Related to a previous question which focused more on surviving on such a world.

This presumes a significant advancement in technologies - that is, to 1940s-1950s level technology. There are some differences, primarily in aircraft, but assumptions about historic tech can generally be presumed to hold true to this tech.

The planet has no significant surface animal life. There is significant aquatic life, so fishing is a source of some food, although nutritional value of native foods may vary. At this point, such food problems are solved via farming and processing and other methods. Rabbits, Mice, and Pythons are also around, being brought through some form of a plot device. Rabbits and Mice have been genetically modified to consume the native life, but pythons have been not. Pythons are thus the "House Pet" of choice and are generally not eaten. Rabbits and Mice, being specifically modified for that purpose, are freely eaten. (This question is not focusing on what the impact of the introduction of these species would have - that's an entirely different question which I intend on asking later).

Plant life is assumed to have at least some sort of tree equivalent so that we can have a wood equivalent and paper equivalent, etc.

In addition to this, the geography of the world, ease of transporting food, and other factors have caused society to become significantly reliant on seafaring. Recent and "recent" technology such as trains and aircraft are reducing it, but as the inland areas outside of rivers and easily accessible waterways are largely uninhabited except where important resources are found. Gravity is higher (Approximately 1.3G) and sea level air pressure is lower (About 80% of Earth's). Again, these are not the focus of the question but may be relevant.

Now, for the Actual Question:

What impact would a lack of ground/air-based life larger than insect size have on an industrialized, 1940s-1950s era society be, if any?

Update for Humans

Humans have arrived some years ago via space travel - However, they weren't prepared to be colonists so weren't able to take their technology with them. They had to start fairly primitive - How primitive is largely irrelevant to the story as the story starts at the 1940s-1950s tech level. This question is not on how the technology would have progressed to this level, it's specifically intended to be how a lack of fauna changes 1940s to 1950s tech regardless of how this tech level was achieved.

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    $\begingroup$ Is this the same civilization as referenced in worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/91283/… ? $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 12:33
  • $\begingroup$ Indeed it is. Obviously some things have been modified and we're further up the timeline, but it's largely the same. $\endgroup$
    – Andon
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 13:19
  • $\begingroup$ Then I agree with TimB and ErinThursby: it just ain't gonna happen. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 13:24
  • $\begingroup$ That's the impression I'm getting: Once at a certain level (Steam engines for transport, etc), society is fine. Before that point things are difficult. $\endgroup$
    – Andon
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 16:43

4 Answers 4


The biggest single problem I foresee with a technological society forming on a planet such as you describe is the lack of horses.

Just about everything in our modern society, down to the diameter of the Space Shuttle's Boosters have some connection to horses and their uses through history.

Don't get me wrong; the wheel as an invention was pretty impressive, but without some form of engine to propel the carts on which the wheels were placed, there would have been no industrial revolution and societies would have been missing a vital link between engineering and motorisation.

I could go into a great deal of detail on this subject but the most relevant pieces of this connection are the beginnings and endings of the use of horses in our history. Let's start at the beginning.

Horses are effectively the first attempts to harness solar power by humans. How so? Well, our stomachs can process almost any organic compound and turn it into energy. The most common thing we can't process (which ironically grows EVERYWHERE in our world) is grass. That grass is the result of a massive harnessing of the sun by a very successful plant that came about some time after the Cretaceous period (after the dinosaurs) and which many mammals adapted themselves to eat, including horses. Horses adapted to it very well and became very fast and powerful creatures that were 'powered' by a fuel created by the sun and water, called grass.

So, we started harnessing that power by harnessing the horses. First in front of ploughs, then in front of carts, then chariots, humans on their backs in places not fit for carts; the list goes on. We used them as war machines, merchant engines, transport, and a myriad of other practical applications. Some early mills (where wind or water was not ideal) were powered by horses walking around in a circle, pulling the millstone around with them.

Before the age of steam, many manufactured goods were either produced by skilled artisans (by hand) or in cases where a form of factory was needed, horses would pull around the spindles or other energy delivery systems to facilitate the drive trains needed to power the 'machines' (and I use the term loosely here) that produced certain goods.

Why not steam? Why not other engines? Well, coal was needed (particularly in metallurgy) for heat. One of the largest consumers of smithed metal products, in fact, was horses (horseshoes) and then you had domestic homes and the like. Steam would eventually come in the Industrial Revolution, but horses still had a big part to play in a technological society; distribution.

So what caused all this need to end? The Great Horse Manure Crisis hit London in particular with a vengeance, nearly causing the city some massive problems. The logistics of getting hay and manure in and out of London respectively was overwhelming the city and actually adding to the problem.

The solution? The internal combustion engine. The horseless carriage (eventually to become car) and motorised lorries effectively solved the problem in a few short decades. It's the fact that these kinds of engines were actually being designed to replace horses that has led to us measuring their outputs in 'horsepower'. Sure, they've introduced other problems since, but that is a discussion for another answer.

The important point here is that without the horse (and in some cases the ox as well) there is no way to make the leap between the scales of power required to start developing solutions to the 'horse manure' problem because there's no large-scale power delivery system in use. The horse is effectively a 'missing link' of power delivery that lasted for millennia in mankind's history, and without that, you've only got one solution (and it's not pretty) — slavery.

Without massive numbers of humans to power the mechanisms of industrialisation, it cannot function. Also, because the horse also served as transport, your industrial complex will take a LOT longer to develop because your society can only function in isolated pockets; you can't have a centralised government like the Roman Empire, because you simply can't get messages to and from your borders in enough time to react to any potential problem.

Add to that, your society will tend to be clan-based and VERY territorial. Why? Well, with the exception of fishing, all your food production is farming based. That means you're protecting your crop lands rather than grazing fields and stock. Mobile military units like a cavalry won't exist, but long range weapons will develop earlier to compensate. That means you'll have archers faster and you'll have war boats (developed from fishing vessels) that will serve as mobile archery platforms.

You'll have a well-developed navy and artillery units, but modern industrialisation is more precarious an invention in this space than you might think. Steam power will help (and may have been developed a lot earlier without the horse) but will still suffer from the transport gaps left by horses as well. That means many people pulling carts full of coal to your factories.

Ironically, this may mean a stronger focus on efficiency and passive energy capture meaning that it's possible that you get spring technologies, electrical generation and solar power faster, but remember that the lack of ability to rapidly propagate new ideas through your territory (no rapid transit) may also slow down innovation. It's not so much that there would be no need; that would actually be more acute. It's more that without the horse, we don't conceptualise power delivery greater than what a group of humans can put into play. It's a problem with imagination.

So, without fauna, your technological progress simply cannot be guaranteed.

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    $\begingroup$ Humans arrive as refugees from stellar warfare, so they have history for a lot of these things. I was also planning on boats being a significant factor in transportation and communication anyway, for the exact reasons you brought up $\endgroup$
    – Andon
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 11:23

First thing is first.



No animals mean no waste/decaying animals. And no waste means significant changes in plant life. This also means that fish and fish waste will also be significant to agriculture. I can see aquaponics being the primary agriculture.

You do have people, and those people do poop--which means that human feces is going to be VALUABLE and also--there will be health issues as a result.

From Wikipedia:

Human excreta may be attractive as fertilizer because of the high demand for fertilizer and the relative availability of the material to create night soil. In areas where native soil is of poor quality, the local population may weigh the risk of using night soil.

The use of unprocessed human feces as fertilizer is a risky practice as it may contain disease-causing pathogens. Nevertheless, in some developing nations it is still widespread. Common parasitic worm infections, such as ascariasis, in these countries are linked to night soil use in agriculture, because the helminth eggs are in feces and can thus be transmitted from one infected person to another person (fecal-oral transmission of disease).

These risks are reduced by proper fecal sludge management, e.g. via composting. The safe reduction of human excreta into compost is possible. Some municipalities create compost from the sewage sludge, but then recommend that it only be used on flower beds, not vegetable gardens. Some claims have been made that this is dangerous or inappropriate without the expensive removal of heavy metals. SOURCE

So without poop and only decaying plant matter, what are you going to see? Mushrooms. Lots and lots of mushrooms. If you allow for them. See this chosen answer on a similar question which did not include insects.

Fungi will help with the breakdown.

Secondly, you've got insects with no predators.

And that's a big, big problem.

So my thought would be, insect-eating plants. Lots of them.

While there can be bugs which eat bugs, swarms will happen and be devastating. So you should have SOMETHING that eats them. If not, losing entire crops is not only possible, it's inevitable.

But plants can and DO fight back. They can do this by producing natural insecticides. This will change plant life on a fundamental level.

Other defenses plants have for this, is to come to fruition all at once, or the opposite--staggered fruition, depending on the life-cycle of the particular bugs.

Humans will be the vector for EVERYTHING since animals won't be around. This means seeds that can survive the human digestive system rather than just birds, and bugs that develop defenses against us.

It won't just be plant life that will adapt. Bugs will as well. They will not be anything like the bugs we have now--they will adapt to not be eaten by us as much as possible. This means more poison bugs, less "tasty" bugs...

I think the very first thing you need to consider before you even get to the 1940s-50s tech, is the world itself, and how plants and insects will have to drastically evolve to adjust to all these changes.

Once you have this basis, you THEN need to look at A) how human evolution is possible and B) How you could even get to the level of tech you require without any animal life at all.

As Tim B covered, horses were a big deal to get us through to the 1940s.

But it's not JUST this. It's everything. The entire societal structure and development of tech--we are talking from the use of language and tools on through, is going to be impacted by something as simple as HUNTING.

Which, without big game means that people aren't going to be forming the same cooperative and complex plans in early days. It's an entirely gathering-based society--where plants possibly never even developed bright colors because there are no birds to spread the seed.

And the development of agriculture is not actually the best thing for society, and may well have developed later because of the issues involved as far as health is concerned.

In this scenario, I can see water being very, very, very important. Because water is a source of easy protein--fish. So chasing the fish, developing boats, would be more important than anything, and more ingrained in the culture.

Strangely enough, I can see this world being more eco-conscious, and more focused on punishing anyone who completely exploits or pollutes water. Because water is life, and very much a factor in human brain development in this scenario.

It also means that exploring land would be mysterious in early cultures. Everyone would stick to coasts and waterways.

The other source of food besides agriculture and fish is going to be bugs. There will be bug farmers. Locusts will be commonly served.

You've jumped ahead to the 1950s, but I think you need to start from scratch, era by era, revamping human development entirely (and thus technology). Even the development of the WHEEL, one of our most basic tech touchtones, is going to be affected by this. Agriculture might even be difficult to develop to begin with because it's much more advantageous to move about than it is to settle down in an area without the supplement of meat--further, there's some evidence that agriculture was first developed on a more permanent basis than mere cultivation not to feed humans, but to feed livestock and attract prey for humans.

If you trace the domestication of animals, it's intertwined in the development of agriculture. Not just because they helped with the work and helped to fertilize the land, but because in order to have a source of ready meat for the winter, stockpiling massive amounts of feed is necessary.

This population would end up being mobile for longer, and would not stay anywhere for winter because there is literally going to be nothing to eat. They are less likely to settle down because there's nothing to kill in the dead of winter, no beef on the hoof.

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    $\begingroup$ Humans arrive from the stars with "significant" technology, historicaly speaking. They didn't intend on being refugees so they don't have a high-tech base but they start out with a decent "Middle Ages" tech and have history and some guidance on where to go once they can get resources and figure out things. I don't have to worry about inventing the wheel or learning smithing, etc. $\endgroup$
    – Andon
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 11:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Andon that would be a crucial thing to know. I realize that it's part of the linked thing you have as part of the question, but DO update the question and state it explicitly or you are going to get a lot of answers like this one. You still need horses or slaves...if you are starting with medieval... $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 28, 2017 at 1:20
  • $\begingroup$ It's been updated with clarifications. $\endgroup$
    – Andon
    Commented Dec 28, 2017 at 1:41

Of all the proposed answers so far; transportation seems to be the best, however, the question didn't ask what effect there would be on the development of such a society but rather what impact there would be on such a society. Thus the question is essentially ignoring the transportation problem and jumping straight to mechanized transportation.

So what impact would there be?

  • Well, food would suck, everyone would be eating bugs. Not really a big impact.
  • Fertilizers would not be affected. Bats and worms produce the best fertilizers used in agriculture, both are roughly in the OPs size requirements.
  • Leather- loss of leather would suck as it makes for a nice cheap tough material particularly for gloves. Makes things like blacksmithing a bit more annoying but not undoable.
  • Glue - used to come from animal hooves. However, the first synthetic adhesive came out in the 1920s.

In all, once you achieve industrialization with mechanized labor (engines), your dependency on large fauna diminishes entirely. That isn't to say the world wouldn't be impacted. A diverse ecosystem makes the world more interesting and interesting things are what drives an economy. After all who doesn't want those posh baby seal boots.

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    $\begingroup$ Maybe fishleather? Man, I hadn't thought about leather at all. $\endgroup$
    – Andon
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 16:41
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    $\begingroup$ You can use dense cotton gloves treated with various chemicals, its not as good but it will still get the job done $\endgroup$
    – anon
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 17:05

Consider what happened in the Americas: without domesticable megafauna (cattle/oxen and horses), it's civilizations' use of metal (gold, silver and copper) was limited to personal adornment and status, and had little iron.

Human power alone just can't create and transport enough food and goods for civilization to grow. For example, hauling fresh-cut wood to make charcoal, and then moving the charcoal to the iron smelters.

Thus, not only couldn't Medieval technology survive, to progress to the Industrial Revolution, but it would regress.

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    $\begingroup$ Good point, although, it is hard to say what Aztecs would've achieved if left alone. Conquistadors were a major factor in destroying the Aztec civilisation. $\endgroup$
    – Olga
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 17:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Olga without domesticable megafauna, I can't see how they could have progressed much further. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 17:35
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    $\begingroup$ Never underestimate human power, be it willing or otherwise. Introducing the wheel can do wonders even with only humans for propulsion. $\endgroup$
    – Andon
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 17:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Andon the wheel was known to the Olmecs 3500ybp, but remained a toy, given -- again -- the lack of domesticable megafauna. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 18:06
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    $\begingroup$ One horsepower is ~750W. I don't know if this is average or peak or whatever, but peak human power on a bicycle is over 1000W, 1-hour-power 400W. So you don't need that many humans to replace a horse. Think of rikshas. $\endgroup$
    – Nobody
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 21:54

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