary animal is usually defined as a subspecies of dragon, or at least the dragon's close kin. The dragon and the wyvern share many similarities in terms of appearance.

Like the dragon, the wyvern is rendered as a winged reptilian creature. It is distinguished by its possession of only two legs and a single pair of wings. Occasionally, a variant such as the sea-wyvern will possess a fish-like tail. More frequently, however, the wyvern's tail is drawn with a barb or a spade at the tip, which is sometimes considered poisonous. The wyvern may also be illustrated as having the claws of eagles.

Stories about wyverns are rather contradictory. At times it is represented as a smaller species of dragon, and at other times it is defined as a larger dragon breed. In some accounts, they are described to be so large as to prey on elephants and rhinoceroses.

Wyverns are commonly found in medieval heraldry and many institutions still use the wyvern in their heralds, crests, and coats of arms. In this regard, wyverns are seen as symbols of strength, power, and endurance. Examples of these emblems include arms of the Derby Midland railway station, the logo of the Dragon School in Oxford, England, and the arms of the Alpha Chi Sigma Fraternity.

Wyverns also make their appearance in popular culture. In Neil Gaiman's Sandman series, for instance, a doorkeeper to Dream's palace is a wyvern. Fantasy role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons and World of Warcraft also employ wyverns as part of their various mythologies.

Interestingly, a few cryptozoologists have been known to espouse the theory of wyverns being evidence that animals such as the pterosaurs, winged reptiles which died out about 65 million years ago, may have actually co-existed with human populations, and may in fact still exist today. Unfortunately, there is no evidence to support these claims.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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