Jones argues that the image of the dragon is composed of the salient body parts of three predator species that hunted and killed our tree-dwelling African primate ancestors for about sixty million years. The three predators are the leopard, the python, and the eagle.But aren’t European dragons usually reptilian in their facial features? And what about the wings—or is that another carryover from the raptors?
According to Jones (what follows is a condensed summary of a complex argument), ancient primates evolved alarm calls to identify each of the three predators, with each call triggering the defensive response appropriate to the nature of the attack mode of the specific predator. Jones calls this predator-recognition template the “snake/raptor/cat complex.” This complex is the source of what Jones refers to as the “brain dragon.”
The brain dragon emerged when our apelike ancestors left the trees to walk on the ground. rather suddenly, the relatively small brain of Australopithecus had to process a lot of information about many new forms of predators and develop new alarms calls and strategic responses to them. Faced with information overload, the brain of Australopithecus resorted to lumping information into manageable and memorable chunks.
As a result, the cat, the snake, and the raptor were merged into a hybrid creature that had the salient predatory features of each: the face of a feline, the body of a snake, and the talons of a raptor. This is the hybrid “monster” that came to be known as the “dragon.”
Paul A. Trout summarizes the hypothesis of anthropologist David E. Jones’s An Instinct for Dragons: