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CroMagnon

Help with several science-fantasy species

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Hey all, another strange literary research thread, this one brainstorming for several fantasy races/species. I want the biology to be as realistic as possible, more fun to write. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

 

Elves: Just another (mostly) arboreal primate related to humans, not some magical godlike fairy folk. At least not much more magical. Main questions: What advantage do pointed ears give animals? Would retaining a more cartilaginous skeleton as an adult be beneficial in any way? Does the typical slender elf build seem suitable for an arboreal species?

 

Firekin: Another related species, pyrokinetic and quite small, a 5'5" man being intimidating to some. Am I right that a smaller creature would be more energy-efficient? Could an ape evole to have slit pupils? And I know I had a very similar thread about acetone, but if pyrokinesis was in the realm of possibility, which flammable substances does the body produce (like acetone) that my firekin could maybe squirt out their palms? Even in tiny amounts? This magic system in this story isn't particulary extravagant.

 

Dragons: What would be the most efficient design for a flying reptile? Something like a pterosaur? The pyrokinesis questions also apply here.

 

Unnamed Reptile Species: A more intelligent reptile with opposable thumbs and Paleolithic technology, perhaps evolved from velociraptors or troodons.

 

Unnamed Canid Species: Similar to above, a Stone Age species with opposable thumbs and limited bipedalism that evolved from wolves.

 

Unnamed Cetacean Species: Essentially intended to be merpeople, cetaceans with flatter faces, more humanoid builds, hands evolved from flippers, and simple tools. Probably evolved from dolphins. Any of the above three plausible?

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With elves, the pointed ears need not give any survival benefit, perhaps they could function as an indicator of general health and sexual attractiveness?

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I wish you luck on your writing. Some thoughts (in no particular order) in response to your questions;

 

1) Neither opposable thumbs or bipedality are necessary for intelligence - read Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's "Footfall" for an example.

2) The vertical pupil of cats, like many predators, may well be an adaptation to hunting in low light while their prey often have horizontal pupils, presumably for greater visual coverage and scanning for predators; see Banks, Martin S., et al. "Why do animal eyes have pupils of different shapes?." Science advances 1.7 (2015): e1500391 for details into pupil shape adaptations.

3) A bony skeleton has great advantages over cartilage in terms of strength and injury repair. This is why the great majority of vertebrates have bony skeletons.

4) Pointy ears are less important to animals than *pointable* ears. That is, while shape is important, the ability to move them and having them separated horizontally by the skull - and for some animals highly dependent on sound, like owls, ears that differ in the vertical plane as well (for locating the source)- is critically important.

5) Small creatures are not more energetically efficient than larger animals - quite the opposite in fact- though they often need to consume or convert less energy overall to survive. There is a reason why warm blooded animals (especially mammals) are larger nearer the poles - the large size makes thermoregulation easier and more efficient. The down side is that a larger animal needs more food over all.

6) A slender build may be helpful for an arboreal life, but it is not required. One obligate tree-dwelling primate - our close relative the Orangutan- weighs the same as we do. Our species is more slender (and taller, called "gracile" in scientific terms) than other known human species. This is not an adaptation to arboreal life however as the human lineage left the trees millions of years before we showed up and other humans with the same ancestors, like the Neanderthals were much more robust (and had bigger brains). It is not known why our species is more gracile than other humans, but it may well have to do with our lifestyle; we are migrants. Our species moved around a lot. It may be that being gracile was adaptive to such a hard mobile life.

7) With regards to "human like" cetaceans, you might read "Galapagos" by Kurt Vonnegut. In the story the ghost of Kilgore Trout's son watches over one million years of evolutionary history as the remnants of human beings evolve into dimwitted seal-like creatures on the Galapagos Archipelago. You might get some pointers there. But the book is hilarious.

 

Best of luck

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I wish you luck on your writing. Some thoughts (in no particular order) in response to your questions;

 

1) Neither opposable thumbs or bipedality are necessary for intelligence - read Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's "Footfall" for an example.

2) The vertical pupil of cats, like many predators, may well be an adaptation to hunting in low light while their prey often have horizontal pupils, presumably for greater visual coverage and scanning for predators; see Banks, Martin S., et al. "Why do animal eyes have pupils of different shapes?." Science advances 1.7 (2015): e1500391 for details into pupil shape adaptations.

3) A bony skeleton has great advantages over cartilage in terms of strength and injury repair. This is why the great majority of vertebrates have bony skeletons.

4) Pointy ears are less important to animals than *pointable* ears. That is, while shape is important, the ability to move them and having them separated horizontally by the skull - and for some animals highly dependent on sound, like owls, ears that differ in the vertical plane as well (for locating the source)- is critically important.

5) Small creatures are not more energetically efficient than larger animals - quite the opposite in fact- though they often need to consume or convert less energy overall to survive. There is a reason why warm blooded animals (especially mammals) are larger nearer the poles - the large size makes thermoregulation easier and more efficient. The down side is that a larger animal needs more food over all.

6) A slender build may be helpful for an arboreal life, but it is not required. One obligate tree-dwelling primate - our close relative the Orangutan- weighs the same as we do. Our species is more slender (and taller, called "gracile" in scientific terms) than other known human species. This is not an adaptation to arboreal life however as the human lineage left the trees millions of years before we showed up and other humans with the same ancestors, like the Neanderthals were much more robust (and had bigger brains). It is not known why our species is more gracile than other humans, but it may well have to do with our lifestyle; we are migrants. Our species moved around a lot. It may be that being gracile was adaptive to such a hard mobile life.

7) With regards to "human like" cetaceans, you might read "Galapagos" by Kurt Vonnegut. In the story the ghost of Kilgore Trout's son watches over one million years of evolutionary history as the remnants of human beings evolve into dimwitted seal-like creatures on the Galapagos Archipelago. You might get some pointers there. But the book is hilarious.

 

Best of luck

Thanks for the thoughts!

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I think if I was going to develop a race of aquatic tool users, I'd probably start with Cephalopods rather than dolphins.

 

Dolphins are smarter, but I don't see an easy path to any hand-like features evolutionarily. Looking at it from a position of incremental steps, I can see the less streamlined shaped being a major disadvantage to significant alterations of the flipper almost immediately whereas I can't see a way of tweaking the flipper slightly in the direction you want to go that provides any advantage to offset that issue.

 

Not saying it definitely could never happen, but I'm not sure I'd regard it as especially plausible.

 

The octopus, on the other hand, while maybe not quite as smart as a dolphin, still demonstrates a fair amount of intelligence, problem-solving and even limited tool use, and they already have the necessary dexterity and ability to manipulate their environment with a fair degree of precision.

 

I can see Cephalopods getting smarter more easily than I can see dolphins growing arms, basically.

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I think if I was going to develop a race of aquatic tool users, I'd probably start with Cephalopods rather than dolphins.

 

Dolphins are smarter, but I don't see an easy path to any hand-like features evolutionarily. Looking at it from a position of incremental steps, I can see the less streamlined shaped being a major disadvantage to significant alterations of the flipper almost immediately whereas I can't see a way of tweaking the flipper slightly in the direction you want to go that provides any advantage to offset that issue.

 

Not saying it definitely could never happen, but I'm not sure I'd regard it as especially plausible.

 

The octopus, on the other hand, while maybe not quite as smart as a dolphin, still demonstrates a fair amount of intelligence, problem-solving and even limited tool use, and they already have the necessary dexterity and ability to manipulate their environment with a fair degree of precision.

 

I can see Cephalopods getting smarter more easily than I can see dolphins growing arms, basically.

 

You know, that is a very good point....The stereotypical merfolk silhouette really doesn't seem the best for swimming. About as good as most dragons would be at flying. I already have a cephalopod species, but they're quite different, more like giant monster squids. Deposit their eggs in the anal canals of other sea creatures, tiny parasitic babies devour the host from the inside out, grow to some currently-undecided massive size. Not sure that's especially plausible either. But I could always have another cephalopod, I have taken an interest in our tentacled cousins lately. I think my story already has plenty of mammals.

Edited by CroMagnon

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