There's no evidence of wings or fire-breathing capability. But the powerfully built, meat-eating predator that terrorised Romania some 80m years ago is close to the mythological dragon.
Fossils found near the city of Sebes in central Romania have revealed a dinosaur with scythe-like claws for ripping apart prey which scientists have named balaur bondoc – "stocky dragon" in ancient Romanian.
Related to the velociraptor, which was brought to terrifying life in the film Jurassic Park, the dinosaur roamed the area when it was an island during the late Cretaceous period. At just 2.1 metres (7ft) long, it might have made a disappointing opponent for St George but would have preyed on small animals.
A partial skeleton of balaur bondoc, including leg, hip, vertebrae, arms, ribs and tail bones, has been unearthed from a former flood plain near Sebes.
Balaur had a stockier build than the velociraptor, its short legs and powerful muscles suggesting it was built for strength rather than speed. Its most unusual feature was having two oversized toe claws to the velociraptor's one.
"Balaur is a new breed of predatory dinosaur, very different from anything we have ever known," said Stephen Brusatte of Columbia University in New York, co-author of the research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"Its anatomy shows it probably hunted in a different way than its less stocky relatives. Compared to the velociraptor, balaur was probably more of a kickboxer than a sprinter, and it might have been able to take down larger animals than itself, as many carnivores do today."
Scientists believe the lower limbs were used to grasp and disembowel prey.
Unlike the vampire, which entered the mythology of eastern Europe in the early 18th century, the dragon has been part of Romanian legend for many centuries. Its ubiquity in fairytales worldwide has been interpreted as evidence that it could have existed. Balaur the evil hydra, a popular creature in Romanian mythology, is similar to a dragon but differs from its newly discovered namesake in that it was large and had fins, feet and multiple serpent heads.
The Romanian link with dragons was perpetuated in JK Rowling's Harry Potter series. The character Ron Weasley's brother Charlie worked at the world's largest dragon reservation in Romania.
As to the comparatively modest balaur bondoc, Josh Chamot of the National Science Foundation in Virginia said: "It's as large as anything you'd expect to find on one of the larger continents. Animals which were isolated from others on these islands were usually a lot smaller than their continental counterparts. This dino's size advantage, combined with the two claws it had on each foot to slice prey with, would have made it a very successful hunter."
Mark Norell, co-author of the study, called the discovery "thrilling". He said: "While we would expect that there were carnivorous animals in these faunas, finding one as unusual as balaur is thrilling and is testament to the unusual animals found on islands today and in the past.
"The finding indicates that this area of the world, despite its archipelago geography, had at least intermittent connections with the mainland up to the end of the cretaceous."