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From what I understand, Smaug is a beast that must eat other living things to sustain himself. For example, he does not "eat" gold and jewels, he simply admires and covets them.

It's implied that he ate a good deal of dwarves, men, ponies, etc., during his attack on Erebor. But once he had settled in and driven all the dwarves out, what the heck did he eat for 60 years?

The dwarf carcasses would have soon rotten away. I'm sure the dwarves had stores of food in Erebor somewhere, but it probably was in closed-off storerooms that were too small for Smaug to enter. Plus, after a few years, that food would have surely rotted away too.

Did Smaug occasionally leave the Mountain on hunting trips, searching for cattle, sheep, ponies to prey upon? Certainly there were no men living for miles around the Mountain after the attack - they died or moved far away. We know there is a large area around the Mountain that is "desolated". It seems to me, being charred and burnt, that nothing would grow here and no animals would graze. Where then, would Smaug hunt? Surely he did not wander that far away from the Mountain.

Perhaps, he entered a state of hibernation for many years and did not require food or water. But that could not last forever; he was not hibernating when Bilbo came down to him. I doubt he would hibernate for that long.

Please help me answer this question if you can.

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Reign of fire's dragon lasted for millions of years. –  huseyin tugrul buyukisik Dec 16 '13 at 17:44
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At least in the movie, the thrush seems to wake Smaug up from some kind of slumber, most likely deep (as in hibernation) as he's covered in gold to the point that an exhale discharges gold coins from his nostrils and gold falls from his opening eye. (Apologies as it's been many years since I read the book. I can only reference the movie at this moment.) –  Meat Trademark Dec 16 '13 at 18:56
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Yeah, I'm betting on hibernation as well. Especially since the folk from Lake Town speak of not wanting anyone to wake the dragon. –  Andres F. Dec 16 '13 at 19:35
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And in the movie, at Bilbo's home, the dwarves also worry that Smaug had not been seen for a long time, tempting others to carry away the wealth of Erebor if the dragon had died or gone. This illustrates the infrequency of sightings and the sparse eating habits of Smaug, not a 3 squares sort of dragon. –  Ihor Sypko Dec 16 '13 at 20:25

5 Answers 5

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This is answered in the book; first of all in Chapter 1:

"We might go from there up along the River Running," went on Thorin taking no notice, "and so to the ruins of Dale-the old town in the valley there, under the shadow of the Mountain. But we none of us liked the idea of the Front Gate. The river runs right out of it through the great cliff at the South of the Mountain, and out of it comes the dragon too - far too often, unless he has changed."

Then (also Chapter 1):

Probably, for that is the dragons' way, he has piled it all up in a great heap far inside, and sleeps on it for a bed. Later he used to crawl out of the great gate and come by night to Dale, and carry away people, especially maidens, to eat, until Dale was ruined, and all the people dead or gone.

In Chapter 9 we learn that Lake Town had been built to protect against draconic excursions (therefore establishing that they still happened):

It seemed a town of Men still throve there, built out on bridges far into the water as a protection against enemies of all sorts, and especially against the dragon of the Mountain.

As I said elsewhere, while Tolkien may not explicitly write about Smaug coming out regularly to eat, he doesn't explicitly write about Aragorn going to the toilet either. But yet we assume that Aragorn does go to the toilet, and that he doesn't have any special capabilities or exceptions that cause him to avoid this requirement. Because people need to go to the toilet. Why should we assume any different for dragons eating?

So yes, it seems obvious that Smaug does come out to hunt from time to time.

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But Jimmy, the town of Dale was quickly depopulated and decimated. It could not have been a source of food for long. Likewise, Laketown does not seem to have been visited by the dragon in recent memory, judging by the vague recollections of the dragon and no immediate sense of fear felt by the inhabitants. It seems that Smaug has not hunted men for a good many years by the time of the Hobbit. I do think he was hibernating for a while. –  Kim Rudolph Dec 16 '13 at 19:42
    
@KimRudolph - the quote I provided from the book seems to claim otherwise, don't you think? It seems to indicate that Smaug definitely came out for some time after he sacked the Mountain, and explicitly to raid Dale. This isn't personal opinion - it's a quote from the book. –  Darth Satan Dec 16 '13 at 19:46
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"for some time" as you say, but how long a time? How long did it take a dragon before Dale was ruined, and all the people dead or gone? Similarly, in the first quote Thorin admits his information is out of date and the behavior of the dragon may have changed. We also don't know that Lake Town has needed its anti-dragon defences in the past few years. All of the quotes support that he came out for a while, but it had been 171 years between the arrival of Smaug and the events of The Hobbit. Pretty subjective unless there are more specific quotes. –  PeterL Dec 16 '13 at 23:27
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I guess that's where we differ -- to me it's a simpler explanation that he can grab a lot of ponies and people at once and then basically hibernate than it is to assume he stealthily left the mountain without being seen for so many years. Point is, both explanations are reasonable –  PeterL Dec 19 '13 at 15:06
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Actually we have proof that he left the Mountain in far later times, some of the older men from Esgaroth at the time of Thorin's arrival, had seen him in their younger days flying, also mentioned in another thread on this site: –  fantasywind May 16 at 19:32

Some real-world animals are thought to be able to go for a very long time without food, relatively speaking. For example, crocodiles can go over a year without eating and this page says it "is typical" for some snakes in the wild to go without food for 6 months.

If we assume that Smaug gorged himself after coming to Erebor and slowed his metabolism in the way snakes can do, he conceivably could have stored a large amount of nutrition within his digestive system and gone through it only very slowly. He was largely inactive during this time.

That is before we get into questions of their potentially magical nature. They were originally bred by Morgoth, but I don't recall off-hand if their longevity is natural or magical in nature (if one even chooses to use such distinctions in Tolkien's work). Many creatures in Middle Earth are described as immortal, so perhaps this also comes into play for Smaug.

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Although immortal might be the wrong word to use as he proves extremely vulnerable to arrows! –  Sean Condon Dec 16 '13 at 22:04
    
Indeed :) Although I'm actually not sure if Smaug is "immortal-until-killed" or just extremely long-lived, there seems to be precedent for immortal-until-killed in Tolkien (e.g. Istari, elves). –  PeterL Dec 16 '13 at 23:10
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@SeanCondon It says somewhere in the Hobbit that "Dragons sit on their treasure all their life long, and that is practically for ever, unless someone kills them". Or something like that. –  MadTux Jan 2 at 17:04

Smaug himself gives the answer

"I kill where I wish and none dare resist!"

Smaug is quite capable of long distance flight when hunting, having flown from the Withered Heath, north of the Grey Mountains, to attack Erebor.

South of the River Running there is the Kingdom of Rhovanian, which extends to the east as far as the inland Sea of Rhûn; north to the River Running and the Iron Mountains, home of the Dwarves; west to Mirkwood and south to the Emyn Muil, Dagorlad, and the Ered Lithui. These lands are inhabited by men (and their attendant domesticated animals). More than enough food to keep Smaug happy.

Gandalf also aludes to his ability to travel long distances in LOTR (Appendix A)

"Think of what might have been. Dragon-fire and savage swords in Eriador, night in Rivendell. There might be no Queen in Gondor. We might now hope to return from the victory here only to ruin and ash."

No doubt he wouldn't range so far as Eriador on a simple hunting trip, but the lands south of the River Running are well within reach.

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The Dragon Smaug was last seen decades ago (and we have proof of his increased activity right after he claimed Erebor as his own and raided city of Dale) in Esgaroth. Many of the elderly claimed that they saw him flying in their youth, but that doesn't mean he never left his lair in that time. The lands surrounding Erebor, the Lonely Mountain, the local plains, valleys and hills were ravaged by his attacks making a region known as "Desolation of Smaug". He flew as far as the shores of the Long Lake (and it's quite long distance south of the Mountain and sources of Celduin/River Running). we also know about communities of Men living along the river who have traded with Lake-men of Esgaroth and other lands. With these settlements of Men there are also fields and pastures, herds of cattle and sheep and whatever domesticated animals they kept and further south there are most likely other forests with plenty of wild animals. When the raids in the closest neighborhood (most likely frequent, given the state of Desolation not improving until the death of the dragon) were not sufficient anymore he would probably also have to go far off to feed.

The dragons, we can speculate, can probably survive long periods of time without food or slumber by conserving their strength. As for their origin nobody knows. The use of Maiar explanation for all kinds of mysterious creatures appear to be most often used theory, but it's not necessarily the truth, not all spirits must be in their nature Ainur (the divine beings of varying power). Souls of other sapient creatures, for example, are in their nature fundamentally different than mighty spiritual beings of the Ainur kind, even though sharing similarities as indestructible essence of being.

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Dragons are the creation of Morgoth, along with the Balrogs and Orcs in the First Age. Therefore these creatures can eat animals, but they do not need them to survive.

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Balrogs are NOT creations of Morgoth - they are Maia –  SSumner Jul 12 at 1:11
    
@SSumner: aren't the dragons Maia, or at least derived from them. I certainly remember something about Glanrung being a Maiar, originally. –  Jerry Schirmer Jul 12 at 1:29
    
@JerrySchirmer - no, I don't think so. I believe they are different –  SSumner Jul 12 at 2:11

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