Cruz, Ronald Allan L. “Here Be Dragons: Using Dragons as Models for Phylogenetic Analysis.” The American Biology Teacher 79, no. 7 (2017): 544–51. doi:10.1525/abt.2017.79.7.544.
The students are building character matrices (with Mesquite 3.04) and cladograms based on the characterics of the D&D 3.5 dragons. Then, they generate a phylogenetic tree based on their analysis (with PHYLIP 3.6). The character choices/states are based on breath weapon, number of limbs, wing shape, alar phalanges,... but not on color, alignment and religion.
Fictional dragons in teaching activities present some weakness :
- difficulty to determine which characters are important ;
- some characters are vague ;
- fun ;
- lack of established/accepted "best" estimate: practice problem solving and critical thinking ;
- no pre-existing phylogenetic: no cheating.
Ronal Allan L. Cruz, the ressourceful professor who designed the activity, comments « this activity reinforces the usefulness of fictional organisms in understanding the biology of real ones. »