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I've been working on the setting for a science fiction novel where one of the questions that came up was: “How would you design a dragon-like creature so it could sew?”. Although I worked out a believable solution, it occurred to me that it might be fun to find out how others would answer this question.

A little background: The novel is about an extraordinary character. In one of her adventures she encounters a race of sentient dragon-like beings. They believe they are artificially designed creatures, intended for ground combat, created by an advanced race long ago. They have many characteristics that could not have evolved by natural evolution, including several powers related to healing battle damage. Large gashes must be closed, either by stitching or gluing. Either requires fine motor skills and the ability to manipulate small items (ex: needle and thread). How could they do that?

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    $\begingroup$ If the "dragons" were "created"... were other sentient lizards "created"? If so, then you don't need the dragons to do the delicate work... that's what the helpers are for. Dragons have claws... helpers have opposable thumbs. Dragons kill things that the helpers need - they really thrive on the blood of thy enemy. Symbiotic relationship. $\endgroup$ – WernerCD Dec 26 '17 at 14:13
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    $\begingroup$ Another way to close wounds is to use "surgical staples". $\endgroup$ – ChrisW Dec 26 '17 at 14:26
  • $\begingroup$ Can the dragons even see their own hands? Is their neck long and flexible enough or are their arms flexible enough to get the eyes and hands in proximity. Can they focus that close? I sew and it doesn't matter how nimble my fingers are if I can't see them. #bifocalsarecool $\endgroup$ – Mazel Dec 26 '17 at 19:45
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    $\begingroup$ why saw their wounds shut? have them secrete adhesive spit. $\endgroup$ – Oliver Rohachev Dec 26 '17 at 22:49
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    $\begingroup$ Why do you think dragons kidnap princesses?..If you can't do something yourself, make someone else do it. $\endgroup$ – n0rd Dec 27 '17 at 23:32

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You did not provide the specs for your dragons, so I imagine their build would fit along the classical european, D&D chromatic dragon shapes and sizes.

Let me tell you about Iguanodons. They were herbivorous dinosaurs, about this big (from Wikipedia commons):

enter image description here

The reason I want to talk about these critters is their front paws. Iguanodons are known for the large spike they had for a thumb, which paleontologists believe was used for self-defense. What not everybody knows is that they had opposable pinkies.

enter image description here

Another shot of the beasts' hands, to give an idea of what they look like:

enter image description here

Paleontologists believe those opposable pinkies could be used to pull branches from trees. If that is true, then some fine motor skill was present in that species (though not necessarily as fine as a human's). A little bone and neural reconfiguration and you have hands agile enough to operate tools such as needles.

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    $\begingroup$ You can simulate this by using your own (partially) opposable pinky! The pinky can be brought up to oppose the thumb itself or the thenar. You can grasp objects, pick them up or indeed rip leaves or twigs from trees! Ah, if only the Iguanodon had a two foot long sewing needle and some silk cord; oh, what a tail he could weave! $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Dec 27 '17 at 1:39
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A couple obvious answers leap out right away:

No. 1 --- the dragons are small. Perhaps four to six feet long, exclusive of the tail. Opposable thumbs go without saying. Leathery fingertips with fine perhaps barbed hairs that secrete a kind of oily substance allow these dragon-warrior-tailors to grasp ordinary needle and thimble and settle down for a nice quiet evening sewing before the fire. Relatively short, blunt claws don't get in the way of needle or thread; sharp teeth, however, do make short work of nipping bits of thread.

No. 2 --- the dragons are large. Ordinary dragon size, perhaps thirty to forty feet long (again, exclusive of the tail). Slightly spaced, shingle-like scales upon the inner surfaces of these dragons' hands allow them to easily manipulate the two foot long sewing needles and quarter inch (silk) cords they sew with! Again, the configuration of thumb opposing fingers allows them to make and manipulate tools as well as pop the helmet off any pesky knight that wanders into the neighbourhood, or more especially, to snatch up any perambulating maiden!

No. 3 --- the dragon can be any size. Not all dragons are lucky enough to be hatched with prehensile forefeet! This kind of dragon, however, has discovered that its long, slender yet strong forked tongue works very well to pick up & manipulate even fine objects like their sewing needles! Happily, dragons don't mind when their healers slobber all over their wound stitchery. Some wise dragons hold that the sticky nature of dragon slobber actually works to help seal the wound closed and keep it protected from contamination!

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So this is a genetically engineered combat beast? It seems like they would have something considerably faster at their disposal than a sewing kit.

Instead imagine they have a long line of barbed spines along the outside of their forelimbs. In combat they use these as weapons, slashing and stabbing with them. They are designed to break off and regrow and are barbed in order to stay inside the poor victim.

They also have a secondary purpose though. If a dragon is injured they drive the spines through their own flesh. then pull them back so the barbs pull the wound closed. They then break off the spines leaving them in place holding the wound closed. The entire process takes seconds and is done by reflex if injured and the dragon can reach its own wound, or to aid each other.

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    $\begingroup$ This one. Where would a engineered species be expected to find a handy needle and thread? Also little vesicles between the spines could secrete superglue for sealing smaller cuts. $\endgroup$ – KalleMP Dec 27 '17 at 20:13
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This is a genetically engineered dragon, why would you make it use a needle and thread? Instead, let's give it two very thin, hollow claws that look very similar to snake fangs. These two claws will be opposed to each other, so that each can be put through the material to be sewn from opposite sides. They will meet in the middle, where the hollow ends of these fangs can interlock and form a channel through the material. Finally, a pair of spinnarets like a spider's will work in concert, spinning and passing a thread through the claws, and pulling it out the other side. They can then move both claws to the location of the next stitch and repeat.

Fine motor skills are a must, as others have mentioned, and the appendage with the claw will need to be at the end of a highly articulated arm, so that they can reach places with ease.

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  • $\begingroup$ Intrigueing and creative $\endgroup$ – Paul TIKI Dec 27 '17 at 21:31
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One thing a lot of depictions of Oriental Dragons have is the presence of barbelsaround the face, kind of like a Catfish.

Since we are talking about a created species, is there any reason why we could not take that, blend it in with a little cephalopod DNA and make them tentacles with oodles of fine motor control and gripping ability. This leaves you with all the options you need in terms of 4 or 6 limbs, wings, claws, and so on

To add to it, dogs will often clean their own wounds as best they can by licking. Make the saliva antiseptic to help with this. It could be a bonus if the saliva has adhesive properties, maybe by heating with fire breath

Next, Assume your dragon has the very long flexible neck and body depicted in both Oriental and Occidental art. You want the head to be able to reach all parts of it's own body.

So the dragon gets wounded. It takes the arrow that the silly human shot at it and pulls it free (after reducing said human to traces of impure carbon). After looking at the wound it gives a few antiseptic licks. It grabs the pre-threaded needles and uses them to stitch the wound closed. A couple of licks and maybe a burst of flame to seal it the rest of the way. A bandage that has an outer metal cover over the top and you are back to torching villagers.

The dragons could make these little first aid kits in their downtime and simply keep them tucked under scales or behind the head crest. Or maybey have them put together by juvenile dragons as both practice for the fine motor skills and to earn merit badges for the Dragon Scouts.

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    $\begingroup$ Paul, 'a very creative answer. Although I don't want to post my answer to the sewing capability right now, as you suggest, my dragons have a designed saliva. It has antiseptic, analgesic, and coagulating agents and enzymes that promote healing. $\endgroup$ – Vince 49 Dec 27 '17 at 19:20
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This chameleon doesn't seem to be having much problem holding this somewhat-needle-like object: enter image description here

Seems to me a dragon probably could sew if it had appropriately-sized needle, thread, patience and desire to do so.

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As engineered beings in an SFnal setting, there is no particular reason they need to be bipedal or quadrupedal creatures at all.

Consider that in Edgar Rice Burroughs "Barsoom" novels, many of the native Martian species have a multitude of limbs. If they only need two or four to actually move, then secondary or tertiary limbs can be used to do other things. In evolutionary terms, they could devolve to become smaller, or more slender and dexterous in order to carry out tasks like feeding and grooming (which would eventually provide a basis for genetic engineers to create dexterous manipulators to allow for sewing and other activities needing fine motor skills. This is similar to the mythological Centaur.

enter image description here

Centaur

If you want to look at a model of Earth like creatures, consider the Allosaur. It a theropod dinosaur, and as a carnivorous creature already has highly evolved senses and a relatively large brain to start. Modifying the front limbs and providing thumbs gives you the next piece of the puzzle (although you will also need to extensively modify and enlarge the brain as well)

enter image description here

Reconstruction of an Allosaur

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Instead of sewing with thread and needle, use an organic produced "glue".

The dinosaurs would need to be genetically engineered to have a particular gland that can excrete a substance similar to Cyanoarcrylate, which is also known as super-glue.

The hands would only need the necessary dexterity, and strength, to pinch the the wound closed.

Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyanoacrylate

Studies confirm that cyanoacrylate can be safer and more functional for wound closure than traditional suturing (stitches)

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Large gashes must be closed, either by stitching or gluing. Either requires fine motor skills and the ability to manipulate small items (ex: needle and thread). How could they do that?

First and most obvious to me is the matter of SCALE (no pun intended).

The larger something is, the less fine their work is going to be, and the larger their tools. When a dragon, which is a very large creature, sews up a wound, the spaces in between the stitches would be wider than, say, a mouse. Not that a mouse could do its own stitches or have another mouse do them, but, if they could they would certainly be finer than if a human did them. Depending on the size difference, a curved suture needle might well be larger and more sturdy to get through dragon skin.

So while your dragons might sew wounds shut, it's highly probable they aren't going to be using human sized needles. In this case "small" has a relative value.

Second, I don't know if you have ever seen a suture kit, but, they don't use traditional sewing needles (suture needles are actually curved not straight) nor do they use the same techniques. Here's a practice picture.

enter image description here

You are currently talking about "dragons that can sew" as though the grasping skills and coordination for sewing wounds shut is the same as sewing a piece of clothing. But it is not. While it can be done other ways, in standard practice, both hands are involved. I can sew a piece of fabric one-handed. But sewing leather or a person back together is far more difficult and involves curved needles.

enter image description here

What this means is that opposable thumbs are not enough. A design like a t-rex for example, even with thumbs, would be right out. The hands need to work together, and the vision needs to be good. And with some fantasy dragons, you will see the forelimbs pretty far apart, awkwardly positioned or too short to do what's needed and the dragon still be able to see. Depending on how you design them, it's possible two dragons will be needed to stitch a wound, if they are designed in such a way that hands working in concert and close enough to the eyes are an issue.

That's another thing, this is close work, and for something engineered like this, it's more likely that dragons would be farsighted for combat. While they may be able to do this by feel, I am going to suggest that dragon doctors or stitchers, would be the ones with a little less visual acuity on the battlefield.

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My solution is based on dragons that have an extensible, tri-fork tongue. The tines are two-stage. The larger parts are used to hold or manipulate objects such as an infant, a jug of water, or a dragon's egg. At the ends of the larger sections are smaller, more flexible, sections used for more delicate work such as sewing or drawing. The image below should provide some idea of what I have in mind. The tongue is blue because the dragons have hemocyanin blood. Unlike most hemocyanins, the dragon's blood bonds to oxygen cooperatively. Since the hemocyanins are in the plasma, rather than in cells like hemoglobin, the blood is easier to genetically enhance.

Besides the tongue, there are enhancements to the brain to provide more tactile feed back and increased motor control. The accommodation of the eyes has also been increased to enable focusing on closer objects.

I am happy to see so many creative or informative answers here.

Holding Dragon's Egg

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  • $\begingroup$ Strangely enough my anser her on octopus might help. I don't know if just three pronged would help given the specialized way it sewing a wound shut is done--but it might help to have a muscle structure like octopus limbs. worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/51689/… $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Jan 4 '18 at 17:09
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Sewing has the same requirements as many human crafts. It's a lot like carpentry, actually, only with lesser strength requirements --- measure twice, cut once. A race of dragons that could not sew would be unable to make much of anything -- pottery, machinery, houses.

But to me, the big questions are what and why. What are they making and why? Do they have a sense of modesty? Of vanity? A need for protective covering? Or are they making larger objects like fishnets or sails? You don't need the same control for those that you do for fine embroidery of silk thread on linen.

My dog has fine motor skills with his snout, so you might try and improve their snouts, while giving them slightly more functional front claws. There are (disabled) humans who can control a paintbrush with their mouths and create art, which suggests that intelligence and motivation are more important than biological features.

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    $\begingroup$ They aren't sewing clothing - they are sewing themselves - " Large gashes must be closed, either by stitching or gluing." $\endgroup$ – manassehkatz Dec 26 '17 at 16:10
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    $\begingroup$ "There are (disabled) humans who can control a paintbrush with their mouths" but they aren't sewing very much. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Dec 26 '17 at 19:41
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  1. Opposable thumbs.
  2. Fingers not too long, and not too short.
  3. Hand attached to a ...

heck, you need the dexterity, (relatively) fine motor and arm length that are very human-like. Claws can't be long (or even medium length), either, since they'd get in the way. Ditto a long snout, since that would block vision.

Bottom line: the humanoid shape is very conducive to manual dexterity, and few others on Earth are. Even other Great Apes have problems with fine motor control. An octopus with hands might be, but only underwater.

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Use a smaller more expendable species to clamp the wound shut like how farmers use those African ants. Just close the wound, let the ant bite you, and snap off its head. Easy peezy lemon I'm not finishing that phrase.

As far as motor skills goes, it just depends on where the cut is. I'd just give the dragons hands or tentacles. Why would you not? Honestly I don't see why crows wouldn't be able to manipulate the ants in the way described above. You would need the right species of ants though.

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  • $\begingroup$ Hard to believe ants could penetrate dragon skin/scales... Also, that'd have to be a relatively extremely small cut, or an extremely huge ant to be of any real use, considering a dragon's size. $\endgroup$ – maxathousand Dec 28 '17 at 14:37
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    $\begingroup$ @maxathousand nah the ants are just really really big. $\endgroup$ – user32463 Dec 28 '17 at 22:12
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The dragon is has a fairly long and thin tongue, with a very sharp end, plus long flexible spines somewhere on its body, they come loose if pulled. Sealing a wound is then done as follows:

The Dragon snaps of a spine with its tongue. It bites across the wound to pull the sides of it together. The tongue pierces the sides while also snaking through them. It then grabs the spine and pulls out leaving the spine as a thread. The dragon spits out some blood and continues fighting.

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  • $\begingroup$ This would help close injuries, but proper sewing with this technique would require either a whole lot of spines (likely too many, and they have to regrow) or a way to put thread through a spine so it could be used as a sewing needle. Still, a good first post here! $\endgroup$ – Palarran Dec 28 '17 at 0:12
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Dragons are often depicted with feet like birds.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragon#/media/File:800x480-Y_Ddraig_Goch.png1

Here is a link to pictures of eagle's feet:

https://www.google.com/search?q=eagle+claw&newwindow=1&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj1oaKL0OzaAhXCuFkKHZkyB4wQ_AUICigB&biw=1920&bih=9492

Note that one digit is on the opposite side to the others.

Apparently some parrots and other pet birds use their feet like hands.

http://forums.avianavenue.com/index.php?threads/question-do-all-parrots-use-feet-as-a-hand.25550/3

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bird_feet_and_legs4

Thus a dragon like creature with bird like but improved feet should be able to use them more like hands than any known bird and should be able to sew.

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protected by Renan May 4 '18 at 18:13

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