So I was thinking of a land animal with a biological harpoon, I'm not 100% sure why it would evolve with it.

Details of it would be:

  • Quadrupedal
  • Medium-sized (similar to a pony) and would hunt smaller or equal sized prey
  • not limited to being carnivorous, could be omnivorous
  • Harpoon isn't one time use, will be retracted to be used again

The closest I can think of is the cone snail which uses toxin and a harpoon appendage to catch prey due to it being really slow.

The creature I was thinking off wouldn't be THAT slow and if having such a harpoon would have any place in its biology.

We don't see harpoons on land animals for a reason unless I'm missing something, perhaps an insect has it but I'm not 100% sure.

Question: how would a harpoon be a better hunting tool for a land creature than other things we see like claws and limbs for grasping?

  • $\begingroup$ 🦄 - Are mythical creatures or invented ones preferred? $\endgroup$ – user43711 Dec 13 '17 at 9:40
  • $\begingroup$ Hmmm, i think any would work really, i'm kind of trying to invent one right now haha. Are there any mythical creatures with a harpoon?? $\endgroup$ – Matthew Ng Dec 13 '17 at 9:43
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Porcupines do not shoot their quills, as was once thought, but maybe they could evolve to do so. They may not even have to have a great range, they are already potentially lethal. Could this be the kind of animal you are looking for? The quills are, of course, not retracted, but replaced naturally. $\endgroup$ – Lee Leon Dec 13 '17 at 9:59
  • $\begingroup$ Suddenly, the already terrifying unicorn just got way more nightmarish. $\endgroup$ – Stephan Dec 13 '17 at 18:40
  • $\begingroup$ oh god, the once revered unicorn that was thought to be a horse with a singular horn on it's head has been discovered to be an ambush predator which has a spiked harpoon with which it impales maidens who are "pure of heart" (reference intended) and devour them. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Ng Dec 14 '17 at 2:52

The principle is viable but not normally used as a penetrating weapon.

Consider the chameleon's tongue.

It's a projectile weapon that adheres to the target and retracts to bring in prey and be reused.

The question here is whether that's a valid hunting method on a larger scale for a non-tool using species. Nature, by virtue of only using it on a small scale probably says no.

Let's look for a critical weakness. This is the only way the chameleon hunts, it's an ambush predator with a tethered weapon. That tether is life or death if it gets cut. Most large prey, of a size suitable for feeding a panther sized predator, is quite capable of doing significant damage to the hunter. Whether by horns, hooves, or teeth, if you sever the tether the hunter dies.

  • $\begingroup$ hmm, yes, a regrowing one would be the best option i suppose, the retractable part was more for retrieving prey $\endgroup$ – Matthew Ng Dec 14 '17 at 0:59
  • $\begingroup$ @MatthewNg, in that situation you have to consider the cost versus effectiveness of the "weapon" if you need to regrow it on every failed hunt. A better weapon will have a much higher cost but success rate for predators is normally not high. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Dec 14 '17 at 14:15
  • $\begingroup$ I was thinking more regrow when it is severely damaged or broken from an encounter. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Ng Dec 15 '17 at 2:21
  • $\begingroup$ @MatthewNg, but that severe damage is most likely to come from a failed hunt, and possibly after a series of such failed hunts $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Dec 15 '17 at 10:34
  • $\begingroup$ And without the energy he could not regrow that...oh god $\endgroup$ – Matthew Ng Dec 16 '17 at 2:05
  1. Biological harpoon means fighting at close quarters.

Detachable harpoons back in the whaling days had floats and such to keep track of where the whale went. And hopefully the whale would exhaust itself trying to escape. An injured whale smart enough to go after the boats a la Moby Dick would be hard to beat. You do not want to fight a whale at close quarters until it is dying.

So with your creature. A biological harpoon is unlikely to have a hundred years of line. It will be a lot shorter, and so if the harpooned creature cannot get away and finds itself still in proximity to the predator it might turn and attack. Your creature must be formidable without the harpoon. It wants to fight at close quarters (e.g. crushing bite or something similar) and the harpoon enables that. Reeling in the harpoon to get the prey close should be a desirable effect.

  1. Reusable is nice but harpoon should be potentially disposable.
    cat claw from http://pictures-of-cats.org/my-cat-lost-his-claws-please-help.html A claw is a nice example. The blunt outer part is shed periodically to keep it sharp. If the claws stick in prey and are torn loose, ok. The harpoon should be a keratin structure, maybe with hair or other easily regenerated fibers tethering it. If the harpoon line gets cut the predator needs a new one in short order.
    In fact, and thinking about claws, this predator might have several harpoons including a couple that a growing and some buds where new ones will be. It might decide to deploy additional harpoons once the first is away. Or it might decide to ditch the harpoon if the prey is looking too fierce or (think water buffalo) there are other individuals coming to the rescue and the predator must beat a hasty retreat.

An even better real analogy for this is a porcupine quill: already big, already barbed, already disposable and regenerable. A big porcupine quill with a tether. Your animal is a giant porcupine which is an opportunistic predator.

  • $\begingroup$ Oh god, a giant predatory porcupine, i seem to like this. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Ng Dec 14 '17 at 0:58

Snails have appendages called "love darts" (gypsobelum) that they fire at each other during mating. These darts are grown by sexually mature snails and contain a hormonal substance which can be "fired" at the intended mate with a muscular contraction and which then helps to ensure that the shooter's sperm has a better chance at surviving inside the mate. This is the closest example I could think of for an animal with a "harpoon" that was not simply a horn or a stinger. Perhaps your creature is some variety of large terrestrial gastropod that has evolved their love dart to also be used as a weapon?

As to what advantages this method of hunting could have, there is the obvious advantage of a ranged attack keeping a safe distance between the creature and its target, perhaps the hormones within the love dart might produce an allergic reaction in other species?

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding! This is definitely interesting and relevant to the question, but doesn't actually answer "how would a harpoon be a better hunting tool", so would you be able to edit your answer to include that? Thanks $\endgroup$ – Mithrandir24601 Dec 15 '17 at 21:32
  • $\begingroup$ Well, giant snail creature, might explain why it doesnt just run down prey, could be an ambush preator. i'll look into this Thanks man! $\endgroup$ – Matthew Ng Dec 16 '17 at 2:07

Reason why we haven't land animals (beside ourselves, of course) using harpoons are:

  • harpoons need considerable force to be effective and that isn't easy to develop gradually.
  • harpoon tether is likely to be attacked by prey and vulnerable to breakage, which would leave attacker crippled.
  • something similar is available in water but they are neither reusable nor long distance.

First let's define a harpoon. It's a hard sharp shootable object that pierces the target and can be reeled back in.

We do have stuff similar to this already. A chamelion's tongue is somewhat like that but it's not hard and does not pierce the prey.

I'd say say an evolved version of this would probably look like a hardened hooked tongue tip which can extend out from the creature's mouth.

Another form of a harpoon would be something like a scorpion's tail but with a much longer tail part.

You could go with an evolution of either of these.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.